One of the people who has thought most deeply about the Laws of Identity is Aldo F. Castaneda. He studies Law and Business Administration at Suffolk University Law School. His blog is the home of his legal thesis, which grapples with intellectual property issues in the emerging digital identity space. He is also doing what must be the definitive series of interviews with people working on identity, called The Story of Digital Identity. He's currently up to Episode 16 (!), an interview with Identity Woman and Marc Canter.

This recent posting shocked me a bit because it was almost like reading a part of my own mind. It shows what happens when you share the same theoretical precepts.

The story of digital identity yesterday was without question the launch of the Higgins project. There's been some debate in the blogosphere and elsewhere about the tone adopted by various journalists in presenting that story. While I agree that some of the articles about the Higgins launch stressed (at least in headlines and opening paragraphs) the competitive aspects of Higgins and InfoCard I thought that most stories (presuming a complete reading) were reasonably balanced and presented the “interoperability” aspects of Higgins and InfoCard.

In my opinion the best analysis so far was written by Eric Norlin* located here. What makes Eric's take particuarly insightful is that Eric looks through the marketing spin to see that IBM and Novell see InfoCard from an enterprise market perspective as an Active Directory “enabler”. Thus Higgins simultaneously keeps Microsoft honest by providing an “open” platform AND give IBM and Novell a means to offer enterprise customers an Active Directory alternative. So the point isn't that IBM and Novell are supporting Higgins to compete with InfoCard head-on or to offer their own “Metasystem” rather they're doing so to ensure an alternative to Microsoft's Active Directory “juggernaut” (As Eric terms it).

Another aspect of the story that's interesting to me is that IBM and Novell seem to be adhering to the Law of Pluralism of Operators and Technologies (Law #5 of Kim's Laws of Identity). In other words their actions based on quotes from yesterdays stories are consistent with the concept of interoperability (simply put the concept of a Metasystem).

But what remains an open question for me is, what happens to the Law of Human Integration and the Law of Consistent Experience Across Contexts? Will IBM and Novell be satisfied so long as customers access their digital identity data (from the Higgins framework) but via Microsoft's InfoCard UI? Will the Higgins project implement the InfoCard UI so that users can access Higgins via an InfoCard look-alike regardless of underlying platform (Linux, Windows, Apple…etc) choice?

I think these questions are important because I remain convinced that the UI is where we should all be focusing some attention to better understand that long-term strategic implications of “user centric identity” systems (See Law #1 The Law of User Control and Consent). While Microsoft is presumably offering much of the InfoCard UI to implementers on RANDZ terms (reasonably and non-discretionary terms @ Zero Royalty…has anyone read MSFT's actual licensing terms…are they available publically?) it will be interesting to see if Higgins and other's are so assured by Microsoft's licensing terms that they're willing to implement the InfoCard UI in their offerings. Doing so would arguably make it easier (more consistent end-user experience at minimum) for end-users to interact with their digital identity data across the various computing devices and environments that they use.

Frankly I think we'll see a separate UI from Higgins and others. And while that won't mean that the concept of the Metasystem will fail I believe it will tend to reduce ease-of-use and therefore diminish the extent of wide spread adoption. In more simple terms, if we end up with say 20 different identity systems that all interoperate but which all have seperate UIs will that be a truly “universal identity fabric”. I doubt end-users will think so.

*The guys (Eric Norlin and Phil Becker) have been helping The Story of Digital Identity podcast by posting new episodes to DigitalIdWorld.com. As always I thank them for their support and appreciate the additional exposure they've offered our budding little project. But note their support is not why I believe Eric's piece was the most insightful. See my reasoning above.

I have to admit that in my darker moments I have shared Aldo's concern about the seventh law. But I suspect that if interfaces complicate the user experience or introduce enough ambiguity that identity 2.0 becomes as unsafe as identity 1.0, people will avoid those interfaces. This means there are a set of strong objective forces working towards convergence of our interfaces in accord with the Seventh Law.

Our colleagues at Higgins are very smart people, as capable of seizing these dynamics as I am. So although I don't know, in detail, what people at Higgins are planning to do, I predict it will be very synergistic with my work. I am really excited to see an identity selector being written for non-windows platforms. And from my discussions with Paul, I expect that a lot of his work will be on enabling new scenarios and adding a lot of value.

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.

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