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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management
Thursday, April 25, 2024

Google Mobile Backend Starter: AuthN and AuthZ in the Cloud

Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, June 3, 2013
6:39 pm

Of the many articles I read today, which one piqued my interest the most? “Google Launches Mobile Backend Starter, A One-Click Deployable Cloud Backend For Android Apps.”

Mobile Backend Starter provides developers with a one-click deployable mobile backend and a client-side framework for Android that provides them with storage services, access to Google Cloud Messaging, continuous queries and Google’s authentication and authorization features. (emphasis mine)


Google mobile backend arch

Why is this important?  I can think of at least 4 reasons:

  1. If this is the easiest way for developers to embed authentication and authorization functionality into their apps, guess which method they will choose?
  2. If it is easy to exploit back end services from mobile apps, emerging apps will ail be richer in functionality and content, because app developers will focus on real application innovation, rather than re-inventing the AuthN/AuthZ wheel.
  3. Google’s quest to become Identity Provider for the world just took a big step forward.  If app developers can easily rely on Google AuthN/AuthZ, other companies that aspire to be IDPs will be playing catch up.
  4. This pattern of easy-to-use backend infrastructure available to developers could revolutionize application development as we know it – not just mobile apps.

The obvious question is “where are you, Apple?”  But a bigger question is for all of us engaged in enterprise IAM, “how will we quickly adapt to this model?”

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The Irony of Old vs. New (relatively speaking)

Author: Mark Dixon
Thursday, July 19, 2012
9:46 pm

I couldn’t help but see the irony of the two leading topics in the “Evening Wrap” email I received from the Wall Street Journal this afternoon:

Microsoft Swings to Loss



Google’s Profit Rises on Growth in Search





It hasn’t been too many years ago that Microsoft was the darling.  Now newer companies have emerged to dominate.  What will the next 20 years bring?

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Facebook vs. Google Advertising – My 2 Cents

Social Media
Author: Mark Dixon
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
10:47 pm

Facebook vs. GoogleMuch has been said recently (here, here and here, for example) about whether Facebook can overtake Google as the market leader in online adversting. I am certainly not an advertising guru, but from the online consumer cheap seats I occupy, some things seem pretty clear to me.

When I visit Google – I am searching for something. I type in a keyword or two and expect results that are relevant to my search. Both the regular search results and the ads presented to me are often helpful – directly in line with what I am seeking. The direct connection between my current frame of mind and ads presented to me is very obvious.

On the other hand, when I visit Facebook, I am seeking to connect with people I know, hoping to see interesting content they have posted and offering content and commentary of my own. Searching for items I may be willing to buy is usually the farthest thing from my mind. Facebook does a terrible job of assessing my current context and interests before presenting ads to me.

Google ads are like various brands of breakfast cereal that are presented to me when I purposely visit the cereal aisle in a grocery store.  Because I have an  active intent to buy cereal, the Google ads, like cereal choices, are usually very relevant to my search and a natural part of my expected user experience.

Facebook ads, on the other hand, are like the obnoxious array of items stuffed into the long aisle I must endure before reaching a KMart checkout counter. Lots of stuff, mostly terribly irrelevant, screaming “buy me!”

Just like KMart will never get rich from my paltry purchases from their checkout aisles, Facebook will never get rich from me responding to Facebook ads in their current form. Facebook must somehow do a much, much better job of understanding my current frame of mind and presenting relevant ads, or they will wither and die as an advertising medium.

What is more … if Facebook doesn’t fix the irrelevant, obnoxious way they present ads to me, I might just get fed up and quit visiting Facebook, much like I rarely visit KMart any more.

In my humble opinion …

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Intent: Critical to the New Identity world

Author: Mark Dixon
Thursday, December 1, 2011
7:24 am

Intent: “something  to be done or brought about”

Back in November, 2005, I began blogging about a concept I referred to as “Core Identity“:

A fundamental premise undergirding the Identity Map is that each person is unique. This unique “Core Identity” can be identified or described by attributes categorized into Names, Characteristics, Relationships, Roles, Location, Experience, Knowledge and Reputation. Each attribute adds to the fundamental uniqueness of each individual.

I still believe that fundamental premise is sound, and that the categories of Identity attributes are still relevant.   However, I believe a ninth category should be added: “Intent.”

This concept began to crystallize in my mind as I was listening to a podcast by Robert Scoble, referenced in his blog post, “The game of all games: content and context (why Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Benioff, and Larry Page are carving up the social world).” Thanks to Johannes Ernst for sharing this link on Facebook.

