I wonder what Ben Hyde Ascription ate for breakfast before writing this one…
The rhetoric of putting the user at the center runs the risk of being hollow. At worst it is disingenuous. At minimum it diverts our attention from the complexity of seeing the needs and requirements of the other players in the problem space. You don’t solve the identity problem without bring most of those constituencies along. What we don’t know is what proportions of each is required.
If Ben is talking about the user's identity, which I think he is, doesn't it then make sense that the user “be at the center”? I expect “the other constituencies” will think this makes sense too… Especially if we end up with a more secure and more intuitive way to use identities.
Each time I hear one of the players announce he is putting the user at the center I can’t help roll my eyes. Let me pick on Microsoft, I’m sure it won’t hurt won’t hurt the big old monopoly’s feelings. When Microsoft talks about placing the user at the center what do I hear? First off I hear the echos of the 80s dream, that the personal computer will empower the the under served little guy; ripping power from the hands of the computer center. Then I hear the passion of the UI designer selling his wares. “Ease of use.” “Ease of use, damn it!” He chants, he rants. I hear the a delusion, that the PC monopoly can still set standards like this; that’s not true anymore – the browser war demonstrated that first. That the installed base now includes things like smart cards and telephones only makes it less credible today.
Gee, is Ben bitter about the opening of the glass house? I don't believe it. There must be some enthusiasm in his heart for the benefits heaped on the “little guy” through use of personal computers connected to the planetary mesh. I've seen a lot of empowered people, that's for sure, including all my friends and my children. As for ease of use, I share much of Ascription‘s skepticism. It's a challenge. So what? The same is true for most technology.
But mostly I hear a classic example of agency. The presumption that a product manager is a legitimate agent for the customers. Product managers aspire to that, great product managers get close. But never ever does a product manager become legit. A product manager is always absolutely the advocate of his product. Microsoft’s product is the OS and when Microsoft says they wish to put the customer they run very close to becoming illegit and disingenuous. I find myself thinking – great it’s browser war time again; instead of solving the problem we will have the identity version of the HTML tag battles. For example if UI is key, which it obviously is, where is the open transparent legitimate process for getting that widely deployed?
Hmmm. I don't know where to start on this one. How about this? As I tell my “product manager” friends, product managers aren't all bad! After all, without them, there would be no products… Sure, people feel passionate, Ben foremost amonst them. I think that's one of the best things about our industry.
On the other hand, I know how offensive it can be to hear people in our business talking as though they have been elected, when often they have just been appointed, so to speak.
What I like in some of Microsoft’s current rhetoric, well Kim’s rhetoric, is the emphasis on the seeking the “identity big bang.” That should be our common cause. Players in this space should stop pretending they are legitimate spokesmen for other constituencies and substitute in it’s place a clear and transparent statement of what they believe they are doing to bring each and every one of the necessary constituencies into what we hope is the comming big bang.
I agree with Ben on these last points. All constituencies are very important, and no one should claim to be a spokesman.
We should just make sure our technologies give individuals and organizations freedom of choice, and nurture an ecology of alternatives. Then people can “vote with their feet (fingers?)”.