Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Is it really aggregation vs federation?

In a post this past Sunday Om Malik suggested that user's want aggregation not federation. While I totally agree that user's want aggregation (e.g. having all their relevant information in one place) I don't believe aggregation is in conflict with federation. Rather the two concepts are orthogonal.

I associate aggregation with API access to my data distributed across the web. The exception is closed networks like Facebook that provide all the services within a walled garden environment. So for aggregation to work in the "open web", it must be able to access my data whereever I've chosen to place it. This requires explicit user consent (ala OAuth) for the aggregator to access my personal data at different services.

Now in order for me to grant consent, and for the aggregator to be able to access my personal information, I need to authenticate to the service provider of my data. This authentication step is simplified by using federation (e.g. an OpenID valid at all my different service providers).

So federation really enables a safer, more secure, aggregation capability for users.


Praveen said...

Totally agree. Infact even the closed networks like Facebook are federating certain parts of their identity management to email providers (since their users loginIds are email accounts provided by some other providers). :-)

George Fletcher said...

Reposted from Facebook status with permission:

David Wexelblat:

Meh. We wrestled through this half a dozen years ago with MCN. Users want simplicity (the normal ones, anyhow). Aggregation is simpler. Hence ordinary users want aggregation. Until they don't. And then they're faced with federation, which is hard (from a UI perspective). These two articles discuss different things. Om's article is correct - from a ... Read Moreuser-experience PoV, aggregation and federation are opposites (one is easy and static, the other is hard and dynamic). The other article is also correct - from an implementer's perspective, aggregation and federation are different things entirely. The failure, on all of us geeks, is that we need to make federated systems work like aggregated systems - from a UI simplicity PoV.

George Fletcher said...

My response from facebook:

So, I take this as saying that the term "federation" has different semantics in different contexts. However, I'm not so sure people want complete "aggregation" because that puts all their "eggs in one basket" and most people don't feel to comfortable with that approach.

So from a UI perspective, people want aggregation of their diversified ... Read Moreservices. That way they get the best of both worlds. Diversification in services and aggregation in UI. In order to achieve this, identity federation is an enabler that simplifies the user's experience.

George Fletcher said...

An additional response from David Wexelblat:

It's my opinion that "ordinary" people want the capabilities of federation, but will not tolerate the complexities of the current federation technologies - they will suffer with the current "walled garden" aggregated models, staying put until they're fed up enough to move to another flavor of the same thing. The ideals of federation that ... Read Moretechnologists espouse won't be realized in dominant consumer solutions until the User Experience challenges of making federation (a) simple and (b) consistent are realized.

Anonymous said...

nice post

Anonymous said...

You've explained it well, but I think it really depends on how you use things online. I don't want federation like friendfeed as I have varied networks for my professional and personal lives. Sometimes they mix, sometimes they don't. Despite the well raised security concerns, aggregation using something like netvibes workers better for me than something like friendfeed or thanks for the thought provoking post.