Higgins: A framework to build user-centric, ID-enabled services

* About Higgins Trust

I first came across Paul Trevithick from participating in conversations with the Identity Gang. I knew Trevithick was involved with a group called socialphysics.org, but hadn't paid a lot of attention to what that group was doing (mea culpa).

Last week, at the Internet Identity Workshop, I listened as Trevithick presented a session on the Higgins Trust. It's not a philanthropic society but a framework that can be used to build user-centric, identity-enabled services and applications.

Higgins was originally proposed as the Eclipse Trust Framework, a project of the Eclipse Foundation. For those unfamiliar with Eclipse, it's self-described as "an open platform for tool integration built by an open community of tool providers." That is, it's an open-source development environment for developing open-source applications. That seems self-referential but, in fact, you could use the environment to develop completely closed, proprietary systems - it would just take much longer and be more difficult.

Higgins isn't an application, nor is it a service or a protocol. Rather, it's a description of an architecture - a framework - that, if implemented would provide an abstraction layer to make it easy to manage identity information (including rich profiles, presence, etc.) and social networks across multiple heterogeneous (new or existing) computer mediated "contexts."  I put contexts in quotes because the Higgins-specific meaning is somewhat different to the one I usually use in this newsletter, but not a lot. As Trevithick used it, he meant any kind of group, such as a project team, department, association, informational network, family, customer group or supplier network within which you (and, therefore, your identity) could exist.

Picture, perhaps, a virtual directory (or join engine) for all those contexts, and you'll be close to the meaning as SocialPhysics sees it. The framework envisions context provider plug-in implementations that could range from directories such as LDAP servers, identity management systems, mailing list and social networking systems, to collaboration spaces such as file repositories and other shared spaces, to communications networks such as e-mail, instant messaging or voice. That's a vision that goes even further than most of the virtual directory frameworks I've come across.

There's a lot more about Higgins you should know - I've only been able to scratch the surface here. Visit the project's wiki to learn more, see examples and find out all the details about the architecture. This just might be the beginning of the system that ties together the world of top-down, enterprise-created-and-maintained identity systems with the bottom-up, user-centric identity systems that are springing up all over the place (LID, OpenID, iNames, Sxip, Passel and more).

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