As an ischool student, I like to see what folks at other ischools are thinking about, and I had experimented some with claimid in the fall. In the developers’ own words,
One of the greatest things about having a claimID page is that you can easily provide people searching for you with a real picture of your identity. With claimID you can claim your blog, your website and news articles that mention your name into a central place. If someone is searching for you, they previously might not have found all of those important pages. With claimID, you can put your best face forward and let people see the identity you wish to present.
It’s an interesting idea, but I had a lot of trouble figuring out the right way to use it. I manage my online “identity” through my website, including this blog, and various sites including flickr, linkedin, upcoming, and even last.fm. Links to things about me can sometimes go on
Earlier this month, ClaimID added an OpenID and XFN based contact system. It is a first step, and in its current implementation the value proposition is pretty thin. The blog post announcing the new feature talks about the relationship between contacts and reputation — fair enough, but LinkedIn seems to have staked out that territory already. That does not stop me from being a bit excited about the feature and its potential, and it makes ClaimID’s territory a lot more interesting.
My optimism for OpenID + XFN is that it can enable a single-sign-on version of social networking. This isn’t a problem whose solution can be distributed as easily as OpenID style authentication — everyone’s OpenID server could start serving up a list of the OpenIDs of their friends, but with such a decentralized approach, identifying people that are more than one degree away starts to get very expensive — but it has its appeal.
Imagine an eBay or Amazon Marketplace style transaction, only know you know that you are a 3rd degree contact of the seller — someone in your network knows someone in their network. This changes the transaction experience. This is the basic idea behind LinkedIn’s hiring and B2B services sections. There are many web applications where knowing users’ social networks can add value, but it might not add enough value to get users to go through the process of adding their contacts. Importing social networks (privacy concerns aside) might also allow a site to identify n-degree connections between the site’s users, even if someone in the network is not a user of the site.
Importing social networks also can help handle the cold start problems on many social sites. Going back to the eBay or Amazon example, adding social information to a transaction may be most important for first time sellers and buyers, but these are also the people are most likely to need that added bit of reputation since they have not otherwise developed one on the site.
Of course, there are some challenges to this use of social networks that go beyond implementation details. My Flickr contacts are not my LinkedIn contacts, and I don’t really want them to overlap. I doubt that the current XFN profile offers users enough flexibility to manage who gets to be a contact on which website just by filtering values. This may mean that an OpenID approach to social networks may be limited to websites in which social social networks are not a central feature.
I’m not the first person to get excited about the combination of social networks and OpenID, and claimid is not the first OpenID service to manage relationships. It’s an encouraging sign of things to come, and I’m hopeful that there is some good momentum building in this direction.