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Single Sign-on, Digital Identity and Advertising

I’ve created sign in information at dozens of sites. Here, I’ll list a couple; how many of these do you have? I’ve got user names and passwords for Amazon, Flickr, del.icio.us, personal Google accounts, work Google accounts, last.fm, WordPress, Basecamp, Salesforce.com, Newegg, mapmyrun.com, YTMND, my public library, iTunes, and Chowhound. Ok, that’s fifteen? Believe me, that’s just a small sample. What does this inconvenience have to do with internet marketing? Bear with me; I think it may be a step in growing online media conglomerates.

A recent New York Times article (yep, I’ve got a login there too) asks, how many web services can one person use? Good question, but before you use the web services you need to create a an identity for that site. Forget about the applications, how many user names and passwords can a person have?

Solution = Federated login, AKA single sign-on, AKA universal identity management.

Here’s how it works. Website operators accept an ID provided by a third party, as well as ID’s created specifically to access their site. However, some products emerging as single sign on solutions are providing services beyond authentication. They’re leveraging the common sign-in as a way to enable people to create continuity of online identity. The idea is to make it possible to share the content generated around their identities in different places with friends, according to terms specified by the user.

Google and Facebook both hope to provide this service to website operators.

Google Code Blog: Google moves towards single sign-on with OpenID
TechCrunch: Facebook Responds To MySpace With Facebook Connect
cnet: Facebook Connect officially open


What interests me about this model of authentication are the incentives to participate. There are three separate groups that must buy in to this model in order for it to succeed, authentication providers, website owners, and website users. Website users may begin adopting this mode of sign-in for convenience and the value added synergy thing that comes from a more unified online presence. Both of these factors rely on a compelling set of websites that use a common, 3rd party login. The motivation for websites to opt in? Convenience for users might be part of it, but the real benefit would be getting more exposure for their sites. That’s why the cnet writer of the above article argues that Facebook will win; they’ve got the property that on which site owners will want exposure. And finally, why should companies like Google and Facebook get in the authentication game? Data mining and ad revenue. I admit, I don’t know how this would work exactly, but technology that clarifies connections between websites would be an incredible opportunity
for advertisers (who pay the bills for many a web service) to understand their audience.

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