DiSo ideas are not that new.

Reading these:

A Perfect Storm Forming for Distributed Social Networking– Read Write Web

Evolution of Blogging – GigaOm

The Push Button Web – Anil Dash

The inside Out Social Network – Chris Messina

The Future Social Web – Jeremiah Owyang

I realize how incredibly ahead of the times I was along with many of the people I have been working with on open standards identity and social web standards.

I wrote this describing open standards for distributed social networking online in April of 2004f or the Planetwork Conference (from Archive.org)  that I was promoting.

———————— From Archive.org April 2004 ——————

ID Commons: Social Networking For Social Good: Creating Community Trust Infrastructure Through An Identity Commons

In 2003 the Planetwork LinkTank white paper The Augmented Social Network: Building Identity and Trust into the Next-Generation Internet proposed weaving new layers of identity and trust into the fabric of the Internet to facilitate social networking for social good – online citizenship for the information age.

The LinkTank white paper outlined three main objectives:

  1. Establishing a new kind of persistent online identity that supports the public commons and the values of civil society.
  2. Enhancing the ability of citizens to form relationships and self-organize around shared interests in communities of practice and engage in democratic governance.
  3. Creating an Internet-wide system for more efficient and effective knowledge sharing between people across institutional, geographic, and social boundaries.

Currently each site with a login or membership profile is like an island, or at worst a walled castle, as no common inter-operation is possible among large numbers of them. Creating a truly interoperable network will require an explicit social agreement that governs the operation of the trusted network, and implementation of a new software protocol consistent with that agreement.

Identity Commons

[note this is a reference to the “first” Identity Commons – the current Identity Commons shares the values and some of the organizing principles of this first organization but evolved from it]

The Identity Commons is an open distributive membership organization, designed to develop and operate a common digital identity infrastructure standard based on the shared principle of protecting each user’s control of their own identity data. A common identity infrastructure must be embedded within a binding social agreement ensuring that the technology and its institutional users operate in accordance with core principles. In addition to developing this agreement, Identity Commons is managing the development and implementation of the new technology needed to achieve this as a fiscal project of Planetwork, a California 501(c)3 non-profit.

The Identity Commons is based on an implementation of two new OASIS standards:

XRI – a new identity addressing scheme fully compatible with URIs
XDI – specifies link contracts for shared use of data across the Internet

For more technical information see: http://xrixdi.idcommons.net

Once implemented, the Identity Commons infrastructure will:

  • Give individuals, organizations, and even ad-hoc groups persistent addresses (digital identities) that can be used in many ways. Each party can decide what their own address links to, and who can follow the links.
  • Provide single sign-on, enabling individuals to connect to multiple sites without having to provide a login and password to each.
  • Empower user/citizens to manage their own consolidated profiles, which will be likely to stay up to date as everyone maintains only their own master copy.
  • Generate network maps that enable communities to more efficiently understand their own membership, make connections, recognize patterns, filter messages, and self-organize around new topics and functions.
  • Provide collaborative filtering services based on knowledge and reputation databases where contributors can also control their own level of anonymity.
  • Enable group formation around common interests and affinities with reputation attributes for trusted communication, which could be the key to eliminate spam.

How is this different from what is already happening in the private sector?

Currently every web site has a privacy policy, but they vary widely, are rarely read, are only good until they are changed and are thus effectively useless.

The Identity Commons (IC) solves this by (1) replacing thousands of privacy policies with a single institutional membership agreement that simplifies the user experience. Every Identity Commons member site is party to a legally binding commitment that can only be changed by amending the IC membership agreement – which is governed by all IC members. And (2) by using electronic contracts to grant, record, and enforce data sharing across boundaries.

Ultimately there can only be one fully interoperable social network; just as email can travel anywhere on the Internet, your profile must also be able to do so. Microsoft would love to make this possible, and fully control it – their Passport system was designed to do just that. By hosting identity data for nearly everyone who has a computer Microsoft hopes to put themselves in the middle of every transaction they can.

In response to this, a group of large companies formed the Liberty Alliance which developed protocols that will allow institutions to “federate” data across company boundaries. Federation is an improvement over the Microsoft Passport model, however, both of these approaches treat individuals solely as consumers, and neither provide support for civil society, citizen collaboration or for individual citizens to control their own identity data.

The Identity Commons agreement and technical infrastructure is a way to correct this imbalance of power, allowing the Internet to fulfill its great potential as a “commons” in which individual citizens can interact freely and as equals everywhere on Earth.

————- end Identity Commons description from Planetwork’s 2004 site ———

Writing this document was the first work that I did as an evangelist for the proposed open standards for distributed digital identity to enable open distributed social networks.
I wrote it based on reading through all their work and listening to their vision of the founders of Identity Commons and those working together for 2+ years hoped for in the adoption of the open standards they were working on. These protocols are now all ratified in OASIS (one of three standards bodies for the internet the other two being IETF and W3C) – XRI, XDI along with XRD/XRD that spun out of XRI as it became incorporated in OpenIDv2 as a key part of what makes it work.

