Managing online identities directly from the browser could be the start of a wholly better online lifestyle.
I was thrilled last week when I read that Mozilla would focus on improving the way it’s users manage their online personae (“personas” is more SEO-friendly but not so pretty). The latest release of Firefox (3.6.2) nods at this decision and we should see more substantial features soon but why am I so excited? Why does the prospect of marginally more convenient account management tickle me so? Because it looks from here like the first small step away from passive browsing and into a more pleasant world where the user will gain control of his or her community.
We are caught in an arms race between deeper engagement with the web and the white noise of information flow. The latter has to be reined-in if we are to move forward. One of the hurdles in that race is the inconvenience of managing all the varying account details required of us from different online services. Mozilla sees this as part of a need to handle our various online personae, whereby we act in different roles when we are online. It’s true that many of us have multiple selves in terms of the information we publish and feed upon – BusinessMe, FriendMe, FamilyMe, HobbyMe and so on – but let’s not get too far into the complexity of societal roles and self-image. This does not need to be more than an a question of information flow management. And it is from there that I think we can start to do some really cool stuff.
The quest for sleeker account management is not new. Leading the way is OpenID, offering single registration to all the trusted services which support the system. These run from small personal websites up to Google and Facebook. With a persistent single ID, the user does not need to create a new account or log-in with separate details on every secure site. Lovely stuff, although I’ve yet to find it useful. That Mozilla wishes to incorporate this kind of account management into its Firefox browser is a further advancement because it takes the process of registration right back to the moment one opens the browser to start a web session. Furthermore, Mozilla hopes to extend this feature to allow the user to switch personae in order to communicate with only those sites and accounts relevant to the current persona.
Mozilla has started what they are calling the Online identity Concept, to gather the community around the issue and work on its evolution. The first thing Mozilla did was add personalised skins to the new version of Firefox. Now we can have pretty designs in our Firefox windows. Boring. But that’s just the attention-grabber, what’s infinitely more interesting is that Mozilla hopes not only to help with account management in forthcoming versions but then to grow the Online Identity Concept further to improve management of the entire flow of information into and out of the user. Now that’s why I ruined my pants last week. As soon as I saw the “Online Identity” title I started thinking ahead to a better web experience, in which we are empowered to act as efficient managers of our own communities, effortlessly publishing ourselves and feeding on the output of those we respect. This was actually before I read the company’s plans to do something similar.
Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself as usual. Mozilla didn’t quite say that Firefox will be the ultimate community management portal, it was more like:
We envision a world where your browser will play an even more active and critical role in helping you control and shape your online experience.
But the seed is there, people, imagine it. Imagine a near future where all the sharing, learning self-promotion and creating that social media offers is fluid and largely conducted from one software application, the browser. It’s a pretty image.
I have lots more I want to write about community management and browsing but they will have their time. If I haven’t overvalued Mozilla’s aspirations or capabilities, the company may be about to grasp the holy grail of the current web epoch. Browsers sometimes feel inherently inelegant, even without the clumsiness of handling multiple site registrations and the kaleidoscope of communications traffic. Improving account management is a significant step towards a deeper, more intuitive and more fulfilling web experience. Isn’t that exciting? It sure touches me.