Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Pam Dingle has a bit of a rant today about the term "user-centric." Well, not about the term itself but about people's desire (e.g., the entire Burton Group) to get away from it.

"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. "

"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."

I think it's about more than just a term, more than just a feel-good quality, Pam. The "User-centric" term was coined, initially, to try to differentiate internet-based individual identity protocols from those used within the enterprise. But it's really all identity, and there doesn't need to be a distinction. That's why I wrote, last month, "Why there's no 'user-centric' or 'enterprise-centric' identity," where I said:

"Enterprise-centric identity management, we postulated, is really all about tying together all the activities and attributes of a single entity into a readily accessible (and reportable and auditable) form; while user-centric identity is about keeping various parts of your online life totally separated so that they aren't accessible and no report can be drawn.
So how do we have a framework that allows for both tying together all of a user’s activities (enterprise-centric) while at the same time allowing distinct separation of activities as decided by the user?
We start by defining identity as a group of “personas” (see 'Defining identity, persona, role'). Any persona can be made up of a group of personas or roles. Each of those personas can be linked, or separated, as the entity identified by them wishes. One of those personas is (or, rather, could be) an 'enterprise persona.' That one brings together '…all the activities and attributes of a single entity' performed for or related to that enterprise '...into a readily accessible (and reportable and auditable) form.'
So there is no 'user-centric' or 'enterprise-centric' identity. There is just an entity with AN identity made up of various personas some of which may be controlled or limited in some way by an outside organization – not only by the enterprise but also by governments, social organizations, etc. The ability to keep these personas separate, where legally able to do so, must be a given. Each persona will have different identity needs and requirements, of course, but that’s what will drive the 'identity economy' as vendors seek to satisfy those needs and requirements in accordance with the laws. The government’s laws, the enterprise’s 'laws', the fraternal and social organization’s 'laws' and the Laws of Identity as laid down by [Kim] Cameron. "

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