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Hurricanes, Flags, and OpenID

Over the last few days as we've travelled in and around Cancun we've seen first hand the results of Hurricane Wilma, the storm which devastated the Yucatan in October of 2005.  The damage was phenomenal.  Everywhere we travel there are new trees (50,000 were apparently replaced in Cancun alone).  The beaches are back, a product of a $20 million dredging operation which replaced the sand torn away by Wilma.  Construction is underway as well, as irreparably damaged hotels have been torn down, and new buildings are taking their place.  Some buildings stand windowless and unmaintained with their broken steps and palapas facing the beach, a testament to the force of the hurricane. 

Across Laguna Nichupte from the Royal Sands, where we are staying, flies the largest flag I have ever seen.  This photograph was shot at sunset from a distance of 2.8 kilometres.  The size of the flag, compared to the buildings behind, is no trick of perspective.  The buildings and the flag pole are very near to each other.  That flag actually is as large as it seems.

Flag etiquette demands that a flag must never be allowed to touch the ground. When the flag is changed, it takes a convoy of trucks to carry the dozens of soldiers required to do the job.   These men stand in a line, each with a section of flag draped across a shoulder, walk forward as the halyard hoists the flag skyward, and then step aside when their small portion is completed.

The symbolism is magnificent.  The dramatic size of the flag makes a powerful statement that Cancun is Mexican. And while Cancun is a tourist mecca, the number of people required to raise that flag says that Cancun is for Mexicans as well.  Indeed, it's the driving force in the Mexican tourism industry, responsible for more than half the tourism dollars that Mexico earns each year.  By extension, Cancun tourism is also a massive employer, with thousands upon thousands of Mexicans drawn to the area to work in construction, the hotels, restaurants, bars, boats, and the shows that Cancun provides.

After the hurricane Mexicans, and the Mexican government, followed through on the statement that flag represents. 

So, what's this got to do with OpenID?

Yesterday, Nick Cubrilovic published a piece critiquing the industry excitement over OpenID. The criticism was fairly worrying — despite all the hype, not enough companies are consumers of OpenID to make it useful.  Who cares if Microsoft and AOL, plus scores of smaller companies, jump on the band wagon, issuing new OpenID's, if they don't in fact use OpenID themselves? We'll just end up with the same identity gulag we have today.

Microsoft and AOL's support for OpenID is a bit like that flag — a massive statement that the concept matters.  But unless they follow through, working together to create opportunity for those that would build sites and applications based upon OpenID, then the symbolism doesn't matter.  The ecosystem called OpenID will never get off the ground.    


{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Aswath March 14, 2007, 9:15 am

    If the intelligence has moved to the end and applications can indeed be run at the end, I am not concerned that big players are not really consuming OpenID. OpenID is a great boon for true "peer-to-peer" (no disguised intermediaries like Skype) applications for it is far easier and effective to maintain whitelists. In other words, the applications running at the end are the consumers of OpenID. Nick talks about Mexican wave. Since a core group is needed to start the wave and then on, it can sustain itself.

  • Alec March 15, 2007, 12:58 pm

    Aswath, I think the theory and the practice are different. Theoretically, a P2P identity system will operate as you state. However, if we have every large player issuing ID's, and not accepting the ID's of the other players… well, then we're no better off than now, are we?

  • Aswath March 15, 2007, 4:57 pm

    I don't think it is theoretical at all and there is nothing special about OpenID, except the willingness to allow others to freely use the authentication engine (which is built into OpenID and that is the special aspect of OpenID). Take the example of Google and Yahoo. Both have their own single sign-on mechanism, but Yahoo is much more permissive about others using their engine than is Google (according to the designer of idproxy.net). That means, you and I can decide to use Yahoo engine. So the issue is not whether Yahoo allows others' id; the point is that Yahoo allows others to use their engine. As I said, that is exactly what an OpenID provider guarantees and that is why OpenID is great, in my opinion.

  • Alec March 16, 2007, 4:32 am

    Got it. The difference, of course, being that an OpenID should be transportable from one provider to another — Yahoo to Google, for instance, if they both supported it.

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