Monday, February 09, 2009

The End of the Identity Wars? I'm Going to Take Advantage of This...

On Friday, cyberspace was abuzz with news that Facebook finally decided to join the OpenID Foundation.

The internet's so-called "identity wars" have been waging for quite some time, and this news may signal their end. As I've previously explained, the fight has been over who will primarily house people's online social networks and let users bring those networks with them across the Web; Facebook, the world's largest social network, has been on one side; MySpace, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other members of the OpenID coalition have been united on the other.

For those less geek-oriented Nerfherder readers out there, what Friday's announcement really means is that soon you won't need to remember 30 different username/password combinations for all of your favorite websites, and you also may not need to create new ones in the future. You'll be able to use just one username/password combo to login to everything... and will be able to "bring" your online social network with you to all of those sites without needing to rediscover all of your friends again.

How am I going to take advantage of this? Let me count the ways. For starters, I'm going to devote an upcoming rainy day to consolidating all of my various website accounts. Using my Facebook username/password, I'll make sure that that's the only one I'll almost ever have to use - I'll use it to login to my accounts on Google, Hotmail, Yahoo, Digg, StumbleUpon,, AIM instant messenger, and all the rest. Talk about life simplification.

I'll also take advantage of much-touted feature that lets me "bring" my online social network with me everywhere I go in cyberspace. What does that mean? I'm not exactly sure, but it sounds great, doesn't it? Seriously, while data portability is a marvelous idea (and, yes, I really am a big supporter of it), so far there just aren't many real-world practical benefits of which I can take advantage - although one day in the future I'll be much better off for "owning" my social network versus leaving it at the mercy of one vendor to whom my network is forever locked-in.

All of which ultimately means that this news may not be nearly as consequential as bloggingheads are making it out to be. In the short term, the end of the identity wars simply translates into minimizing the number of passwords we need to remember - which is certainly nice in an apple-pie-kind-of-way, but hardly earth-shattering. In the long term, being in control of my online social network might actually prove to be extremely significant, as it fundamentally changes the ownership dynamic that increasingly defines our cyberspatial existences.

It just doesn't let me do anything special right now.


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