Yahoo! steps in a pile of identity

Yahoo! steps in a pile of identity

Summary: Yahoo! has found that people have a lot of their personality invested in their Flickr IDs and don't want to give them up. Is there a better way?

TOPICS: Google

Last week, I wrote about the release of Google Talk and how it plays into Google's identity strategy.  Giving unique IDs to its users and adding presence is a great move on Google's part, but it's old hat to Yahoo!, MSN, and others.   But then, Google's forte hasn't necessarily been being innovative on fundamentals, but in following along behind the leaders and doing it better.  Perhaps, then, Google can learn from Yahoo!'s latest misstep.

If you haven't been following along, Yahoo! found itself in a minor controversy when it announced its intention to integrate Yahoo! IDs with the IDs of newly acquired Flickr.   What Yahoo! found was that people have a lot of their personality invested in their Flickr IDs and don't want to give them up.  In fact, a group of Flickr users has created Flick-off and are threatening to kill their accounts before the deadline rather than give-in to identity hegemony.  This may seem like a response that's way out of proportion to the issue, but like it or not, people are sensitive about their names and how those play into their identity--a lesson Google and others should take note of.  As Mary Hodder wrote:

Yahoo reset my cookie (and everyone else's) last week for Flickr. I was presented with a login screen which had two entry points: one for my Flickr ID and one for my Yahoo ID, with a note underneath the Yahoo entry saying that once I used the Yahoo ID, I would need to always login with the it. This was a bit jarring. I could not go back to my Flickr ID. I love Flickr. I use it everyday. It's my photos, my emotional representation of how I spend time, who my friends are, who I see now and then, what I care about. And they want me to integrate with my Yahoo ID, not something I feel is the least bit cool or fun or that I have emotional attachment to compared to Flickr.

Mary goes on to suggest that inames are the answer.   If you're not an identity geek, you probably don't know what an iname is.  Simply put, an iname is kind of like a domain name for people--a single, universal ID that can be mapped onto various other IDs.  Mary's suggestion is that Yahoo! become an iBroker (like a DNS server for inames, to continue the analogy).   That would allow Yahoo! to keep both Yahoo! and Flickr IDs and map them back and forth easily.  Strictly speaking, Yahoo! doesn't need inames to do this.  There's lots of federation technologies they could use--they could even roll their own.  One wonders then, why did Yahoo! see an imperative to consolidate user IDs? 

My guess is that the answer comes down to Yahoo! trying to do the right thing for its users and simplify its ID management infrastructure at the same time.  After all, one of the chief complaints about identity is users having multiple IDs all over the Web and having to remember lots of different logins. But the Flickr story shows that many people actually prefer having unique IDs (and by extension, identities) at various Web sites.  What they dislike is having to remember them and their associated passwords. 

Using inames, Yahoo! could allow people to map their Yahoo! and Flickr IDs to a single iname which could be used at either site, while still maintaining independent logins for people who identify themselves primarily as Yahooligans or Flickrians.  Yahoo! could, with user permission, associate the IDs to offer services that blend the services of the component sites.  As Mary points out, solving this the right way leads to a general solution for all future acquisitions as well. 

Topic: Google

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  • Fact check

    iNames aren't needed in this case: Yahoo IDs are used <i>for authentication only</i> - the "screen names" used on Flickr and the Flickr profiles are, and will be, 100% unchanged.

    (Also, Yahoo didn't reset anyone's cookies: Mary must have logged out, used a different computer, used a different browser, cleared her cookies, or something like that.)
  • I lost all my Flickr Photos due to 2 login confussion

    yea i lost all 500+ photos and people that were on my friends list due to the confussion of the multiple login ... my flickr account is gone and Y!flickr account which 59 photos because of the confussion flickr login ..because i was getting used to using flickr login when all of sudden was asked either login to Flickr account or Y!flickr account but when i tried to delete my free flickr account from Yahoo i accidently delete my Flickr pro account for 2 years on it
  • Multiple User ID Confusion

    like other users I maintain a number of identities on the net. I have just run into trouble with my membership onb PC Magazines web site. I have a user account to use the web site. For some reason I cannot change my email address to the new one that I need. I get a message "The email adress you have entered is already in use. Please enter a different email address".
    This occurs after I first went to ZiffDavis Net and created a new profile with my new email address. PCMag is a part of ZDNet.
    Apparently my email address is used for identification. I now have two ZDNet accounts - one with my old email adress and one with my new email address. Nowhere is there a means to delete on or the other. The same situation exists on PC There is no means to look up an ID by email even though the business seems to use email address as the primary identification.