The History of Tomorrow’s Internet: Identity (iNames, pt. 2)

In my last post I wrote about some of the cool things about XRI/XDI. In this post I want to focus on the history of trying to make XRI/XDI an internet standard. I’m doing this because we’re going to have to do something on an internet-wide scale to solve the identity problem, and I want us to understand both how hard it is and how important it is to be open. XRI/XDI didn’t follow the most direct path in either case (as you will see), but in the real world paths are seldom straight.

Let’s jump into the wayback machine to 1995. Netscape is still crashing your computer every time you run it because it’s a memory hog. Drummond Reed‘s teamed up with Peter Heymann (ex-Microsoft, ex-Warton MBA guy–nice!) to build a company called Intermind (the first company to own the XRI/XDI patents). They’ve been working on this “Communication Objects” technology that’s kind of like RSS, and by 1997 they’ve raised around $17 million and have a team of 70 people. One morning Drummond wakes-up and Microsoft has dropped an open standard that competes directly with his proprietary one and his business evaporates. What do you do?

Well, you first probably try to shop around your intellectual property (which he did, to Netscape in particular). Assuming you don’t have any takers (which he didn’t), you probably learn from your mistake and make sure the next time you try to implement a standard, you make it an open one (which is what Drummond did). He joined the P3P (privacy platform preferences) technical committee and let Tim Berners Lee know that even though Intermind held patents that might cover what they’re trying to implement, he wanted to play open this time.

Now let’s fast forward a few months and note that Microsoft is playing a VERY heavy role in the P3P TC. Let’s also note that Netscape has noticed and is (belatedly) trying to get involved. If you’re Netscape and you see Intermind on the TC, you probably think, “Hey, isn’t that the company that was trying sell us the patents covering all this stuff”. As Netscape you probably bring this to the TC’s attention too, which they did. Tim Berners Lee asks Intermind to make a declaration of their intent about these patents.

Okay, so remember a few posts ago how Drummond’s like the drummer, who’s the only consistent member in a band that keeps changing names and members? Well Intermind has a brand new CEO from the telco industry (who shall remain unnamed because he’s about to make a big mistake). Drummond, remembering back to that painful morning when he got out-opened by Microsoft, thinks the obvious thing to do is to declare that Intermind intends to release the patents to an open standards body. Telco CEO says he’s got a better plan and announces that Intermind will charge royalties. Now wakeup to WSJ articles claiming you’re holding the internet hostage, lose your place at the P3P table, and remember really hard that next time you’re introducing a standard, it better be open.

Fast forward a few more years–new CEO, $30 million more, IP in a public trust (, specification being managed by OASIS (the XML standards body). So far so good, but how do make money? Well, new CEO wants to build enterprise software based on the now open standards. Good idea. CEO doesn’t know how to sell enterprise software (bad), Dotcom crash (very bad), 9/11 (tragic). No more company–join the crowd.

What do you do? Well, remember, you’re Drummond Reed and you love this technology, so you get new investors, new CEO, and make one(?!!) more go of it. That company is Cordance. In my next post I’ll explain the relationships between (formerly, but same public trust of IP), Cordance (iNames Global Service Provider), Neustar (iNames Registrar Infrastructure Provider), and iBrokers (iName retailers).

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