In the last few years, there were leaps forward in web services world that changed how we think of digital identity and how it comes to be used in the blogging world; the former occurred when the idea of delegated authentication came to fruition via OAuth, Facebook Connect, Windows Live ID DelAuth, and others; and the latter happened via Disqus.
Previously, online communities were like closed silos of people and content; each member could post on a family of pages that the service provider operated, be it Blogger, Xanga, Live Journal, or Facebook. You logged into a site, and you got to use that identity within the site. This worked if your community of readers and writers were all affiliated with the same site, but the general web trends at the time were of users being on multiple sites, having multiple identities. For the blogging community, this posed a challenge, especially if you were hosted your own blog; each user had to register in order to give them a personalized experience. It was difficult to track comments from anonymous users, and verifying identity was very difficult. It was a world of anonymous cowards and spammers.
Things changed in late-2008 when Facebook released Facebook Connect and the opening of their developer APIs. Facebook Connect allowed your identity on Facebook to be used (in a secure fashion) outside of Facebook, and allowed external applications to get Facebook data for use. While the principles of Facebook Connect had been around since 2006 under a more generic term (delegated authentication), Facebook was unique since it had nearly global membership (upwards of 90% in most U.S. colleges).
Facebook represented a new wave of online services where people began to care about “Real ID”. Whereas most digital identity in the past had relied on aliases (who remembers who CrouchingTigr45 was?), Facebook emphasized real names, and real connections. This had two implications; first, the user was much more attached to their identity (changing an alias = easy; changing your name = hard); second, the identity was no longer was mentally constrained to the site (you use your name outside of Facebook, don’t you?). With Facebook Connect, this meant that nearly everyone on the web (that mattered) had a way to carry their identity across unrelated services, as long as the service trusted the Facebook identity. Then along came Disqus.
Disqus, is an outsourced commenting system that can rely on either it’s own identity, or a connected identity from Facebook, Twitter, or Open ID. Instead of hosting the comments directly within WordPress, you can install a Disqus plugin on your self-hosted blog, and suddenly the singular blog is entitled to all the features of a massive web community. Bloggers benefited since it allowed individuals to participate immediately in the discussion, upping the community’s activity, and also provided services at scale that individuals may have had difficulty managing on their own. For users, it let users seamlessly use an ID that they already knew how to use.
Advances such as this don’t come all too often in the web services world; but every few years, it can greatly change how we interact with the social web.
This post was originally published by Skyrien on the Taco Bell on Ogden community blog.