Simon Willison’s Weblog


You know me

20th January 2003

Dave Winer: The “You Know Me” Button. Dave hates posting comments on blogs and then having to check back constantly to see if anyone has replied (I do too). Sam Ruby’s solution is to provide the comments as a separate RSS feed for each of his entries, but Dave wants something more automatic that won’t clog up his aggregator. Dave’s new proposal is intruiging to say the least. When you sign up for an account with a discussion forum you have the option of configuring a link to an “identity server” able to respond to a specific protocol. Once this has been done, the discussion software “pings” your identity server with your username and a message whenever someone responds to one of your posts.

The idea as it stands is great, but at the moment it fails to address discussion forums that do not require the user to create an account (many blog comment systems for example). These could probably be served by a single text field asking for your optional You-Know-Me address. The problem that arises then is that of authentication—what’s to stop someone maliciously signing you up for comment threads without your consent? The spectre of spam can’t be too far over the horizon.

Maybe a solution would be to turn subscription in to a two-step process—first you tell the comment thread your details and have it ping your identity server, then later on you visit the web application running on the identity server and “approve” that subscription. That should defend against unwanted subscriptions, but it also adds another layer of complexity to what should be an automatic process. You would also have to do this for every unauthenticated thread you subscribed to (I imagine that authenticated account based subscriptions such as the ones Dave describes in his initial article would handl auto-subscribing you to all threads you participate in).

I have no doubt that someone will come up with solutions to any issues with Dave’s system, and I look forward to seeing the spec develop. Once a basic protocol has been laid down the possibilities are huge—I-Know-You to RSS/email/Jabber gateways are an obvious extension that could be great fun to hack around with. It’s been a while since I’ve messed around with web services and my XML-RPC library could do with an update.

This is You know me by Simon Willison, posted on 20th January 2003.

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