Do you like email? I know right? Who doesn’t? Well, some people love it. Love love love it. They love it so much that they like to help other folks send email. So that more people can have more email. What’s more, they like to make it pretty and straightforward and (gasp!) useful. No. It’s true.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t bemoan the state of email. Now granted, it’s usually me complaining that—even after 20 years of using the medium—I’m still unable to effectively manage the day-to-day onslaught.
But as you and I both know, that’s not the only thing that’s frustrating with email. What about communicating via email? Isn’t that frustrating too? For many, that’s a staggering understatement.
As I mentioned on Monday, local stealth startup Ontier was selected to unveil their product, Pixetell, at DEMO09, one of the premier venues for showcasing new—and previously unseen—technology.
As any number of applicants can tell you, it’s a coup to even be selected to appear on the DEMO stage. So Ontier was way ahead of the game by being one of the only Northwest companies selected.
And anyone who has stood on the DEMO stage can tell you that it can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences—even for the most seasoned presenter. Making it through the five minutes is an accomplishment in and of itself.
So, they got selected. And they presented well. End of story, right? Not quite.
Ontier didn’t stop there. No, no. Just leave it to the Portland types to go and make us even more proud.
Not only did Ontier lead off the presentations, they led off by knocking it out of the park: Ontier has been named one of the DEMOgods for DEMO 09.
What’s a DEMOgod?
Each conference DEMO unveils a new class of the industry’s upcoming technologies, and it always proves difficult to pick and choose the most exceptional products. The desirable DEMOgod Awards are given to those that show outstanding potential to succeed in the market while motivating and exciting the DEMO audience.
Ontier was one of seven companies selected for the honor.
That makes this worth one more look.
Okay, okay. Maybe the headline is a bit too hyperbolic—and those are my words, not theirs, so blame me. But that’s the first thing that jumped to mind when I saw Portland-based Ontier demo their product Pixetell at DEMO 09.
Okay, maybe it would be better to let them explain what their product does:
Pixetell on-demand software provides the power of in-person interaction and the convenience of email. You can verbally and visually explain spreadsheets, drawings, designs, proposals… anything on your screen. With Pixetell, you quickly combine screen recordings, voice, webcam, rich text and attachments into a secure, interactive message sent over existing channels including email, blogs, wikis, IM and Twitter. Recipients view Pixetells at their convenience in their Web browser and can reply with their own Pixetell message.
And their not the only ones talking about it. Spend 5 minutes on stage at DEMO and a whole bunch of people start chattering about your product.
Here’s what some other folks are saying:
Pixetell is one of those products that sounds a little fuzzy at first, but really grabs your attention (or mine, at least) once you see it in action. Basically, it allows you to use screen recordings, voice, web cam, rich text and other attachments to enrich emails and related documents — spreadsheets, designs, proposals and so on. And it allows you to add these things as part of your normal workflow, using a simple dashboard that appears at the bottom of your screen.
Move over e-mail, here come ‘Pixetells’ (Computerworld)
Regular e-mail, especially for complicated discussions, can be tedious, with many messages going back and forth before a problem gets solved, said CEO Sebastian Rapport, who will demonstrate Pixetell at the Demo conference in Palm Desert, Calif.
Web conferences have their own limitations as well, because they can be hard to schedule, especially for distributed teams, he said. “At awkward hours, you can’t get it done,” Rapport said.
DEMO 09 companies that work for me (Cool Tools Happy Blog)
Ontier’s Pixetell is on-demand software that lets users verbally and visually explain spreadsheets, designs, proposals – basically anything that’s on your PC screen. Instead of using a Web-based collaboration or conferencing service like WebEx, you can create a similar demonstration or explanation of anything and then send it off in a Pixetell message. The user interface looks gorgeous, and the demo was very effective in showing what it could do.
Demo 09: Doing More With Less (Forward Thinking)
The major presenters started with Ontier, Inc., which showed a product called Pixetell, a competitor to products like WebEx allows you to send screen shots, video and audio in a special email message;; and to respond similarly. You can use a web cam for video or capture what is happening on your screen; and collect the responses via email. What I like about it is that it allows for a rich media conversation that doesn’t have to be in real time. It looked very easy to set up, and I can see how businesses could like this very much.
Nice to have you out of stealth, Ontier
It’s great to have another Silicon Forest company launching at DEMO (Iterasi launched at DEMO 08 and SplashCast launched at DEMO 07), especially one that appears to have been so well received by those watching the show.
Here’s hoping we see more of Ontier around Portland, now that they’re done being stealthy.
Ontier, Inc. was founded in early 2008 in Portland, Oregon by industry veteran Sebastian Rapport. The company is comprised of a global team of experienced managers and product developers brought together to enable a leap forward in the way we communicate.
For more information or to sign up for the beta, visit Ontier.
But the URL thing still trips folks up.
And that’s a known issue. Not everyone wants to use a URL to identify themselves. An email address makes more sense to some folks.
But there’s a problem. An email address isn’t exactly an “endpoint.” And there’s no way to hang other stuff off of an email address, like identity information or helpful code like XFN.
Still, from a usability standpoint, “using my email address to login” is about as common a practice as any on the Web.
So there needs to be a translation. Something that lets people use the credential they want, but allows folks to have the endpoint credential they need.
I thought Emailtoid showed a great deal of promise. But apparently, it wasn’t good enough.
Now, Vidoop’s Will Norris and Michael Richardson have helped take the concept of Emailtoid a step further by working on the development of a new spec. It’s a spec that may simplify the issue even further.
Introducing EAUT—pronounced “yute“—a distributed email address to URL translation that allows anyone to take the conversion from email address to OpenID URL and hide it behind the scenes of the transaction. With just a little bit of code.
