DIDW 08 & the User-Centric Debate
This year’s Digital ID World was in Anaheim California, and ran from September 8-10. I really enjoyed this conference — the feel for me wasn’t the usual sense of a “broadcast medium”, it wasn’t so much a big show as a big conversation. I know that attendance was lower than usual, and perhaps if you were an Identity implementer/manager looking to find peers in the same verticals, etc, this might have been a problem – but with respect to access to the speakers, and access to vendors, you could not beat this conference.
Of course, given that I was a speaker myself I could be biased, but I thought that the agenda was comprehensive and well put together, and that each speaker taught me something that I hadn’t known before (thanks to Eric for giving me the opportunity to be part of it all).
On Tuesday I participated in a panel with Dale Olds, Denise Tayloe, Bob Blakley, and Paul Trevithick on Open Source Projects and their contribution to User-Centric Identity, and the conversation was lively, with lots of participation from the audience as well.
One of the debates we jumped into during the panel was around the term “user-centric”. A central theme in Jamie Lewis’ keynote was that ‘centric’ in general is bad, but I can honestly say that I didn’t understand the justification for this opinion — the speech talked about moving away from “ours” and “theirs”… but what does that mean? In the panel, Bob stated that he didn’t like user-centric because it personified the “male mafia” conflict model (hopefully I paraphrased that correctly), which confused me even further. Did they think that by changing the names that somehow the essentials of the negotiations would change?
I accosted Bob after the panel to get to the bottom of it, and the point eventually came out to be that in his mind centrism is all about getting what you want at cost to everyone else. His opinion of user-centrism is that it’s all about the user holding all the other parties hostage, and that a model that strives for mutual benefit between all parties is a better thing to pursue. This could very well be the case, but — holy cow some specifics might be useful here. Who should be pursuing what at which level? Protocol design? Deployment design? Product design? I am left with only a vague idea that I am somehow doing something wrong but with no sense of what right might be.
Sure, there are a few blind worshippers of the cult of user-centric out there, but I firmly believe that common sense has to win out in deployment scenarios, and that various technologies should and will be used where applicable to solve problems. I myself am perfectly aware that if information cards are a hammer, not everything out there is a nail – is that what Bob is worried about? Either way, saying that centrism is bad does not help me to know what is good, and to be honest, it isn’t going to change how I put things together either. If the intention is to change how I put things together, I will need a rationale. If somebody wants to argue with the way I’m looking at this technology, I am more than open to it, but I want a debate, not a smear campaign.
If, on the other hand, all this is about is finding a positive, all-encompassing touchy-feely name to give to the systems-formerly-known-as-user-centric so that isn’t all about conflict, fine — pick a new name already. I only ask that if you’re going to diss the current buzzword, can you please at least supply an alternative suggestion. Otherwise we end up in limbo where nobody wants to use the old term, but nobody has a new term either, making us all look like indecisive idiots.
So let’s just decide, mmm’kay? If there is a conversation to be had, let’s have it so that we can move forward. There is important work to be done that I’d like to see branded with a simple, clear message in the next little while. Anything that stands in the way needs to be dealt with, and soon.
Unified messaging is becoming nearer and dearer to my heart as time goes on, as you’ll see when I get to my next blog entry, summarizing the talk I gave at DIDW: The Plot to Kill Identity.