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Re: Principles of Identity in Web Architecture

From: Philip Sheldrake <philip@eulerpartners.com>
Date: Sun, 6 Jun 2021 13:57:44 +0200
Message-ID: <CAD0eYd59JpAbrxm33_ZzTnAytTBTAp+Kh2_PVNUCxKmoF5Rnxg@mail.gmail.com>
To: TAG List <www-tag@w3.org>
Hi Melvin,

I dedicate some good time at the AKASHA Foundation and with the Web Science
Institute at Southampton researching identity. I am also the author of the
only dissenting chapter in the new SSI book.


May I ask, in what ways are your goals different from those of the SSI

It is reassuring to see you distinguish “identity” and identifiers in the
context of humans, but your email here indicates to me that you still
consider Alice to have just the one identity. This aligns of course with
the comparatively recent (centuries) bureaucratisation of identity, aka
legal identity, and the imperative for Sybil resistance in democratic,
taxation, and wealth distribution contexts, but I have yet to find another
discipline beyond law and information technology conceiving identity as
either singular or enduring. Quite the opposite.

There is no such thing as 'digital identity' in the context of humans, only
digitally mediated and augmented human identity, but that mediation and
augmentation goes to the heart of the human condition with consequences for
our psychological, sociological, and ecological health. This is existential

See https://generative-identity.org

The SSI community claims to be creating the “identity layer” omitted by
both the designers of the Internet and the designers of the Web. On the
basis that we still have no widespread appreciation for the complexities,
let alone agreement on how best to digitally mediate and augment human
identity for psychological, sociological, and ecological health, I
celebrate those designers for pushing it out. Nevertheless, it appears the
time is upon us.

Please let me know if and how I and the AKASHA Foundation may help.

Best wishes,

Philip Sheldrake.

On Sun, 6 Jun 2021 at 12:03, Melvin Carvalho <melvincarvalho@gmail.com>

> At TPAC 2012 I proposed to timbl, a modular approach to Identity on the
> Web.
> Back then the majority of systems tightly coupled together, Identity,
> authorization and authentication.  My proposal was that the Identity part
> should stand on its own merits, and be a modular piece of a wider
> architecture
> To my surprise and delight, he agreed with this, and persuaded our group
> to take this approach, and rewrite specs into what was to become the WebID
> suite
> *Architectural Principles*
> I wanted now to propose some further architectural principles, based on
> what we've learnt in the following decade, and align it with web
> architecture.  They are as follows:
> 1. Separate identifiers from identity
> 2. Identifiers are a string of characters, a global primary key
> 3. Your identity are keys,values,links tied to your identifer
> 4. Your identity is protocol, medium and transport agnostic
> 5. Separate data and protocol meta data from identity data
> Applying these 5 architectural principles, I believe it would be possible
> for every identity system on the web to be largely interoperable.  And by
> web I include other URI schemes that http, and the P2P web
> A few words on each point
> *1. Separate identifiers from Identity*
> Identity comes in many shapes and forms.  People tend to talk about
> identity and identifiers interchangeably and we seem not to have a common
> vocabulary that everyone can live with.  I'll use the term identifier
> loosely to be a string of characters to denote a user (or agent).  And
> Identity are attributes associated with that.
> *2. Identifiers are a string of characters, a global primary key*
> When talking about identifiers in a system, it's important to actually get
> down to what that identifier looks like.  What is the string of
> characters.  In order to interoperate with other systems, this must be well
> defined, and should be a primary key to your system.  Too often this is not
> done and there is more than one primary key, or overloading occurs, "your
> public key is your identity".  Ideally this should be a URI, tho not all
> large systems on the web will use a URI, which leads to balkanization.
> Many databases work on the principle of primary and foreign keys.  Identity
> needs this.
> *3. Your identity are attributes, values, links tied to your identifier*
> I'm going to loosely describe your identity as attributes, values and
> links tied to your identifier.  Most identity systems do this under the
> hood.  For a while RDF was recommended by the TAG as the solution to this,
> but different systems will use different solutions such as JSON(-LD) or
> CBOR.  What's important I think is the Entity Attribute Value (EAV) model
> of tying attributes to an identifier.  Also important that links are
> allowed in that structure.  Unfortunately JSON doesnt have a native syntax
> for links like turtle does.  Perhaps this is an area of standardization.
> Links enable heterogeneous systems to work together
> *4. Your identity is protocol, medium and transport agnostic*
> When people talk about the web they talk about http.  However, there is
> every indication, that web was designed to bring together many large
> systems.  http: URIs working with file:,  irc:, ftp: etc.  It should even
> work with systems that have UUIDs and not (yet) URIs.  The principle is
> that any data that you want to share should not include anything about the
> transport.  Instead, that can get cleanly separated into meta data
> *5. Separate data and protocol meta data from identity data*
> The http/html web quite cleanly separates a document from its data, and
> protocol from content.  It does this using headers for a document.  Also
> within the document HEAD and BODY tags aim to cleanly separate data about
> the document from data about the thing within.  In http the thing within is
> cleanly separated from the protocol data using the "#" character.  In
> JSON-LD 1.1 you can do something similar using "@id" : "".  Put your meta
> data in there, and your identity data is linked to that.  In this way it
> can be reused in different systems, publishing, messaging, ledgers, auth,
> leading to increased functionality for the end user, tied together
> seamlessly
> *Summary*
> There's growing interest in using the web in a more distributed and
> decentralized way.  IMHO, by employing some or all of the 5 rough
> architectural principles above, it's possible to bring together different
> systems operating on the internet in a more distributed and decentralized
> way
> Related:  timbl's essay on the giant global graph:
> https://web.archive.org/web/20160713021037/http://dig.csail.mit.edu/breadcrumbs/node/215
> Feedback on any or all of the points welcome!
Received on Sunday, 6 June 2021 11:58:32 UTC

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