In Two tales of user-centricities, Adriana Lukas gets at something that has bothered me for years about the term “user-centric”. It always seemed too external to me. It equates too easily with terms like “customer-focused”. It’s something an organization does for a user. Not something a user does for herself or himself.

In the past I’ve tried to steer the identity development community away from it, suggesting terms like “independent” instead of “user-centric”. But I failed and just accepted “user-centric” as is. Hell, I don’t like the term “user”, either.

But I think Adriana is right about “-driven”. It’s a much better term. I don’t know if it’s too late to get the identity community to adopt it, but we’re still getting started with VRM. Regardless of what adjectival phrases we use to describe what VRM is about, it’s essential to get our vectors right.

With VRM, our vectors are anchored on the user side, the customer side, the individual’s side. The relationships we establish and manage are on our terms and not just those of vendors. We are not against vendors in the least, of course. Our logic is AND, not OR. But it starts with the sovereign autonomy and independence of each individual as a fully-empowered participant in the relationships that comprise markets and other social arrangements. “-driven” says that much more clearly and correctly than “-centric”.

Same goes for the identity development efforts I’m most familiar with. The difference is that they’re downstream with their vocabularies and we’re not.

For the identity folks, I’d like to see a session at IIW (and discussion in any case) about concepts and vocabularies. Because when I look at this goal of Identity Commons

To support, facilitate, and promote the creation of an open identity layer for the Internet, one that maximizes control, convenience, and privacy for the individual while encouraging the development of healthy, interoperable communities.

… I see “-driven” rather than “-centric”.

So hey, maybe it’s not too late. The Identity Thing is still pretty young, too.

Another problematic noun in the identity lexicon is “provider”. Here OpenID talks about “identity providers” both as servers the user operates and as something you get from other entities. Specifically,

OpenID allows anyone who can run a web server to run an identity server. Your identity server is separate from your identity, so you are free to use any identity server that has some ability to validate your identity and you can change between them at will. An identity server is sometimes referred to as an identity provider. If you wish, you can use the services listed below with your own website as your identifier using delegation

The following sites provide OpenID identities and servers to verify them.

People want to feel, to know, that they are in charge of their own identities, and how those identities are used. “Providing” identities from the outside seems quite different, even if we’re actually talking about infrastructure that supports individuals providing for themselves — which OpenID does.

So, food for re-thought.

And, while we’re at it, maybe we should lose the term “user” as well.