Went along to *Mashup last night, Sam Sethi spoke about Microsoft's Live products (coming soon). As tends to happen at these things, my muttered “Oh Good Grief” was a bit too loud and I got asked to ask a question by the moderator. I said how ironic it was that we were at a presentation to talk about mashing 2 web application APIs together to create a 3rd when what we were being presented with was one Microsoft future product working with another Microsoft future product. I then questioned whether Infocards was actually open which was what had prompted the original “Good Grief”. Marc Canter leapt in and did his aggressively optimistic thing and mentioned “Cynical Brits” (which I take as a compliment!) before throwing in a bit later a battle cry of “OPEN STANDARDS”.
So anyway, Marc's blogged all this, and I added the following as a comment.
It’s so hard to have this conversation. I really, really hope that Infocards is open enough that it’s *possible* to write a LAMP based Identity Provider and Service provider that uses and interoperates with other Infocard systems. I don’t expect Microsoft to help with this, but I don’t really understand why they can’t. If Infocards were an open source standard, you’d see sample code and libraries being built by the community for multiple platforms. But because the source is a company, we apparently can’t expect them to also be the community or put effort into kickstarting the work. So the task falls on us. We end up having to do all the work with no help beyond reading the specs because we find it interesting. But I worry that the end result is that the LAMP community will not bother precisely because the spec came from Microsoft. The conclusion then is that Infocards is exactly the same as Passport. A reasonable identity system that only ever gets used inside Microsoft’s garden. The garden may have no walls but there’s still nobody else in it. What would be worse than this would be if Infocards has an open spec but the spec requires technology that only Microsoft has. Then it really doesn’t matter whether it’s open or not, it’s still impossible for anyone else to implement. For the record, I think that’s where it’s going. Like I said at the start I really, really hope I’m wrong.
I’ve thrown down a gauntlet in front of Kim Cameron. “Explain how InfoCard will get implemented on LAMP systems”. That doesn’t mean Kim has to do it, or that Microsoft has to do it. It’s only asking Microsoft how they think it will get done and by implication whether they’ll do anything to help. 9 months later, I’m still waiting for an answer.
The deeper question in here is how much any of these BigCos can open up and involve and support the development community when they are “in the business of taking care of themselves”. Google’s work with XMPP and Yahoo’s API groups are hopeful signs that people in those companies can see the self interest in supporting and listening to 3rd parties. Can Microsoft do the same thing? Or is the limit of their openness to use open standards? Although even that is a huge step which should be applauded.
Sam Sethi said some things that suggest that he does get it. And he’s a consultant working back in his old company not an employee. But I’m afraid the presentation seemed to be a classic MS presentation of futures, most of which were “Me Too” products, sprinkled overall with plenty of FUD. I’ve sat through too many of those not to be just a tiny bit cynical.
Of course Julian has the right to be as cynical as he wants. Doubt is the precondition of truth. And I think his guantlet is cool because it makes our discussion more concrete.
I told him last year that I accepted his challenge. And yesterday I did my first demo of using InfoCards to access a web service running on the LAMP stack: my blog.
Blogologists will have noticed that I switched from Radio UserLand to WordPress recently. It's written in PHP, and I chose to run it on LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP). My main motivation was to understand the issues facing my colleagues in the blogging community who use non-Microsoft technology. Along the same lines, I've moved my blog to a service provider so that I am running in a truly vanilla LAMP environment.
Moving my blog to LAMP wasn't that hard – given that I had some help. But then I had to learn not only how to program in WordPress, but, in its underlying language – PHP.
This has been eating up my “blogging time” more than I would have liked. But I have good news. I've now been able to put together some mods for WordPress that allow my site to accept infocards.
The mods were written in PHP, and Johannes Ernst – who I've been speaking with at the Berkman Identity Workshop – has asked me to publish the code on my blog. So I will. And I'll explain how it works.
I realize InfoCards aren't exactly ubiquitous right now, so you won't be able to try it out immediately. But this weekend I'll be posting a link to a video of the user experience.