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Identity In The Long Now

21 November 2007 2 Comments

One thing that has been troubling me with the OpenID model and providers like myOpenID [LINK], ClaimID [LINK] and now MyID [LINK] is the notion of tying identity to a URI.

Will an OpenID stand the test of time? Is it intended to?

When you cross silos you often uncover ideas people haven’t considered. Take Identity and apply Long Now thinking. The Long Now is a term intended to encapsulate the notion of Long Term Thinking. The Long Now Foundation [LINK] "hopes to provide counterpoint to today’s "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years."

When you start thinking in terms longer than 1, 3, 5 years out to ideas take on a new form and priorities change. The Long Now’s idea of building a clock that’ll run for 10,000 years is a great example. Can it be electronic? Made from space-age technology? Should the clock be a paragon of man’s engineering excellence? An atomic clock perhaps?

Probably not. 

With so much knowledge required to run it, it could not be guaranteed to last 10,000 years.

  So the clock should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. It probably should be mechanical and it needs to stand up to the elements. The clock should have some artistic or inspirational elements incorporated so that it will become beloved by the world and cared for as opposed to just another maintenance headache.

So applying this thinking to Identity and OpenID the biggest thing that jumps out at me is that this is a technology solution. Identifying someone as a URI does not endear itself to me at all. I am not "http://FrancisShanahan.com", I am not "Double-U, Double-U, Double-U Dot".

Identities need to be durable and last at least as long as a person’s lifetime or maybe two or three times as long. Will we still be using "http://" in another 80 years? 160 years? Are we going to bet that a baby born today will be traceable through an openID in another 100 years? Maybe that’s not the intent of OpenID or any of the other "redirect" protocols out there.

I mention it to highlight the point that we cannot limit our thinking to identity solutions that will be durable 5-10 years out. Perhaps 10,000 years is too long but we need a model that will be viable in the Long Now and not box us into the technology of the day.


  • Johannes Ernst said:

    You should keep in mind that nothing ever developed in the entire information / communications industry has any chance of still being usable 10,000 years from now. With the possible exception of well-preserved punch cards.

    However, it stands to reason that a global identifier scheme for “anything” could last rather long. It might evolve from what we know as URL today, but conceptually I doubt that this will evolve at the same rate as other technology advantages. So I’d much rather bet on the longetivity of, say, OpenIDs than, say, Microsoft Word files or 1 TB hard drives.

  • Radovan Semancik said:

    I share you opinion regarding URLs as persona identifiers. I don’t like them at all.

    But I think you should distinguish between “identity” and “identifier”. Strictly speaking, Radovan Semancik is not me, that is just my name. I’m much more than that (or I at least hope so). Identifiers can change over time and may not even be global … URLs may be good for now.

    But I wholeheartedly agree that URL-based identity is not a long term solution and our goal should be systemic solution, not a URL-based hack.

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