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Packaged identity

Opinion
Apr 14, 20042 mins
Access ControlEnterprise Applications

* How Thomas Cook gave traveling an identity

Last time I talked about identity management for travelers in the 19th century based, as it was, on letters of credit and letters of introduction. The problem, of course, was that not everyone had friends influential enough to provide a letter of introduction that would gain you entrance to the things you’d like to see. A number of enterprising gentlemen stepped into this breech, including one whose name is still very well known, Thomas Cook.

Cook realized that people had a bit more leisure time and wanted to see a little bit more of the world but had no way of gaining the credit or introductions they needed to do so. His answer was to create the first packaged tour.

In 1841, the 32-year-old English publisher Thomas Cook organized a rail journey from Leicester to Loughborough (in England) for 500 persons to attend a teetotaller meeting to be held there. The aim of the journey was to bring together the members of the various temperance groups. Cook organized the transport, housing, dining and all other aspects of the trip. Participants paid him and he, in turn, paid their bills. So successful was the trip, that within five years he was organizing regular excursions to Liverpool. Within 10 years, he had organized the first-ever European tour for British tourists, taking its participants to Paris via Brussels, Cologne, Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg and back to London via Le Havre or Dieppe. Soon other cities and continents followed.

Ordinary people could now go almost everywhere and see almost everything because Cook made and delivered the arrangements. He was, in effect, a living letter of credit and introduction.

Federated identity, security assertions and third party authentications are all hot topics. They are procedures and methods that many of us feel we invented. But Cook was in the business of third party authentication over 150 years ago and the things we do today differ only in design, not in concept. We shouldn’t reinvent the wheel unless it’s absolutely necessary. Sometimes all that’s needed is to redesign the existing wheel.