A User-Centric web is by design a brand agnostic web when it comes to identity. There is only one brand, and that is you.
The current web causes different types of problems that can be lead to possibly 2 design flaws. The first one is that it is a document-centric web. Read this excellent post by Chris Messina and Jyri Engström here. The second one, maybe caused by the first flaw, is that business models evolved and became network-centric. In other words current business models enforce that services focus on scale before user-value. Traffic, usage and numbers are more important than individual user value.
As a result we get customer lock-in (which idiot came up with that term), walled gardens, an unhealthy attention to scale and growth, identity wars (who gets to own you), data lock-in, social graph ownership (Facebook owns your relationships and interactions), etc., etc. It’s a slippery slope we can’t get off easily. There are patches to this mess (e.g. OpenID), but that’s all they are right now. OpenID doesn’t fundamentally change the web, unless it becomes embedded in a User-Centric web.
OpenID provides us convenience. We can now register/login to services using existing accounts we have at Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and so on. OpenID in that sense patches the problem of having multiple identities/profiles across different services. The problem with that patch however is that it still locks me into one of those main services (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter). There lies a danger with OpenID. Even though it is set up with the right intentions, it might end up keeping the current web alive, instead of helping us move to a User-Centric web. If my identity becomes my Facebook account, I’m not very likely to leave that service. For OpenID to help us move to a User-Centric Web we will need independent identity providers.
If we were to design a User-Centric web, then I would prefer that the “user” part is separated from the “services” part. In other words, my identity, my home base, my relationships, the data that flows through that. It should all be under my own control. To accomplish that we would either set that up ourselves, or for those that don’t know how, create service providers that can take care of that for us. These service or identity providers would have one purpose only, to serve me and my data. Think of it as a bank where I store my online presence safely. They would only have one business model. Provide me service and I would pay for that value. They would only compete with other identity service provides in that user value. We can’t let companies like Facebook or Google take care of our identity, as they are in the business of making money off of my identity and interactions.
Once that is take care of, I can join services, meet friends, interact, do all the things I can do now, but I would be in control of my own online identity. I can decide how much of me a service, or a friend can see. I could lock it down like fort Knox, or open it up like the biggest Social Media fan. There are no portability issues, I can’t get locked into a service anymore. As my online presence is separated from the actual service, I can simply move to another service and have all my friends (data) available there. A service becomes a possible channel through which I can interact. Companies will become true service providers, instead of traps I can fall into. The would compete on user value instead of network value. There is certainly demand for such a setup.
It’s a simple idea, turning things inside out. It isn’t simple to get there though. As long as we keep ourselves trapped in the current web business models we will never reach a tipping point. All we do is dig a hole and lock ourselves in beautiful walled gardens with cute “openX” patches while Facebook, Google and other big companies keep exploiting our online identities and interactions commercially.