In my first job out of college, I went to work for a startup in Boston, Agents, Inc. They had developed some collaborative filtering technology that they applied to generate pretty darn good movies and music recommendations. I created my user account (‘bowtah’, account number 51066) on ffly.com late 1995.
When I started, they were just finishing up a project with another startup, Yahoo, to provide website recommendations for a new service they were launching, My Yahoo!. It was the first time that Yahoo offered user registration. As part of the arrangement, when you registered on either site, you also got an account on the other. My bowtah account became part of Yahoo.
A year and a half later, Agents (now Firefly) was moving towards selling their software to businesses, rather than building ad-supported consumer sites. They sold off their music site, along with all the user registrations and ratings, to a music startup. The company was acquired by Microsoft in 1998 and I moved to Seattle.
At Microsoft, the Firefly team worked on building Passport, Microsoft’s single identity system. The idea was to allow you to register once, and use that login across any site on the web. Today, OpenID seems to be reviving that idea, albeit with different rules.
In 1999, I became interested in online radio and went to LAUNCH, a music startup in LA, and the same company that bought Firefly’s music site earlier. On LAUNCH.com, I was reunited with my old Firefly login.
Soon after, the dot-com bomb went off and LAUNCH was in trouble. In 2001, LAUNCH was acquired by Yahoo. One of our first projects after the acquisition was to convert LAUNCH to use Yahoo’s login system. As part of that process, you had the option of merging your LAUNCH account with a Yahoo account. Two acquisitions later, my split identities of bowtah were reunited.
Now that a Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo is on the table, it’s possible that my accounts may be consolidated again. I don’t think Microsoft did anything with the rest of the Firefly accounts, but my Passport account is still there.
I use 1Password religiously to manage the otherwise impossible task of remembering all my website registrations, but clearly the web a better solution for single identities and Microsoft acquiring them all clearly isn’t it. 🙂 Here’s to hoping that Yahoo’s support of OpenID 2.0 will finally make the problem of maintaining lists of usernames and passwords go away.