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New Liberty Alliance Specs for ID-based Web Services

The Liberty Alliance, the non-profit trade group organized to develop open standards and tools for federated network identity, this week published new interface specifications for three identity-based Web services: presence, geo-location and “contact book.”

The new specs are designed for deployment on the group’s Identity Web Services Framework (ID-WSF). Released publicly in April 2003 and finalized in November 2003, ID-WSF provides a blueprint for extending a company’s architecture to a federated Web services model. That model allows companies to connect their applications with partners’ or customers’ apps by granting trusted entities access to services and information protected by firewalls. Previously released service interfaces for the first version of ID-WSF include ID Personal Profile and ID Employee Profile.

“These new service interface specifications make this framework even more valuable for delivering more personalized services with strong security and privacy mechanisms,” Liberty Alliance president George Goodman said in a statement.

The new specifications were developed by the alliance’s Services Group, which was formed last year to develop Service Interface Specifications (ID-SIS). They offer some useful new application functionality to enterprises and service providers.

The new Geo-location Service Interface is designed to provide “where” information. It identifies a user’s location, at the user’s request, for the delivery of location-based services, such as weather news, travel information, currency updates and directions.

The Presence Services Interface supplies what might be thought of as the “what” information. “Presence” describes the state of a user’s interaction with a system. It identifies which computer the user is accessing, whether the user is idle or working and which tasks the user is currently performing. The interface provides a common way for users to share presence information with any service provider for the purpose of communication availability.

The Contact Book Service Interface provides a common method for users to manage and share personal or business contacts regardless of the “contact book” provider. This interface is designed to enable service providers to access or automatically update, at the user’s request, things like billing or a shipping address.

The three service interfaces are designed to function individually and together. They were developed, according to the alliance, to enhance user control of invoked Web services, in a “privacy-respecting manner.”

An example provided by the alliance illustrates: A user looking for movie locations invokes the geo-location service via cell phone. The service provider recognizes the user’s physical location and delivers the addresses of nearby theater. The user lets her 20 closest friends know where she is with a single message via the contact book service. That service invokes presence to determine how the user’s friends prefer to be contacted--mobile phone, laptop etc.--and gets the message to the proper devices. Contact book might invoke geo-location to locate friends within a certain radius.

“Web service application interface standards are an important step in helping organizations deploy more secure and functional Web services,” said Ray Wagner, vice president, Gartner Research. “These specifications could allow service providers to offer users more options for managing identity information within a secure Web services framework.”

The Liberty Alliance was formed in September 2001 under the sponsorship of Sun Microsystems. Initially the group promoted what amounted to an alternative to Microsoft’s Passport services. When the alliance was formed, tech-book publisher and alliance charter member Tim O’Reilly called the software for managing user identity and authentication “so fundamental that a widespread consensus has emerged that this is a technology that shouldn’t be owned or controlled by any one player.”

“Identity is a requirement for successful Web services,” said Goodman, who also serves as the director of Intel’s Platform Virtualization Lab. “Unless identity can be established and secured, no enterprise is going to be comfortable using Web services beyond their organizational borders.”

The Liberty Alliance, the non-profit trade group organized to develop open standards and tools for federated network identity, this week published new interface specifications for three identity-based Web services: presence, geo-location and “contact book.”

The new specs are designed for deployment on the group’s Identity Web Services Framework (ID-WSF). Released publicly in April 2003 and finalized in November 2003, ID-WSF provides a blueprint for extending a company’s architecture to a federated Web services model. That model allows companies to connect their applications with partners’ or customers’ apps by granting trusted entities access to services and information protected by firewalls. Previously released service interfaces for the first version of ID-WSF include ID Personal Profile and ID Employee Profile.

“These new service interface specifications make this framework even more valuable for delivering more personalized services with strong security and privacy mechanisms,” Liberty Alliance president George Goodman said in a statement.

The new specifications were developed by the alliance’s Services Group, which was formed last year to develop Service Interface Specifications (ID-SIS). They offer some useful new application functionality to enterprises and service providers.

The new Geo-location Service Interface is designed to provide “where” information. It identifies a user’s location, at the user’s request, for the delivery of location-based services, such as weather news, travel information, currency updates and directions.

The Presence Services Interface supplies what might be thought of as the “what” information. “Presence” describes the state of a user’s interaction with a system. It identifies which computer the user is accessing, whether the user is idle or working and which tasks the user is currently performing. The interface provides a common way for users to share presence information with any service provider for the purpose of communication availability.

The Contact Book Service Interface provides a common method for users to manage and share personal or business contacts regardless of the “contact book” provider. This interface is designed to enable service providers to access or automatically update, at the user’s request, things like billing or a shipping address.

The three service interfaces are designed to function individually and together. They were developed, according to the alliance, to enhance user control of invoked Web services, in a “privacy-respecting manner.”

An example provided by the alliance illustrates: A user looking for movie locations invokes the geo-location service via cell phone. The service provider recognizes the user’s physical location and delivers the addresses of nearby theater. The user lets her 20 closest friends know where she is with a single message via the contact book service. That service invokes presence to determine how the user’s friends prefer to be contacted--mobile phone, laptop etc.--and gets the message to the proper devices. Contact book might invoke geo-location to locate friends within a certain radius.

“Web service application interface standards are an important step in helping organizations deploy more secure and functional Web services,” said Ray Wagner, vice president, Gartner Research. “These specifications could allow service providers to offer users more options for managing identity information within a secure Web services framework.”

The Liberty Alliance was formed in September 2001 under the sponsorship of Sun Microsystems. Initially the group promoted what amounted to an alternative to Microsoft’s Passport services. When the alliance was formed, tech-book publisher and alliance charter member Tim O’Reilly called the software for managing user identity and authentication “so fundamental that a widespread consensus has emerged that this is a technology that shouldn’t be owned or controlled by any one player.”

“Identity is a requirement for successful Web services,” said Goodman, who also serves as the director of Intel’s Platform Virtualization Lab. “Unless identity can be established and secured, no enterprise is going to be comfortable using Web services beyond their organizational borders.”

The three specs, currently in draft form, are available at https://www.projectliberty.org/resources/specifications.php#box3. The Liberty Alliance invites public review and comment on the specs.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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