December 13, 2004

What’s in an I-Name?

Up until recently my question was “What is an I-Name” Then I listened to the ITConversations interview with Owen Davis on the subject of IdentityCommons, which underpins I-Names, and it all became clearer.

The simple answer appears to be “DNS, but for people“ I-Names are assigned to people in a similar way to the way Domain names are allocated to their owners. You identify an unused I-Name, pays your money, and its yours! You pay an Identity Service Provider such as 2idi.

I’ve now got mine =Richard.Wallis it only cost me a donation of $25, and it is mine all mine for the next 50 years. That should impress the other Richard Wallises out there, I got in first! It raises an interesting point though, all I-Names are unique, but all people names are not. When was the last time you saw an eBay User Id that was the user’s actual name? But again selecting an identity, or handle, that describes you is an interesting exercise in its self

So what! What can I use my I-Name for, beyond showing off that I have got one by putting it in my eMail signature. Today not much, but it has potential.

As an I-Name is a guaranteed unique universal private address, or identity, it could be used by all sorts of systems to confirm who you are. It picks up on the same ideas as Microsoft Passport, but without the perception of world domination.

I-Names are also applicable to organisations so as well as being able to uniquely identify me, it should be able to identify the me that works at Talis separately from the me that is at home buying stuff off eBay. The same ‘me’ but in two different contexts.

Extending that concept to ‘me’ on a University course context that because of it has licensed access to a particular eJournal, starts to make things interesting. Add to that the possibility of Amazon knowing my I-Name and will then trust me for one-click purchases and things could get very interesting.

So is this the Holly Grail of identity management that will solve all the problems Shibboleth, Athens, WS-Federation, etc. have all tried to address with differing levels of success? I doubt it, as Jon Udell has quiet rightly pointed in his thoughts on the subject
“having spent more hours than I care to admit poring over specs and architecture diagrams from the Passport, Shibboleth, Liberty, and WS-Federation projects, I suspect (as does Doc Searls) that some other identity standard will prevail.”

But there again it could be one of the lights at the end of the tunnel that together will solve the travelling identity problem, and will be so obvious [like DNS is now] after we have all given in and start using the de-facto standards that emerge.

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