Monday, February 19, 2007

Solution to ID Overload


"’s just too f****ing bad I can’t remember my Yahoo user ID so I can log on to Pipes or any of this other “cool” stuff that Yahoo is doing. You say you want a revolution, well you can just count me out (in) only if you can remember one of the thousand IDs I’ve logged on to Yahoo with over the years of ignoring all their cool apps."

And here:

Well, I just tried to get back into Second Life to cancel my credit card. Problem is, I can’t get in. Someone changed my password.

The other problem? I can’t get my password. I think I signed on with my Microsoft address.

Are two bad examples of a real problem, the solution to which is known, and fairly easy to implement.

In the first case, celebrity journalist Gilmor can't remember IDs and passwords, so he makes up new one whenever he wants to sign in. Well, that certainly helps Yahoo inflate their user numbers for the "benefit" of advertisers. If you sign up for some new (as in new to the world, not new to you) service, chances are you can get your name, or favorite pseudonym as an ID, but for Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Google, chances are such an attempt will result in a friendly suggestion that you try something like "Gilmore4983" or "mac$beach_whoohoo". Nobody can be blamed for not remembering such monstrosities.

In the second case, Scoble has enough income that he can subscribe for months to a service he isn't using, and then blame the company for not magically being able to do anything about it even though it's the Sunday before a holiday, he has changed e-mail addresses, moved, gotten a new phone number. Secondlife has one of the better support systems on the planet, but he can't be bothered to even attempt to contact them. So, instead, he compares them by implication to Netzero, that has a truly deserved reputation in this area. Give us a break!

In days gone by, when there were only a dozen or so big names in "Internet Service Provision" it probably made some sense that you would get a unique ID for each of those dozen or so services. Chances were you would only be using one or two of them, and companies like Yahoo were sure you only needed one of them, so they set out to provide every possible service, proven or not, fully functional or not, buggy and broken or not, developed in house, or bought. Those days ended about ten years ago, but to this day, most ISPs (in the broad sense) still demand that you try and create a unique ID for yourself to use their service. Go ahead, try it! It's sort of like a game. "We have 75 billion users, see if you can come up with a short meaningful name for yourself"... "R6vnt_768x? HA! your going to have to try herder than that! We've never expired an old ID and we don't plan to start now succa."

Now for the solution. It starts with everyone, including Robert Scoble, obtaining a nice meaningful personal e-mail address for themselves. Preferably, the basis for the e-mail address should be a domain name, and that might be tricky too in terms of all the names already created. But the domain name system is far less tapped out than the Yahoo or AOL name systems are, for one thing, domain names aren't used as the basis for ad sales. For another, domain names expire, although you can register for 100 years or so if you really find a name you like. But while there are a lot of people out there who think having one or several domain names is the key to fame and fortune, there are fewer of those than the number of people who have signed up for free e-mail addresses from one or more of the above mentioned companies. Scoble owns (I presume), so he certainly should be able to use rather than a hotmail address.

Why is this a good idea? Well, that takes step two. ISP companies need to stop requiring people to have an ID that only goes with their service. If I am "macbeach" on blogger that should not tell you anything about my e-mail address, nor should it imply that I even have such an address at gmail. For most of these companies, identifying yourself as "macbeach" implies that you have an e-mail address by that name. That name also gets used for every other service you use from that vendor. That seems like a convenience at first. But what if I really like Flickr and I also really like Blogger, and I really like the MSN live web page system, it is very unlikely that the same name, unless I make it intentionally obscure, will exist for all three of those services.

Secondlife (while we are at it) makes you pick a first name, and select a last name from a list. I always thought this idea sucked. There was a reason for it, but not a technical reason. It was to provide something like a genealogy, except not really, of older names, and newer names, or something. Cute, but not really useful. I picked "Beach" as a last name because I was preparing to move to the beach, and since then the combined name has found a lot of homes, but there are a surprising number of places where the name is taken already. Maybe there is actually someone out there named "Mac Beach", but it isn't me, except in Secondlife that is. I also have short meaningful names at Yahoo, and Google, because I started using them when they were new. My name at AOL isn't very pleasant to me, so I use that service less as a result.

AOL has recently taken a half-step in the right direction. They now allow you to create a domain name of "your own" for free. So if your last name is "xxxyyyzzz" (sorry if that actually IS your last name) you could set up a domain at AOL called (or .net I think) and allow your family to each have a personalized email address there. Half-step, because the "free" domain doesn't actually belong to you, and if you decide you don't like AOL e-mail at some point you can't move the domain to another service. It's also half-assed, so far, because they promised the ability to set up a family (or other small organization) web page, and so far there is no indication of when, or if, you will actually be able to do that.

Google on the other hand, appears to be getting it right (they didn't at first, but it's getting there.) You can now sign up for almost any Google service by using any existing email address. If you hate Gmail, you can still use most of the other Google services by using a Yahoo, MSN, AOL or any other e-mail address as your login ID. If you are not paranoid about security, you could also use the same password you use for e-mail, if you are both paranoid and have a bad memory, you'd better start recording things like this somewhere safe.

I did a test just the other day and signed on to almost every Google service using an external e-mail address. The exceptions (of course) are Gmail (for e-mail) and Googlepages (for personal web pages) neither of which would make sense with external IDs.

Imaging if all vendors took this step... I'd pay somebody (cheapo, or free if a truly open service were available) to register my preferred name (by the way I did this long ago, but I ain't tellin' what it is to just anybody until Gate's promise of "solving spam" is universally fulfilled) and then I'd direct that ID/domain name combination to my favorite e-mail service (and how many free e-mail services allow you to do this so far? I can think of only one) and I'd use that to sign up for all the Google services I liked, and if the other service providers would open up their name spaces the world would be a better place. TADA!

Can I do this with MSN? I don't think so, first, since you have to run Windows to even get to the sign-up page I'll likely never know how wonderful it is (although I've read several newsgroup messages from people that USED to use it).

Can I do this with Yahoo? Only sorta. They do allow external e-mail addresses for Yahoo Groups, but that's only if you are just receiving e-mail message from the group. Anything else requires you to get a Yahoo ID that you may have no other use for. They recently made some changes with the Flickr ID system which were unpopular, again, favoring the use of Yahoo IDs I would guess (I stopped using Flickr when Yahoo took it over).

AOL? Like I said they show a glimmer of intelligence in this area, but it is clear that their management shuffles make any promises they make for future capabilities suspect. My free domain name gets mail, and that's about it. Using it to log into almost every other AOL service gets either a cryptic, or just plain wrong error message.

How about the smaller players? Do any of them allow you to just sign in with an e-mail address as your ID? There must be some, but I don't know of any. I'm all sign-ined out. This wave of web services is (I hope) coming to an end. So many new things aren't really that new and are also not different enough to be worth even trying out, much less switching to. They current Internet bubble is ending with a slow pin-hole hissing sound, hardly audible, not with a bang, at least so far.

I'm just hoping that if there is a next wave of new technology, really new, not just warmed over, they will start out in such a way that everyone doesn't have to invent yet another new name.

We'll see.

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