Why AOL Should Go OpenID

I've argued beforethat identity is a building block -- an essential amino acid, if youwill -- for social networks.  It's far from the only thing you need,but without stable, persistent, verifiable identity, it's very hard tobuild relationships.  It's so important that there are specialized subnets in the human brain that recognize voices and human faces to help you remember people.

The digital world doesn't work like that.  Identifying someone onlineis hard.  Even solving the more limited problem of verifying that this person is the sameperson who you were socializing with yesterday online is not trivial. All social software has some mechanism for letting people verify someonline identity -- usually a user name and password.  Of course thatjust means that you have different user names for different services. In the new "Web 2.0" world, though, a primary rule is for services to be open and interoperate and play together. That's difficult if people have to remember that you're leetjedi67 onservice A and urtha52 on service B.  It's fine if you want to do that,but most people want to be themselves most of the time.  And ourinfrastructures don't allow for that.

Well, at least they didn't.  There's a remarkable convergence of usercentric identity systems happening right now.  At the lightweight end,basically everyone has converged on the OpenID standard.  This lets you be leetjedi.net everywhereif you want.  Or at least everywhere that supports OpenID.  The first,most practical benefit is that you won't need to fill out anotherregistration screen on most new services.  The more long term benefitis that you get to keep your identity and your reputation with you asyou move between services.

Of course none of this matters if companies don't adopt it, so what'sthe benefit for them?  Well, if their service involves a socialnetwork, it gains immediate access to both a network and an ecosystemof services which work with it.  The value of a social network grows quadraticallywith the number of users; the value increases linearly as thedifficulty in connecting two users drops.  Connecting two OpenID userswith is a lot easier than if you have to convince one or both to acquire a new identity.

This is the big value in promoting and leveraging a common standard. Even Microsoft is adopting open standards for their CardSpace identitysystem (and CardSpace and OpenID are talking cordially to each other,by the way).  So embracing the open network, leveraging the quadraticmultiplier in network value, and competing on value added services isreally the way to go.  Of course this means that you are opening upyour own services to more competition as well as cooperation).  SinceAOL has already committed to open web services, this is a logical nextstep.  Just playing around with ideas:  What would happen if every AIMuser name were OpenID enabled?  What if you didn't need to evenregister to use UnCut Video, AIM Pages, or AOL Journals

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Atom API for AOL Journals

Journals exposes a very complete API for creating and managing blogs, entries, and comments.  I'm working on getting the API documentation up on dev.aol.com sometime soon.  But it's very easy to get started with basic blog posts.  Here's an example using curl, that would post to this blog, if my password were MYPASSWORD:

curl -k -sS --include --location-trusted --request POST --url 'https://journals.aol.com/_atom/journal/panzerjohn/abstractioneer' --data @entry.xml --header 'Content-Type: application/atom+xml; charset=utf-8' --user panzerjohn:MYPASSWORD

where entry.xml is the Atom entry to be created, like this:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<entry xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom" xmlns:aj="http://journals.aol.com/_atom/aj#">
<title>Blog entry title</title>
<content type="html">
   Hello World!
On success, you'll see something like this in response:
HTTP/1.1 201 Created
Date: Tue, 12 Dec 2006 18:21:57 GMT
Server: Apache/2.0.54 (Unix) mod_ssl/2.0.54 OpenSSL/0.9.7e mod_jk/1.2.14 mod_rsp20/RSP_Apache2_v6_2.05-08-11:mod_rsp20.so.rhe_x86-3.v8_r1.44
Set-Cookie: RSP_DAEMON=1ceaffc0a8b18da03cfaaea9b70f236f; path=/; domain=journals.aol.com; HttpOnly
Set-Cookie: MC_UNAUTH=1; path=/; domain=journals.aol.com
Location: http://journals.aol.com/_atom/journal/panzerjohn/abstractioneer/entryid=168
Transfer-Encoding: chunked
Content-Type: application/atom+xml;charset=UTF-8

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<entry xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom" xmlns:aj="http://journals.aol.com/_atom/aj#">
<link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="http://journals.aol.com/panzerjohn/abstractioneer/entries/2006/12/12/blog-entry-title/168" />
<link rel="http://journals.aol.com/service.edit" type="application/atom+xml"
href="http://journals.aol.com/_atom/journal/panzerjohn/abstractioneer/entryid=168" />
<link rel="http://journals.aol.com/comments" type="application/atom+xml" title="Comments feed for this entry"
href="http://journals.aol.com/panzerjohn/abstractioneer/entries/2006/12/12/blog-entry-title/168/atom.xml" />
<title type="text"><![CDATA[Blog entry title]]></title>
<content type="html"><![CDATA[   Hello World!]]></content>
There are a lot of other parts of the API, but they're best left for a full document rather than a blog post.  There's also at least one known bug, where our servers don't accept the 'xhtml' content type.  That should be fixed on beta.journals.aol.com this Wednesday.


At IIW2006b

I'm at the Internet Identity Workshop (part B), listening to a bunch of smart people like Dick Hardt, Johannes Ernst, Kim Cameron, and of course Kaliya.  Looking forward to hearing a lot of exciting developments.  Already people are announcing open source libraries supporting OpenID.

Dec 5, 11:45am: There's a good article just put up at ZDNet: "The case for Openid" It's been Slashdotted already.  At IIW, I've been sitting in on the basic OpenID discussions, finding out what's new with 2.0, and listening in on the user experience/microformats discussion.  The latter is potentially interesting; at least there are specific short-term obvious next steps, like supporting XFN, that would help enable potential applications down the road.  This is a very difficult thing to sell to business people, though.  Maybe there's a session on that -- evangelizing to the business?