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Wednesday, October 21, 2020
 

Seat Belts and Passwords … and Buggy Whips

Identity
Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
8:40 pm

I am honored that Dave Kearns mentioned my post about buggy whips in his second newsletter addressing why we need to replace the venerable password.  It’s nice to be recognized for knowing some arcane information about buggy whips.  And it is true that buggy whips are still around, even if relegated to a small market niche. 

However, the point we should emphasize is that buggy whips didn’t fall from grace because people didn’t like buggy whips.  They faded away because they became irrelevant.  It was far easier to use the accelerator in a car than to use a buggy whip to coax your horse to go faster.

Interestingly enough, one of the articles Dave referenced made essentially the same point.  Speaking of the three-point seat belt developed by Nils Bholin of Volvo,  William Escenbarger remarked,

“It was so simple that a driver or passenger could buckle up with one hand.”

It was ease of use, not a technology-driven obsession with safety,  that led to wide adoption of the seat belt.

I think we face the same thing with passwords.   Intellectually, it is simple to understand why we should get rid of passwords.   However, in practice, widespread adoption will be triggered more by ease of use than perception of safety.  When an easier method for authentication emerges, people will adopt it – not because it is safer, but because it is easier.  If that easier method is also more secure, voila!  We will have achieved our desired result.

But until ease of use makes passwords irrelevant, people will continue to use buggy whips or drive without seat belts.  How’s that for mixing metaphors?

By the way, I’m the kind of guy who always buckles up but resents the government telling me I have to.  Will it be the same with passwords?

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16 Responses to “Seat Belts and Passwords … and Buggy Whips”

    Great post and great point! Passwords haven’t been obsoleted just yet, and convenience — especially when people have a choice between your website and your competitor’s — will tend to trump other considerations.

    (I’m with you on the buckling up and the resentment. 🙂

    Comment by Eve M. on May 15, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Great post, Mark. I resent them forcing me to have a low flush toilet that has to be flushed 2-3 times, both wasting more water AND costing me more money.

    Comment by Don B on May 15, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Eve:

    We as an industry need to make it really easy for people to do business with with each other and with enterprises on the Web.

    I thing AOL’s booming early success was due to the fact that easier to get online access and an email address from AOL than from anyone else. They are becoming irrelevant now because it is easier to get better connectivity and email from your cable company.

    I expect that a really good solution to authentication will follow the same pattern.

    Mark

    Comment by Mark Dixon on May 15, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Don:

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I actually saw a sign in an office building’s rest room which read "Low Flush Toilets – Flush Twice".

    Sweet irony!

    Mark

    Comment by Mark Dixon on May 15, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Arrgh! I just re-read my two previous comments and think I need some work in grammar, spelling and adjective selection.

    Comment by Mark Dixon on May 15, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 19, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 19, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 19, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 19, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 19, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 20, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Kevin:

    Thanks for the link in your blog. I appreciate you connecting back to me.

    While I do admit that many people use seat belts because of fear of traffic citations, there are a great many who do it because it is safe and easy to use them. I grew up in the ’60s when cars didn’t even have seat belts or had very difficult to use lap belts, but when retractable three-point seat belts became available, we started using them – long before government mandate. Same thing with baby car seats and motorcycle helmets.

    My point with passwords is that if the online industry can produce and adopt methods of safe authentication that are very easy to use and widely available, people would migrate to those methods naturally, even without government regulation.

    Thanks,

    Mark

    Comment by Mark Dixon on May 20, 2009 at 9:58 am

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 28, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 28, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on May 28, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    [Trackback] I actually used WordPress’s “Tag Surfer” feature for the first time today, and stumbled upon a post on Identity Blogger.   In his post, Jeff Bohren discusses the challenge of getting users to adopt passwords.  He also references a pos…

    Comment by Agility Loop on June 11, 2009 at 7:58 am

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