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BBC Joins OpenID Foundation

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Jem Stone Jem Stone | 13:57 UK time, Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The announcement last week of Ashley's imminent departure provoked numerous "runners and riders"-type pieces in the media and end of term reports. Bob Eggington makes a play in the Guardian yesterday morning pleading for tighter controls on content standards and a reduction in the scope of BBC online's that would free up investment for "experimentation".

Mike Butcher, the editor of TechCrunch UK and a passionate reporter of the European startup scene, criticised the BBC from another angle. He threw down the gauntlet last week with a plea for the BBC to be more open with its data and argued that FM&T should provide a ecosystem of BBC feeds and APIs with which companies and individuals could innovate. His message seemed to be, in contrast to Eggington: focus on your data standards and everything else will follow. My colleagues from Backstage, FM&T for A&Mi and those sitting just over there on /programmes have all responded arguing that, even if we have a long way to go, we're are already stepping up to the plate.

So, adding to the noise, I'd like to make one further smaller announcement which suggests that the BBC's role is more than just as Eggington puts it; "a new content strategy".

This week the BBC has joined the OpenID Foundation.

People have been speculating about the BBC's attitude towards OpenID for a while. And getting identity right is key to our future plans - with that in mind, we are looking very seriously at how the increasing number of data portability technologies could and should work for the BBC.

openid_logo.pngOpenID, being a shared identity service, is part of that mix and is already starting to gain adoption amongst leading technology companies and the BBC is (I think!) the first large media company to join the likes of Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and IBM in the foundation. This means that we can share our future plans, show support and contribute to existing OpenID technical and marketing work groups.

However, at this stage, and wary of being named and shamed here, this doesn't mean that we are going to immediately be offering OpenIDs on bbc.co.uk or even promising to do so. We would want to make absolutely sure that this is right for users, is secure and can be implemented properly across all the BBC's many services.

However, joining the Foundation, which I am excited about, is a small step in that direction.

I thought that it's also worth reminding you of two other key bits of technical work which we need to complete first:

  1. Replacing our platform: A lot of the the more substantial changes to bbc.co.uk are dependent on the infrastructure of our website, which is going through a substantial upgrade. Those of you going to XTECH can hear directly from Brendan Quinn and Ben Smith about how we are replacing our existing stack with "a data-driven, RESTful service oriented, platform independent architecture".
  2. Replacing our identity platform [enough platforms - ed]: If you wish to log in across bbc.co.uk, then we use what we internally call SSO (Single Sign On). This ageing system pretty much handles authentication (we know who you are) - but little else. More on this on this blog very soon, but at the moment it's just not possible, even if we wanted it, to be OpenID-compliant.

Finally, I'm wary as well that, at the moment, 99.99% of internet users are completely unaware of OpenID. Yet we do know they increasingly they care about safety, trust, ownership of data, and simply and easily sharing information across services.

All this will take some hard work, but I'd like to see us have a bigger role in learning from and contributing to the substantial progress that others have already made.

Look out for further announcements.

Jem Stone is Portfolio Executive for BBC FM&T's social media group.


  • Comment number 1.

    What is the point of joining the foundation if you aren't going to be implementing pretty much the only thing most people identify with it?

    Or is it just to save face for the immediate future in response to all the recent criticism?

    Well done though, I'm glad it will one day be fully implemented.

  • Comment number 2.

    I hold no particular brief for the BBC, but might the answer to fusenn's question be, taken from the article, "This means that we can share our future plans, show support and contribute to existing OpeniD technical and marketing work groups.",and the reason they might not join be "We would want to make absolutely sure that this is right for users, is secure and can be implemented in a joined up way across the BBC's many services. "?

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm certainly not considered a "fan" of the BBC's tech side, but I have to admit, it's probably wrong to accuse them of trying to just "look good" with this.

    After all the criticism of the UK being in the dark ages net-wise, and of the BBC wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel, I think it's a good sign for them to be participating in more of the widely accepted and up-and-coming net tech.

    Even better is that, reading this, they're not falling for the "ooh, shiny shiny!!" syndrome it seems.

    (BBC++ for preview's return - hopefully if it's AJAX, it's ARIA?)

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Jem. This is brilliant news!
    I really glad (and, to be honest, surprised) that the BBC have done this - this is a significant step in the right direction, not just for the BBC, but for the internet as a whole. Congrats. :)

    PS - sorry to be pedantic, but you've capitalised "OpenID" incorrectly in the seventh paragraph.

  • Comment number 5.

    This is great news, Jem! Thanks to all those who've worked to achieved this. Look forward to seeing things develop further.
    In terms of your comment that "Finally I'm wary, as well, that at the moment 99.99% of internet users are completely unaware of OpenID" - I recently tried to do my bit to explain OpenID to non-techies and spread the word, and hope it will be helpful: https://is.gd/8x2

  • Comment number 6.

    This is good news, and I hope that with your involvement in the foundation, you can bring a broader, more international flavor to the work of the foundation, as it is currently heavily North America-focused.

    As such, bringing a more European view on privacy and identity will be informative and hopefully raise the bar and expectations for the purpose and utility of OpenID, as well as it's ability (ideally) to help keep internet users safer, given current practices (email addresses and passwords thrown about like confetti; using the same username and password across many sites, etc).

    Finally, I appreciate your caution about not making promises premature for implementation of OpenID. When I wrote my list, I did want to set an example and hold those folks to task who had publicly promised to *implement* OpenID. Fortunately, a number of those folks on my list have since followed through. Still, I am eager to see the BBC adopt OpenID, especially as a consumer, given the semi-arcane process I just went through to register in order to comment on this blog post!

    Cheers, oh and nice use of microformats on your blog as well! ;)


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