March 30, 2008
The History of Tomorrow’s Internet

Ryan JanssenI recently encountered Ryan Janssen’s insightful series entitled “The History of Tomorrow’s Internet” and immediately read the whole thing in one sitting. Among other gems, I found in it the clearest explanation of the value and promise of XRI/XDI that I’ve ever read. Great stuff!

The most recent installment detailed his experiences of “how it feels for a regular person to use Cardspace”. In particular, he documented his experience of using CardSpace for the first time to leave a comment on this blog. He introduced his narrative with:

… as someone who’s business it is to build great software, I KNOW how hard good UI is. Believe me, I work with a GREAT product team and we try REALLY hard to make intuitive software and we fail EVERY day. Having said that, this post isn’t going to paint a real pretty picture.

I’ll let each of you read his blow-by-blow narrative yourself. He closes with:

So what’s the final analysis? Well, as I stated in the beginning, the purpose of this post isn’t to bash Microsoft or Cardspace. Like I said, I build software and when I actually see a normal person use it for the first time, I’m inevitably embarrassed at how difficult it is. Software is hard and Cardspace is brand new. Nonetheless, this does show how far the technology has to go before Mom and Dad are going to be using it. Usernames and Passwords are UBIQUITOUS. We’ve been trained on the visual metaphors for at least a decade. Replacing that with ANY other paradigm is going to rough. To have any chance of success, the Cardspace workflow will need to be much improved.

Because I’m a member of the CardSpace team, I can say that as much as the team is understandably proud of what they accomplished in V1, they’re also pragmatic realists who are fully aware of the issues that Ryan documents so well and the vital importance of addressing them in our future releases. It’s exciting participating in that very process on the fifth floor of Microsoft building 40, day in, day out, as the team defines and refines what the next release will contain. Greatly improved usability is certainly one of our highest-priority goals.

I know that Ryan has also motivated Pamela and me to take a look at how the flow on the blog can be improved. PamelaWare for WordPress isn’t even yet a V1 release (it’s at v0.9 currently) and I know Pamela has lots of ideas on how to improve it. Ryan’s experiences will certainly help inform the next release.

Also, I’ll remark on these excellent observations:

Ready to post? Not yet. Since my iCard is self-issued, Mike’s site (yes, the site is called ironically enough) doesn’t trust me and has now decided that I need to verify my email address. This is obviously a little annoying, but it brings up a good use-case for the first Claim Provider–one that has verified my email address, home address, and phone numbers, so I NEVER have to respond to an email or text message like this again.

Asking the user to verify his or her e-mail address is a way of obtaining a backup means of authentication that can be used in the case where user has lost his Information Card. Just like many accounts backed by passwords use e-mail in the “lost password” flow, PamelaWare uses e-mail to the user in the “lost card” flow and verifies ownership of the e-mail address at account creation time. Ryan correctly points out that if I had received a verified e-mail address as a claim there’s several steps we could have skipped. Making this scenario a reality is one of my personal goals for the Identity Layer we’re all building together.

There’s nothing like real user data to inform what needs to happen next. Thanks, Ryan, for taking the time to provide it to all of us. I look forward to reading the next installment of the series!

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