Keeping track of your identities on the Web

It has been said the only way to keep your story straight is to never lie. All fine and dandy in a world of high standards and morals, but generally not the way it works out there on the Internet. People have more user identities on the Web than Sybill had personalities.

So how do you keep track of them? Novell Inc. has created a private directory-based solution called digitalme which offers one solution. One of the key features of digitalme is the meCard, a virtual business card. Users of digitalme can personalize meCards to include different levels of information that they want to pass on to various recipients. A card sent to friends might include a home phone number, while one going to a sports site could limit contact to a web-mail account under an assumed identity.

This type of diversification can be accomplished right now but the problem is remembering what you told who and when you told them. On the sports site were you Bob the skydiver or Robert the used cars salesman? Did you use your business e-mail address, home or one of the three you have at

“When we released the digitalme service on the ‘net it provided a profile service through which anyone could interact with all of the places that they choose to go, where they would own and manage their identity and multiple profiles,” said Ross Chevalier, director of technology at Novell in Markham, Ont.

digitalme stores important personal information such as user names, passwords, bookmarks and preferences on a Novell Directory Services directory. Since the information is not kept on a personal computer you can access, update and change the information from anywhere in the world. One user name and password accesses the digitalme site and controls what information is sent to which participants, provided subsequent sites are accessed from a digitalme-powered site.

According to analysts there is a need for this functionality. “There is no question that identity management is a problem for both users and content providers on the network,” said Jamie Lewis, CEO of The Burton Group in Salt Lake City, Utah. “I certainly think there is an opportunity for identity management programs.”

Elliot Noss, CEO of Inc., agrees. “It is a funny creature in that it is one of those problem that everyone acknowledges exists and nobody wanted to be the first to take a step around,” he said. “We just figured why not, we think it should happen.”

TUCOWS plans to become what Novell calls a mebusiness. Once digitalme is employed by TUCOWS in June, user identities will be stored on its server. Signing up with a participating linked site (provided it was entered via the TUCOWS portal) would be seamless. At present it is not quite so pleasant. Visitors are often required to re-enter names and passwords for all of the various freeware, shareware and software sites they visit from TUCOWS.

“It is painful (for the user) to be enrolling that information over and over and over again,” Noss said. And the pain is not limited to the user. “As a site provider you end up with data living in a number of places within the organization.”

TUCOWS is one of the world’s largest independent software distribution networks. It operates in over 90 countries, so their challenges are rather extreme, according to Noss. “We have over 900 instances of our libraries around the world, we don’t control the hardware that…those libraries exist on which means that we have non-standardized operating systems,” he said. “So if the solution works for us it will work anywhere.”

The bottom line is that using the Internet and managing multiple identities is becoming a real hassle.

“[digitalme] gives you the capability to be whoever you want to be, which is really a private advantage and personal advantage,” Chevalier said. “The traditional model of I’ll just put another sticky on the side of the screen doesn’t work when you’ve got 50 or 60 passwords.”

Besides managing multiple personalities, digitalme also has features such as Auto-Form Fill-in, which allows users to create a registration template residing in a browser to be used when filling in on-line forms, and a dynamic address book, where users can update their address book just once for all their personal contacts.

Digitalme runs on NDS, which in turn can work with Netware, Windows NT and 2000, as well as Unix and Linux platforms.