For one reason and another I hadn’t attended a Refresh Belfast event for a number of months, but last night I managed to make it to the Black Box again for this regular but informal get-together for local developers and creatives. Speaking this month was Blaine Cook, principal co-author of the OAuth specification and former lead developer of Twitter, on the subject of “Putting a Finger on Web Logins”.
Blaine talked the audience through a brief history of naming, showing how the idea of individual identity and addressing had developed and refined from animals, through to ancient human civilisations and on into more recent and then modern times. Nowadays we may have many different physical and electronic identities by which we can be contacted. How many email addresses or usernames do you have, for example?
We then moved on to WebFinger, a project that Blaine is working on that aims to provide a simple and unified way to identify yourself across various websites, using email address like identifiers. The WebFinger protocol allows metadata such as profile information to be retrieved given only one of these identifiers (that may well be a real email address you own) and subsequently used as login credentials, or whatever.
Much like OpenID, WebFinger would allow single sign-on across sites that were modified to support it, without the user having to create accounts at each of those individual sites. But the the intention is to surpass the uptake of OpenID, based on the realisation that most people already think of their email address as an identity but think of URLs (such as OpenID identifiers) as places or locations. For example, I might say to you “I’m it @ johngirvin . com“, but I’m unlikely to say “I’m http://www.johngirvin.com/blog“.
We saw some examples of how a WebFinger (or, to be fair, OpenID) enabled site could simplify it’s log in and registration procedures for users. I found these very interesting as I’d been struggling with how best to implement the user interface of these parts of a personal project I had been working on. After watching Blaine’s talk, I think I need to go back to the drawing board with it.
Refresh Belfast continues to be popular, with a crowd over around 120 attending January’s event.
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