The basic premise of Robert’s post and podcast is that Google and Facebook are fighting to become the premier Identity providers in the world – but not primarily for authentication and authorization services, as we Identity Management professionals commonly think of Identity – but as a means to addictively capture the hearts and minds of the people in the world in order to sell advertising. After all, both companies are essentially advertising channels, whose real customers are not those of us who visit their sites, but the advertisers who pay them money.

That is where Intent comes in.  The most valuable commodity Google and Facebook can sell to their advertising customers is the Intent of the people who visit their sites – the Intent to explore, to examine, and ultimately, to buy.  The better either company can be at determining the Intent of their users, the better they are prepared to rake in the bucks from companies who advertise with them.

Intent, therefore, is a critical component, perhaps the most important component, of Identity, from the perspective of Google and Facebook.

But Intent is rarely overtly declared by a user.  Intent is predicted, based on a relentless, real time examination of all other aspects of a person’s identity – their Names, Characteristics, Relationships, Roles, Location, Experience, Knowledge and Reputation.  All of these are more historical in nature – attributes that may be accumulated and studied in a more historical context.  But Intent is more real time. Intent is what a person wants to do right now or in the near future.  It is more a prediction of things to come than what happened in the past.

So how do companies like Google and Facebook determine Intent?  More and more, it is by capturing and analyzing how individuals interact with the online world.  The “verbs” of online interaction are particularly telling:  search, post, comment, share, like, tag, read, watch, encircle, listen, play, visit.  If Google or Facebook can capture how you do all those things, they can infer your intent and deliver to you the content and advertising that are most aligned with your current intent.  That will enable their advertising revenue to increase (which is their real motive).  That is why both Google and Facebook are aggressively rolling out new features along the lines of those verbs – the more they know about your online actions (evidenced by how you use those verbs), the better able they are to predict your Intent, and consequently enable advertisers to capture your money.

Predicting the future is never easy. But that is exactly what Google and Facebook are trying to do – by predicting our Intent, based on how we interact with them. Facebook and Google covet your eyeballs, your fingertips and your pocketbooks, and intend (pun intended) to capture all of them.

My advice:  Be aware! Keep your eyes wide open, your fingertips constrained, and your wallet firmly in your pocket.


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What is more valuable – linkages between web pages or between people?

Identity, Social Media
Author: Mark Dixon
Saturday, June 4, 2011
12:50 pm

I was intrigued by a headline I read this morning, “How Facebook Can Put Google Out of Business,” by Ben Elowitz (@elowitz), co-founder and CEO of Wetpaint.

Elowitz started by stating his admiration for Google:

Google LogoI used to envy Google and the vast digital empire that Schmidt commanded.  Google had one of the most intricate monopolies of all time. It had the most impressive dataset the world had ever seen; the most sophisticated algorithm to make sense of it; an audience of a billion users expressing their interest; and more than a million advertisers bidding furiously to reach those consumers at just the right moment.

What’s more, it had captured the ultimate prize: increasing returns to scale. Only Google could spread such huge R&D costs among an even more humongous query volume, all while offering advertisers the chance to reach most of the population with one buy. Google had earned its success.

However, he as concluded that Facebook offers more inherent value than Google, and can beat Google at its own game:

FacebookWhile Google has amassed an incredible database consisting of the fossilized linkages between most Web pages on the planet, Facebook possesses an asset that’s far more valuable—the realtime linkages between real people and the Web.What does this mean, and what are the implications here?

Well, in a nutshell, Facebook has stored a treasure trove of distinctive data that, if fully utilized, could put Google out of business.

I’m not astute enough to predict whether Facebook or Google will win, but I believe Elowitz has identified an important distinction between the inherent value of linkages:

“linkages between real people and the Web” [and, I might add, linkages between real people] –  primary Facebook value


“linkages between Web pages” – primary Google value

Relationship WebWe call linkages between people “relationships”. In my previous post, each line on my LinkedIn connection map represents a real life relationship. Some of my Linkedin relationships are closer in real life than others, just like some of my Facebook “friendships” are closer than others.  But they are real.  They do exist.

My real-life relationships represented by Facebook or LinkedIn have inherent value to me.  Both Facebook and LinkedIn provide real value to me through the services they provide.

Google has proven that there is great business value in “linkages between web pages”.  I believe companies like Facebook and LinkedIn are beginning to how to business value can be derived from “linkages between people”.  Google is clearly trying to catch up in the relationships business, where Eric Schmidt admits they have failed.

It will be interesting to see how they, and other companies of their ilk, will continue to succeed for fail in business as they leverage (in a positive sense) their understanding of my relationships, hopefully without exploiting (in a negative sense), the private information I entrust to them.

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