An intelligent electronic rental car assistant

* Getting what you want when renting a car

As promised last issue, here are the high and low points of last week's Internet Identity Workshop - at least as I saw them.

The low point seemed even lower, I think, because it was unexpected. Novell's Dale Olds had a session called "Open source implementations of identity systems and components." What he wanted to do was to organize a listing of tools and projects that were open source and identity related. He wanted to put together an online, published "identity map" so that all interested parties could see what was available and what was possible. Unfortunately, it appears that the open source community has equated identity with authentication - sort of a subset of security - just as much as the commercial world (see "There's more to identity than security").

Take a look at the list Olds compiled and you'll see what I mean. Still, it is a good place to discover and find links to protocols and tools (referred to by Olds as "Legos") that can be used in identity projects and that actually get beyond mere authentication.

The high point was Doc Searls' session on "Intention and Identity" (as I write, the notes aren't yet online, but check here to see if they've shown up).

Searls spends lots of time in rental cars and much of his public speaking (and private speaking, for that matter) revolves around renting and driving automobiles (e.g., Searls' First Law of Car Rental: It doesn't matter what kind of car you want to rent. You're going to get a Chevy Cavalier).

What he based the roundtable discussion on was his desire to be able to specify the time and place he'd like to rent a car as well as a fairly detailed description of the car and then have multiple rental agencies respond with quotes. Not like the experience on Orbitz or Travelocity, where you get a list of car types (e.g., "Toyota Corolla or similar" which, as Searls will assure you, will be a Chevy Cavalier when you pick it up). No, Searls wants to be able to specify a 2005 Ford Explorer with 4-wheel drive, satellite radio and a ski rack and have the assurance that this is what he'll receive. Of course, he could call each rental company to see what they offer - but that takes a lot of time. Add in that he would weigh many factors when deciding - not just price, but refueling charges, frequent flyer points, extra credit for companies with good maps, etc. It could take days to track down all of that information and it's not worth it for a weekend trip.

But suppose Searls had a personal digital assistant. One that understood all of his preferences, knew his rental history, had the ability to contact all of the available rental companies at every location worldwide and was able to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Such an agent, or avatar, is solely controlled by the user and has full access to all of the user's attributes (and their values). The avatar would be self-training - learning from each foray into the online world on behalf of the user. Over time, the user could enable the avatar to make purchases and agreements as the user's representative. Now that's an open source, identity-based application/service I'd like to see. Work on it, then come to the next Internet Identity Workshop (details here when they're available) and share it with us.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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