OpenID, wherefore art thou?

I’m a strong supporter of OpenID, the personal identity management technology that let’s you take charge of your own online identity, usernames, and passwords instead of farming yourself out willy-nilly to every site on the web. I don’t support OpenID for the technology itself—OpenID is just a collection of tools that are part of the machine that will enable something way more important: the user-centered, open web.

What’s the user-centered, open web? It’s the web you already know and love (and hate), made better with extra you, right at the center of it all. I could go on about its advantages for people, business, government and communities of all shapes and sizes, but others have done a much better job and I’m really trying to get to a different point here.

Lately I’ve started to worry a bit about OpenID. We’ve seen some recent promise realized to be sure, like Facebook’s progress toward adoption, logging in to Sears with OpenID, and local Portland OpenID pioneers Janrain hiring @peat. Progress like that balances the sad demise of Vidoop, Portland’s other OpenID darling, which I’ve commented on elsewhere.

Yet something else has been gnawing at me for a while. Back in February, 2009, the OpenID Foundation (OIDF) that coordinates and supports OpenID development and adoption hired a new Executive Director (ED), Don Thibeau. I don’t know Don and I’m sure he’s a fine and capable person, but I was expecting someone more, well, open, and webby. Don’s background didn’t seem to match OpenID’s open, webby provenance, community, or future.

At the time, I figured that maybe the OIDF board of directors picked Don specifically for his background in business and government to help legitimize OpenID with the businessy, government types that we need on board to support widespread adoption and to help build the OIDF into a sustainable organization. That strategy made a certain amount of sense to me. The OIDF ED should be able to garner the attention and respect of the more buttoned-down communities that have substantial power over the practices and technologies where we want OpenID to intervene AND be able to help the OIDF grow and prosper.

But it’s been almost half a year now and I have yet to hear anything from Don. I have not seen a single post to the OIDF mailing lists, nor any blog posts, or even mere website announcements or old-school press releases. Don, where are you? Even my simple inquiries about the apparently broken credit card payment process for OpenID membership have gone unanswered.

If the OIDF is immersed in ensuring its own sustainability and important behind-the-scenes evangelizing and deal-making, that’s great. But the open, webby community that has been evangelizing, building and adopting OpenID heretofore and meanwhile needs to know what is going on. The ED reports to the OIDF board, but the position’s real constituency is the broader OpenID community. Inform us, involve us, respect us. If deep, sustained, open community engagement isn’t possible as the primary function of the OIDF, then something is seriously broken.

I want to stress that I’m not leveling any personal criticism at Don himself. I imagine he’s very busy with work that benefits the OIDF and OpenID. In fact, I have so little information about Don and what he’s doing that there’s really nothing to laud or criticize, and that’s exactly my point. Open up, often, as your first impulse, and make community engagement your first priority.

The Fall of Vidoop

Chris Messina just posted a long, thoughtful and informative blog on the rise and fall of his erstwhile employer, local Portland identity provider Vidoop.

For those of us in the Portland tech community who welcomed Vidoop, saw our friends and colleagues go to work for them, and—in my case at least—starting using their OpenID provider service myVidoop—the whole series of events is mostly sad. I truly liked everyone I met from Vidoop and really appreciated their work and contributions to our community, like their hosting of the CyborgCamp 2009 pre-party.

I strongly agree with Chris that the fall of Vidoop can not be read as a failure of OpenID or other open web technologies, standards, or practices.

It is in fact the strength of OpenID that I was able to switch my OpenID delegation to our other local Portland identity provider, Janrain’s MyOpenID, in a matter of minutes and have no interruption in my identity services. What happened with Vidoop proves the value of controlling my own identity via OpenID and merely using providers and other services as I need them.

Vidoop: I’m truly sorry. For those of you who needed to learn lessons, I hope you did. For all the Vidoopers and their customers, I hope what happens next is a good thing.

For OpenID: I’m with you even more than before.

Creativity Inverged: InVerge & Cre8Con 2008

Experiencing three days of purposefully and accidentally thought-provoking speakers at Portland’s recent Inverge and Cre8Con conferences leaves me feeling, well, thoughtful and provoked. Some of the presentations were predictable, some were compelling, but nearly all of them generated further reflection on what is and what will be.

Engagement

Engagement was the theme I drew from the wide variety of media and marketing professionals and researchers at Inverge. From the giddy meditations on the media engagement that is from presenters like Widen+Kennedy’s Renny Gleeson, Vidoop/OpenID’s Scott Kveton, raven.me’s Raven Zachary, and cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, to the descriptions of what media engagement is beginning to become from USC ICT’s William Swartout‘s descriptions of the building blocks of holodeck technologies and Vortex/Harmony Channel’s Ed Lantz‘s tour of immersive media environments. Then the good news/bad news of engagement brought to us by MIT’s Joshua Green, who got us thinking about the value the agents formerly known as “consumers” bring to brands and products and what they should get for their work, and Andy Mooney and Chris Heatherly, who openly described Disney’s very clear and strategic systems to engage children as “desiring machines.” I hand it to Disney for understanding how to architect experiences like the techno-charm bracelets that talk to each other and jack in to Tinkerbell’s Pixie Hollow website…but thankfully, Disney’s poor art direction and music selection may keep them from owning the entire brains and allowances of every child on earth.

Creativity

Despite drawing on only local Oregon talent, Cre8Con certainly delivered a day-load of eye-poppingly great work and thoughts on how to make it, including Michael Curry‘s amazing puppetry, damali ayo of Crow Clothing’s must-have clothing and laudable business practices, and Brian Van’t Hul of LAIKA’s tantalizing previews of the upcoming Coraline animated feature.

When it came to creative practices, I was left waffling between the incredible focus required to produce Jay Meschter of Nike’s nearly-invisible shoes and Adam Gallardo of Dark Horse Comic’s advice to absorb as much as you can from the widest variety of sources. I’m left feeling like both practices fuel my creative engine.

On Your Feet ‘s closing 10-min summary of the entire Cre8Con conference should be required at any and all conferences of any type from now on for both laughs and material retention. And finally, let’s not forget that neither of these worthy events would’ve happened without the dedication of Steve Gehlen and a host of other hardy volunteers.

Inverge & Cre8Con

For anyone engaged in the creative practices that are generating the continuing convergence of interactive media, technology and culture, Portland, Oregon will come alive next week with the convergence of both the second annual Inverge 2008 Thu-Fri 4-5 Sep at the Gerding Theater and Cre8Con, Sat 6 Sep at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, not to mention the concurrent MusicFestNW, the Time-Based Art Festival and the only slightly more regular First Thursday.

Last year’s inaugural Inverge event sparked a lot of thinking that crossed all the right boundaries and provided the opportunity to connect with thought leaders from a wide variety of disciplines. This year promises to be even better, with speakers including MIT’s Joshua Green, Weiden+Kennedy’s Renny Gleeson and Jelly Helm, Disney’s Andy Mooney and Chris Heatherly, Nike’s Jay Meschter and Michael Tchao, as well as Oregon luminaries, Scott Kveton from Vidoop, Raven Zachary from Raven.me and Amber Case, Cyborg Anthropologist, designer Damali Ayo, Adam Gallardo from Dark Horse Comics and many more. Check out all the speakers at Inverge and Cre8Con.

I’ll be there, will you?