The global higher education IT community is doing something pretty amazing. They’re weaving together a trust fabric to allow shared services via robust federated authentication and attribute-based authorization (see: InCommon, UK Access Federation, GakuNin, EduGAIN, REFEDS, many others).
At any scale, it’s hard to extend trust from “my tribe” to “your tribe”- but once we’ve done it, the return on the trust is almost magical. With federation in higher education, suddenly services and projects a school would be hard pressed to support on its own become easy to leverage.
So how does this scale beyond higher education? Trust is the basis for lowering barriers to collaboration and lubricating the machinery for an effective economy (See Paul Zak’s fascinating TED talk on Oxytosin). I think this suggests that higher education is once again leading the way in building a framework for increased global trust, global research collaboration and global wealth production.
There are still frontiers out there, if you know where to look.
A friend of mine, who was doing fun pioneering work in computers and networks in the wild and wooly days of the 1980s and early 1990s lamented once, “I wish you had been around then, it was so different. It wasn’t like now, now it’s a business.”
Although enterprise computing is now run like a business, there are still frontiers, there’s still room to explore if you look in the recesses of the IETF / ISOC repositories, Google mailing lists and GitHub, interesting people’s YouTube channels and Twitter feeds.
Take for example Moxie Marlinspike – he’s trying to solve a real problem with the current state of SSL and Certificate Authorities, and he’s doing amazing things there.
There are the tens of thousands of active participants in international higher education identity and access management, figuring out how to federate access to campus resources like wireless networks, web applications and research cyber infrastructure. They are paving the way for a future when we don’t have to remember more than one password- or even any at all.
There are still frontiers at the fuzzy edge of the network, and I’m excited to see them and be able to participate in them, even just a little.