Adding value to a user presence

Livejournal recently added a really neat feature: they’re running an instant messaging server at If you log in using a Jabber client with your standard site username and password, your buddy list is automatically comprised of people you’ve listed as a friend; because it’s on the Jabber network, you can then talk to Google Talk users and more.

I think this is a very clever way to leverage user identities – suddenly your Livejournal profile isn’t just a place where you write things about your life; it’s also a gateway to other services where you can communicate with your friends in different ways. We’re doing something similar with the Elgg profiles; as I wrote the other day, Kevin Jardine has been doing some quality work integrating OpenID into Elgg. When we enable this, not only will be my Elgg identity, it’ll be the profile that identifies me around the web. The idea of an Elgg account as your digital identity suddenly takes on a whole new dimension.

I honestly think this kind of interoperability of identities could change the whole dynamic of the web. Essentially you could choose a particular service that you felt best represented you to host your central identity; then tertiary services like Flickr or 43things could hang off that and link back to your main profile. Should you decide to move your identity from (say) a university site to one hosted by your employer, the profile would simply send a message to the services it knows about, and they’d change their pointers. Because the first profile site is already trusted, de-linking could be entirely automatic; it then passes trust to the second site, so re-establishing links to the second profile could be automatic too. (A pointer from old to new would persist in the case that the message couldn’t get through.) Non-public-facing sites like Writely – where you sign up and perform tasks, but don’t necessarily share it with the outside world – could be logged into using the account details from your main profile.

This also makes the notion of an eportfolio all the more important and appealing – because everything you do links back to this single point, suddenly you really are representing yourself to different audiences, who might come to you after seeing your content on any number of websites or networks. My eportfolio is my digital identity, my CV, my shop window and my story; not just for education, but for the world.

Better yet, if a decentralised model similar to the above is adopted, which I strongly believe it should be, there is no single service provider. Person A can have a profile hosted by the university where they have tenure; person B can have it hosted by MSN Spaces; person C is tech-savvy and can decide to host their own server and run everything themselves. As long as all three systems conform to the standard, it doesn’t matter; users choose where to host their profile on what features each system can provide, as opposed to because a particular provider has a monopoly on the technology. Even with this central identity model, the web remains open.

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