Or, to let Vidoop explain EAUT more clearly:
In basic terms EAUT makes it easy to take an email address and transform it into an URL, making your email work with services like OpenID. The goal with Emailtoid is to demonstrate the technology and provide a fallback solution for a larger, decentralized network based on the EAUT specification.
What’s more, it’s decentralized. Meaning any email address—any email address—now holds the potential to become an OpenID:
EAUT is designed to work in a distributed fashion, so that no one authority controls it. Every email provider can control how email addresses at their domain are resolved into URLs.
So, now that bright and shiny new Emailtoid—instead of leading the charge—becomes the fallback service should this validation fail. According to plan.
Hopefully, the release of the EAUT spec continues to chip away at the barriers that are preventing major providers—providers that serve as relying parties but don’t allow users to login via OpenID—to move into the realm of becoming full-fledged OpenID supporters.
And in so doing, here’s hoping that EAUT helps accelerate the adoption of OpenID, a concept that today may only save headaches for a handful of geeks with innumerable logins, but which may one day serve as an open foundation for credentials and security on the open Web of the future.
Combining the power of OpenID with the ease of email addresses. And making it open and distributed.
This could be a thing of beauty.
Oh boy. He’s on that OpenID soapbox again.
Look. You’re in Portland. Arguably the de facto hub of OpenID. So it happens. The OpenID soapbox is literally right here. I can jump on it at practically any time.
So yes, I’m talking about OpenID, again.
But this time, I think even the staunchest critics will find the discussion interesting. Because it solves a very common complaint.
You see, once you get past initial objections surrounding OpenID and the “we should push the value, not the technology” discussion—once you get into actually trying to convince people to use OpenID as a form of credential for online services—one criticism tends to pop up time and time again…
Why is OpenID a url? Why can’t OpenID be an email address?
Why does this complaint come up so much? Because email passes the “mom ‘n’ pop” test. As in mom ‘n’ pop are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea of having an email address. They “get it.” And they’re far more comfortable managing that type of address than they are managing a url.
Long story short, email seems easier to grasp.
And we’ve been so conditioned to plug an email address into the “username” box, that it’s almost becoming second nature.
So the conversation always, always, always comes around to “What if logging in with OpenID were as easy as logging in using your email address?”
If only! If only someone, somewhere could put some of the leading minds together with some brilliant developers and get this thing figured out. I mean, maybe like Chris Messina and Will Norris. Maybe get Scott Kveton and Scott Blomquist in there. And that Michael Richardson is a pretty sharp developer.
I mean, if someone could manage to put a team like that together… I’m sorry. What? Really? Really? Vidoop? They all work for Vidoop? Oh. Well. That would probably explain this then….
How does Email to ID work?
The concept is simple. And congruent with current OpenID logins.
One box. One credential to enter. The basic difference being that you’re using an email address instead of url.
So how do you validate that you are who you say you are? Well, there are a couple of ways.
If you don’t
have know that you already have an OpenID, you can just use your email address and Email to ID will create an OpenID association for you.
The first time you sign into a new site, Email to ID will send a validation code to that email account. (Much in the same way CAN-SPAM encourages people to confirm their membership on email lists.) Using the code, you can validate that the email address is, in fact, yours and that you are who you say you are.
If you’re already a typical OpenID user, you can associate your existing OpenID(s) and relying parties with an email address. This allows you to use the inherent security features of your relying party instead of having to check your inbox every time you want log into a new site.
Technically, what’s Email to ID doing?
Okay. I can see you geekily salivating over there. But I’m not going to try to explain it. Instead, I’ll let the people doing the work explain that:
Emailtoid is a simply a mapping service – we take a GET request to our mapper ( eg, http://email@example.com ) and return an HTTP redirect (a 302) to an OpenID. If the email address is not in our system, we create an OpenID account for the user on the fly. The user logs into the OpenID account by verifying his or her email address through a one time URL or confirmation code sent to that email address. The RP (relying party, the site that originally sent the request) then has the user returned to it.
Get it? Good. Explain it to me sometime.
All I care about is that it works. And it does. Quite gracefully. And that is technology as it should be.
So is OpenID “mainstream” now?
I don’t know that making OpenID mainstream should even be a goal. But I do know that making services and technologies more useful to the general populous should.
“Basically, OpenID is great, it’s a wonderful technology, but it can be a bit confusing to the end users,” said Richardson, lead developer for Email to ID. “Users are already trained to use email as an identifier, so this bridges the gap between email and OpenID.
“Ideally, this service will go away as all top level domains will implement their own mapping. But until that time, we provide a way for sites to have people to use OpenID through their email address. The barrier of entry into OpenID is significantly lower.”
Conceptually, this service marks a huge step forward for “bending the OpenID technology to the needs of the common user.” And as such, it could definitely be one avenue for introducing a new way of logging-in to a wider group of people.
But, whether the term or concept “OpenID” needs to travel along with that form of credentialing is still a matter of debate.
To paraphrase something that Kveton, who in addition to efforts at Vidoop happens to chair of the OpenID Foundation, often says, “My mom doesn’t says she’s going to go establish an SMTP connection. She says she’s going to go check her email.” Or to put it another way, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak—or Gardenburger, as the case may be.”
Make no mistake, this is progress for OpenID and its potential. And progress very much in the right direction for a very fledgling technology with a number of benefits.
I, for one, feel that—with Email to ID—one of the major gripes against OpenID is now a thing of the past.
And that means, it’s time to attack the next one. What’s next?
For more information or to set up your own email-based OpenID, visit Email to ID. Interested in implementing this service? See the Email to ID developers area and follow Email to ID on Get Satisfaction. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to be in Portland, today, swing on by Beer and Blog to talk to Email to ID developer Michael Richardson about this new service.