(Note, updated below, 8:30am 9/5/05) I've been thinking about this identity issue since it came up Monday (okay, yes.. I'm really trying hard to take this week off from blogging but here I am, blogging).
Anyway, I had a thought Tuesday, and figured I would toss it out there. So, Yahoo could take it's hundreds of millions of IDs (that all authenticate in Yahoo's system through the front section of their email accounts) like joeblow468 which is really firstname.lastname@example.org, and change those to iNames. Yahoo could become an iBroker for all of it's IDs, which are unique, turning them into:
or better yet
These IDs could then easily be interchangeable with Flickr IDs:
... I think what Yahoo is really looking for is something simple to integrate IDs between their company and those they acquire, as well as ways to make themselves more open. I don't think they intend to freak everybody out, or make them paranoid because of the necessary integration. If Yahoo used an iName system, all ID's no matter where they come from could be made into iNames, with Yahoo as iBroker, where they could then integrate additional ID's into this system. ID's from newly acquired systems could remain essentially the same.
Also, it seems like what really matters for Yahoo is not the hundreds of millions of IDs (well, yes they do for now..) but rather Yahoo wants to be thought of as forward thinking, innovative and useful. And they want to *be* heavily used. Creating user ease and control for authentication, and being new and innovative with identity management could accomplish that. Having great services like Flickr that users love makes them want to come back, not lock-in.
The point here though is that people are very sensitive about their identities. It may not be rational or in proportion to the issues at hand, but user's reaction to identity integration is one that you can expect to get from people if you build systems that don't take into account how emotionally and personally people take their identities, and digital representations of our identities.
Yahoo did not reset cookies last week, per Stewart's comment below. Instead, it just appears to have happened coincidently for a group of users I was with, and then someone confirmed this to me a Yahoo. But actually, it's not true. Instead my cookie (and about 10 others) were just randomly triggered to ask for a login, where we were asked to reenter our login IDs.(End of update).
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 has since changed to explain the tie in of ID's with either type of login, but doesn't warn users that once a Yahoo ID is used, there is no going back). This was a bit jarring. I could not go back to my Flickr ID (the backend authentication ID, though my front end ID stays the same). 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.
I had to think twice about whether I wanted all my Flickr photos to be associated with my Yahoo ID, which represents 9 years of random email, plus some old website data (once upon a time, hodder.org was hosted there for 6 months or something), and various yahoo groups, plus other random stuff. I don't think I do, because information online doesn't age very well. So I'm going to make a different Yahoo ID, when the time comes where we have to change over, so that my Flickr stuff can stay separate. But for now, I'm mourning a little bit the coming loss of my Flickr ID (for the login part of things). In a way, it actually represents both me, and my community interactions there.
(Note and lengthy update added here:) When I say the loss of my Flickr ID, what I mean is, the authentication ID that I use, which is an email address that I like. I don't mean the front end ID, which is slightly different, and what the world sees when they go to my photos. Nathan Arnold pointed out below in a comment that the front end ID isn't going away. And he's right. But from a user perspective, what I login with is a backend, or functional ID (my email address which is mary at hodder blah blah) and what appears in the front end is my Flickr ID name, or Mary Hodder, and for the user, these are functionally tied together. I put in the "mary at hodder" login email to get to the "Mary Hodder" account.
Which brings up another point. When I was making the example above, I used joeblow468 because to me it looks so much like what so many Yahoo and Hotmail and MSN and AOL emails look like: an address the user tried to get, that actually represented themselves, like joeblow, which was taken, so they wound up with some crazy kludge at the back of their ID or namespace, usually in the form of numbers.
My own Yahoo ID is not what I wanted, even from 9 years ago. It's got an extra "o" on the end of it, because at the time, the name I wanted (an old nickname from my boyfriend at the time) was gone. So since it had the extra "o" on the end, which I've never really felt good about. If it had some random number on the end, which at the time I was getting it, Yahoo offered me as a choice, I would feel even more random about my ID/email at Yahoo. It's one of the reasons I made that email sort of a dumping ground for (frankly) garbage. I couldn't get the name space I wanted, either for login (backend) , or as an email (front end and to be shared with others) that I cared about or for things that I want to keep well, like my Flickr account, which is perfect and pristine. So, by asking me to tie my perfect and accurately representative Flickr name space ID on their frontend, to my bastardized Yahoo namespace on the backend (for authentication), it feels bad. And I suspect this may also be what's behind some of the discomfort people feel when Yahoo asks us to enter a Yahoo ID to login, in order to come to a Flickr ID on the front end.
What iNames might do for Yahoo is allow them to also give many more ID names that people care about (maryhodder, for example, sans numbers) with something attached (like .flickr or .yahoo or .yahooligans or whatever they want to give after the initial namespace). That way, we could have the ID in the first section of the namespace that we care about, but have a different second name after the dot, which means that there could be lots of maryhodder's without a large number at the end). My guess is, we would start caring much more about things like our Yahoo accounts if we had a name ID that reflected what we wanted, and how we view ourselves.
No one views themselves as joeblow468... they view themselves as joeblow, and the idea that we have to put a number at the back serves to tell us that we are not unique, we don't really own our name (someone else does), and therefore I suspect that many feel like me about making it the place we don't care about or keep well. When all the good name spaces somewhere are taken, what's left is often treated as garbage. Others have told me they use these kinds of accounts as their "spam" accounts, but it would be interesting to do some research to see if many users are experiencing what I have just described. (End of update).
If Yahoo used iNames to manage identity, this wouldn't really matter. They could just take an iName into their system as a unique ID, whether it was =joeblow468.yahoo or photojoe.flickr or =mary.hodder. Then they could show themselves to be really cool, by being open as an iBroker to allowing IDs to flow in and out of the system as well, as users choose to move their iNames about from broker to broker.
It would be an awesome thing for identity management if I could use my Yahoo ID to log into the NYTimes, or my bank, or whatever, or use my =mary.hodder to login to Yahoo or the NYT or my bank, with single signon where I control who gets what information from my iBroker and I can have a couple of IDs to quell nervousness if I feel too much is held in one place. But the fact is, having something simple that works everywhere would be really cool.
One of the people who works for me showed me a database on Monday, while we were discussing the Flickhoo flap, that she's been maintaining for the past 10 years of all of her logins all over the internet. She has 249 different logins at that many sites. Solving this problem, so that she could just use one or two or three logins everywhere, makes a lot of sense. And Yahoo could really take the lead on Identity Management by adopting a system that would create simplicity for users, and simplicity for themselves. And turn down the public relations flap a notch when they acquire companies and have to integrate users and ID's into the company.Posted by Mary Hodder at September 1, 2005 08:22 AM | TrackBack