Identity that is user owned, controlled managed – and this includes the preferences, attention data, uterances, 1/2 of transaction data – is at the heart of what one needs to make this vision of distributed social networking work. I think until recently it has been misunderstood as esoteric and just talk – amazing progress has been made since the early days of the identity gang that community has grown and developed many of the conceptual understandings and protocols that are taken as givens.

Folks from what the identity community (and perhaps should consider “updating” its name to the identity and social web community).…invented – as in used for the first time these two words together Social and Web – SOCIAL WEB – (according to wikipedia)

With the title of this paper: The Social Web: Creating An Open Social Network with XDI

This paper was preceeded by the Augmented Social Network: Building and Trust into the Next Generation Internet

Like the Web or email, the ASN would be available to anyone. It would become a common part of the Internet infrastructure – a person-centered and group-centered service of the net. It will be implemented through the widespread adoption of technical protocols; any online community infrastructure could choose to be part of the ASN by implementing them. Central to its design are fundamental principles of openness, inclusivity, and decentralization — which are necessary for a thriving democracy. At the same time, the ASN would support the highest available forms of security to protect privacy.

The Identity Gang began talking/meeting in the later part 2004 and has continued to meet in the Internet Identity Workshop.

There is much wisdom that these communities have developed that can be useful in moving / re-articulating the vision… to be sure lessons are to be learned from understanding more about why certain approaches/standards/proposed ways of doing things didn’t happen (yet).

I think the market wasn’t ready for what the identity community was saying. As someone who has been evangelizing about this set of issues practically full time since 2004. In the first few years I would talk in a range of communities and at conferences about all these issues, user control, open standards the danger of the potential emergence of large silo’s that locked users in and people just “didn’t get” it was an issue or that there was even a need for these kinds of standards. Now the market is finally ready.

The 9th Internet Identity Workshop  is this November – and REGISTRATION IS OPEN!

There is a whole conversation on the DiSo list where I highlighted this context/history. There might be a beer meetup in Berkeley this evening at Triple Rock at 7:30.


  1. says

    This is an interesting history, Kaliya. Thanks for providing it.

    I agree with you that the Diso concept is not wholly original — and indeed, I was influenced by Identity Commons in some of my thinking on the subject. I think two of the main differences that set apart the Diso Project from Identity Commons is heritage and approach.

    I started the Diso Project because I was frustrated with the failure of the microformats initiative to show any real end-user benefit. After promoting microformats for two years, the kind of distributed social web that I wanted just wasn’t materializing, even though I felt like we had the basic building blocks ready to go. The Diso Project was intended to galvanize the community to apply microformats and similar technologies to the problem of distributing the social web.

    As for the approach — where XDI and XRI were invented out of the ether (to the best of my knowledge) — the Diso Project has tried to invent as little as possible and to reuse wherever feasible. It may mean that we don’t arrive at clean APIs like the ones found in the Facebook platform, but at least adoption can be achieved incrementally, because the implementation cost is so much lower.

    While I think that a lot of the ideas that you presented in 2004 continue to be just beyond our reach, we are making progress — though largely by being conservative with the technologies that we build and their initial capabilities (OpenID being a great example of that kind of design). I am interested to see the delta between what’s emerging from the marketplace and the ideas that were presented in your whitepaper.

  2. says

    XDI and XRI came out of an standard called XNS that was more complex. The community around the first identity commons was working closely with a real social network service called at the time Friendly Favors and became Living Directory – Victor Grey was the tech behind both of these. There was an small active community contributing to the development of the standards. A small but active Planetwork community was meeting monthly between 2002 and 2005 and sharing projects and tracking the development of standards.

    The number of people/companies interested in these ideas at the time was very small. The notion of open standards needed to support a whole soon to happen ecology of social networks was ahead of its time. My hope is that the thinking of those involved in these early days can be tapped by newer emerging communities working on the same kinds of ideas.

    A key element that XRI has that will be super useful to the emerging social web and distributing it is abstraction – I wrote about it in this post – mid way down.

    Identity Commons 1 is quite different then the IC community now – the current model is about linking existing efforts together like OpenID, InfoCards, OSIS, and could also include projects like OAuth, DiSo, Microformats that are related but different – a linking brand for these efforts that all share a vision of user-control and open standards. We don’t know the “answer” for the challenge of successfully representing people online and the complexities of their social network – we do know that working together and out of these kinds of efforts innovation and solutions will emerge.

    I too look forward to finding the Delta between the big vision presented in the two papers I linked to and the current market place.

  3. says


    You say that XRI and XDI were invented “out of the ether”. While it’s true that the former represents a new identifier format and the later a new structured data sharing protocol, both are based on existing Web techhologies (URIs, HTTP, XML, RDF) just like almost any other approach to a Social Web of which I am aware.

    And as I think you know, XRI and XDI have been slowly growing “towards the mainstream” as interest in a distributed social web continues to grow, and as the need for mechanisms that will let users control the flow and sharing of their own personal data continue to mount up.

    So I’m a big supporter of anything that gets us to a true distributed social web, but please don’t discount XRI and XDI because they are trying, as open standards, to help solve the problem. There was a time when HTML, HTTP, and URIs were all new open standards too.



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