Novell wants to manage digital identity

Attendees at Novell’s BrainShare event last month were shown new technology called digitalme which seeks to make the Internet a more personal experience.

“It is very, very catchy, from a consumer standpoint,” said Laura DiDio, analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group. “It’s still a prototype — we’re not there yet — but certainly there is a need for this type of thing.”

Novell executives were stressing that managing digital identity is a big issue for both consumers and businesses. Consumers are looking for ways to manage and protect personal information such as bookmarks, cookies, preferences, users IDs, credit card and contact information; companies doing business on the Internet are looking for opportunities to differentiate their businesses by creating secure, personalized services for customers.

“There are at least 30 versions of me on the Internet and I want to be able to control those identities,” said Chris Stone, senior vice-president of strategy and corporate development at Novell.

Digitalme features a flexible software architecture that enables consumers, businesses and developers to use a “card” metaphor to manage identity. The virtual “meCards” include a set of tools that enable consumers to create, personalize and manage their digital identities. For instance, in the keynote demonstration, CEO Eric Schmidt’s card was personalized to reveal his interest in airplanes and flying, while Stone’s showed his fondness for rock music.

People seemed most impressed with the fact that digitalme would cut down on the need to remember all the different passwords for every different e-commerce site and on-line forums they belonged to — they would just be able to use one of their digital identity cards. This would also save time when joining new forums or sites, as fewer new forms or questionnaires would need to be filled out.

BrainShare attendees were able to build and trade meCards integrated with the Novell Connecting Points conference messaging system. They could store digital identity information on cards and use the Connecting Points system to specify and control which information they wanted to be private, and which they wanted to be made available to other attendees. They were encouraged to exchange identity cards at the event to establish business contacts and channels of communication with people who had similar interests.

Auto-register and Internet sign-on capabilities of digitalme, that fill in the forms used to register and establish access privileges on many Web sites, were also demonstrated. A personal proxy system intercepts the forms, automatically fills them in for the user and provides a completed form for review.

Stone and Schmidt said digitalme builds on Novell Directory Services technology, as it enables the storage and management of different meCards, as well as the control of access and creation of policies.

While Giga’s DiDio said she could see a real need for it in her daily life, she said there are no guarantees this technology is going to take off right away. “That’s something you can never predict,” she said.

“It does show Novell is out there — it’s trying to find a role in an Internet-enabled economy,” added Neil MacDonald, analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

Monty Sharma, chief technology officer of Maritime Telegraph and Telephone Co. (MT&T) in Halifax, saw digitalme as a possible opportunity for MT&T as a service provider.

“The digitalme piece gives our users the ability to manage their identities in the same place that I manage it,” he said. “So together, we can help them build community relationships, share things about themselves to various people in a secure fashion.”

He said he believes in the next few years, we will see people having the same service provider for both work and home, and he thinks digitalme will fit in quite well with this model.

“If I’m managing your identity for you at work, and I can offer you things like secure tunnelling to your office and all sorts of management and security tools your company likes you to have, managing your identity becomes much more important to me.”

Sharma said he expects this will take a year or more to become prominent, since to be successful you need to have enough people actually using it.

Novell announced agreements with financial service companies Citigroup and FirstUSA, who will test new services, collaborate with Novell to refine digitalme features and functionality and create open standards for Internet identity.

Novell expects to make digitalme available free over the Internet in open source format, with a moving roll-out of features, in the next three to six months.

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