In a recent Wired article regarding One Login, reference is made to a new social style network called GoingOn. The article spends most of its time focusing on one site that hopes to aggregate functionality that currently is split between Blogger, Flickr, Friendster, and Bloglines (for the most part). However, the thing it misses is what I previously discussed regarding the lack of a working distributed identity system.
After looking around more, I’m happy to say there are indeed working identity systems out there. Unfortunately the most promised of them, the Liberty Alliance doesn’t seem to have much oomph behind it, but two others that I previously didn’t know about are now out there.
The first is from the folks at Microsoft, which they’ve called an Identity Meta-System (or something like that), which is described over at vnunet. It seems to be rather tied (or at least integrated heavily) to Microsoft technology (go figure!), and will be included in Indigo and other various Micrsoft technologies. As a mainly open-source coder, this has little appeal to me, nor am I about to start using Microsoft API’s to write my websites and web code. The standards utilized by Microsoft for their Federated Identity are generally known as WS-* for some reason I’m too lazy to investigate.
The second is much more appealing (to interested users and web developers), and has actually been around for a very long time in a primitive form (2000 is ancient by web standards). The home site appears to be the identity commons, and the current sole Identity Broker is 2idi, the organization behind the standards is XDI. They’ve made the entire code-base they run the Identity Broker on, open-source under the Affero General Public License to ensure that users are never locked into just one Identity Broker (Yea!).
If you’re curious how the Microsoft and Liberty Alliance methodology differs, idcommons has a useful FAQ addressing the differences.
The most exciting aspect for me, is that all the technology behind the XDI approach is completely open-source, and geared towards maximum user flexibility and empowerment. The user gets to move data between Identity Brokers, and every care has been made to ensure the user is never locked into a single Identity Broker. Actually, the most exciting part, is that it works right now. :)
They’re currently preparing to switch to a SAML-2.0 backed code-base, however the code they have only works from PHP, Java, and Perl. If you want to try it out, here’s how to get an i-Name, and you can try it out on those two sites. Also, a developer made a ISSO (I-name Single Sign-On) authentication system for WordPress which is pretty cool.
So what’s stopping ISSO from being used on more websites? It’s free, its open-source, its standards based, its not controlled by a commercial corporation….
It needs Python libraries!
I should mention, when I first wrote this as far as I knew, there was no Ruby version. There still isn’t a public one, but Victor Grey is fairly close to a Ruby version with a full Rails rig to go with it which I’m rather looking forward to.
Anyone want to help? I’m tired of remembering a zillion usernames and passwords, and with ISSO on the horizon I shouldn’t need to, all the Python web frameworks will be a bit better (at least the sites that use usernames/passwords) with an easy way to use ISSO.
By the way, for a useful overview of SAML, there’s a very detailed write-up of SAML2 on xml.com.