There was a period -- a long period at that -- when Microsoft was viewed as the evil empire of identity. So dasterdly was its Passport technology, some felt, that Microsoft's identity strategy had to be about a continuation of its domineering practices. The strategy even gave rise to an alliance -- the Sun-led Liberty Alliance -- to pull the rug out from underneath it and force Microsoft to come take a seat at the identity standards table. To date, Microsoft still is sitting the Liberty Alliance out, but to hear the Redmond, Wash.-based company's chief identity architect and strategist Kim Cameron speak can't help but leave with the feeling that Microsoft has finally decided to mend its ways.
Using words like "open" and "standards," Cameron is not only leaning on insiders at Microsoft, all the way up to Bill Gates, to mend fences and adopt more of an open position; he's leaning on the industry for an identity breakthrough. Until it does, claims Cameron, technology will remain forever shackled from some of the most explosive growth that awaits it -- growth that he likens to a big bang. I caught up with Cameron at PC Forum for an interview that's available as both an MP3 download and as podcast that you can have downloaded to your system and/or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet's podcasts: How to tune in). Cameron went deep, painting an easy-to-visualize picture of how the complex concept of digital identity works, what his immutable laws for it are, and why it's so important to solve the identity problem right now. Here are some highlights of what he had to say.
Cameron on what his job is: My job is to make sure that people do the right things in creating a new era of computing that is based on people knowing who they're dealing with instead of just an anonymous structure like the one we work in.
The three dimensions of identity defined: anonymity, uni-directional indentity, and multi-directional identity.
Cameron's very un-Passport-like thinking: If I, as an individual, go to a Web site, I don't want the identity I use there to be shared between that Web site and other Web sites. So, if I go to Amazon and then I go to a government Web site and then later I go to a Web site that sells music or something, I don't want all of those sites to develop a marketing practice of putting together a generalized biography of me, Kim Cameron, the consumer.
Cameron on the mistake Microsoft made: Passport began supporting unidirectional identifiers. Over time, it changed to omnidirectional because the Web sites wanted to be able to amalgamate digital dossiers in order to market to us better. Nobody thought very deeply about what these issues meant in terms of how people would react. The technology evolved, I think, in the wrong direction....We tried to do something that we thought was in the right direction but it wasn't well thought out... We need to rethink how you build this identity system in such a way that it behaves the way people expect it to behave.
Cameron on what will happen once everyone agrees on how to handle identity: There will be a big bang once we get an [identity] infrastructure in place that hits the tipping point. That's going to be a big deal.