Single profile, single identity: Part II

I’ve been thinking a bit more since the Kathleen Gilroy post about the idea of a single profile and realized that something like the beginnings of this idea had been tried before in FOAF, or Friend Of A Friend. FOAF is/was an RDF/XML specification that tried to formalize the process of how we present ourselves, in a format which enables machine reading and processing. Although technically it still floats around, it does not appear to be a prevalent force. But it may have just been ahead of its time.

Now I readily admit that I am a player when it comes to web technologies. I subscribe to many things just to see how they click and if they have potential (for me or my clients) as learning technologies. Here are a few services to which I have subscribed:

Each of these services required that I replicate specific personal and/or professional information. Often times, these fields even use the same descriptor. All of this is information which could easily be standardized and then stored in an XML file.

If a file is in a machine readable format such as XML, then it would follow that it would be a simple matter to process that XML so that it becomes your virtual representation to other sites. As I mentioned in my last post, it seems rather foolish and redundant to have to re-enter our profile information to whatever application/social software tool we choose to subscribe to. The value of mySpace, Facebook, elgg, LinkedIn and other similar services is in their ability to not only present our information but to also make connections as a result of those virtual profiles. If we subscribe to one or many Moodle courses, or are filling out forms, why not expedite the process by enabling those services/apps to automatically parse information available from our FOAF file? Now if this is to be the case, then it would be extremely important to have a strong authentication mechanism that the FOAF file does indeed belong to the subscriber. I could see PGP filling this gap.

One other area to consider is the “opt out.” If your FOAF file was formatted in such a way that it flagged items that you wanted to be prompted to allow to be read, then it would provide a level of awareness over how deep an application was searching your information. A nice feature would be for the service to provide a checklist of the profile features that they were culling from your file or better yet, for your file to report back to you a list of the requested items for your approval.

This, in my mind, is step one for the evolution of social software. Step one in that it is still simply copying data from one location to another. Step two would be for each individual to have a profile which is centrally managed and used as a synchronization point for a netizen’s various social software services. No longer would you have to manage each of your profiles independently, this mechanism would allow for the author once, publish many aspect that the web is beginning to recognize.

[tags]community, profile, identity, foaf, social_software [/tags]

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2 thoughts on “Single profile, single identity: Part II

  1. I think FOAF is probably dead in the water, although we continue to support it in Elgg. Basically, it’s not flexible enough.

    However, ‘single profile, single identity’ exactly describes what we intend to do with OpenID – a nice, simple identity standard that will grow in popularity this year.

  2. I’m glad you commented Ben. Elgg is actually where I first encountered FOAF. I will be following your development with great interest, I’m keen on seeing how Elgg evolves.

    Keep up the great work!

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