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Let’s see how far we’ve come: Reflections from 125 episodes of State of Identity

July 17, 2019

When Travis, our founder and CEO, asked me to join OWI as official employee number two, it would have been hard for me to imagine sitting here writing a retrospective looking back on nearly two-and-a-half years of podcasts spanning 125 episodes. For the sticklers out there, I may have technically jumped the gun writing this piece with only 124 episodes aired, but let’s not let the particulars ruin a good narrative!

I’d come to OWI directly from the trenches of shepherding megabanks through the gauntlet that is digital transformation of global KYC processes, so OWI’s approach to identity as the bedrock of our digital lives was music to my ears. In diving into the archives and re-listening to the string of episodes I recorded in December 2016, what struck me first was just how far we have come in a few short years in advancing the digital identity conversation.

An Identity Barometer

While always intended as an industry-focused podcast, my goal for each episode of State of Identity was to produce content that would be meaningful for the widest possible swath of listeners across the identity industry. As such, the degree to which I’ve dedicated airtime to foundational digital identity concepts makes for an interesting barometer to track the penetration of those ideas into the broader discourse. There are a few examples in particular that showcase our progress since episode #1.

First, blockchain. Now easy fodder for cocktail party conversation and debates about crypto portfolios, blockchain was once a topic that required a full 30-minute episode to unpack at a fundamental level, complete with an “explain-like-I’m-five” primer on distributed ledgers. Put another way: the price of a Bitcoin on the day our blockchain episode aired was $995.

Although not quite at the level of casual bar patron familiarity, self-sovereign-identity has enjoyed a rise to prominence in 2019 alongside broadening consumer awareness of personal data usage, and the passage of data privacy laws around the world. In February of 2017, we hosted renowned technologist and author Doc Searls and Evernym Co-Founder Timothy Ruff not to talk about business development or user adoption challenges, but simply to define the pure basics of SSI and its potential.

Contrast this with 2019, where with Episode #120 I took a deep-dive with Sphere Identity CEO Katherine Noall into foundational platform architecture decisions with regard to why they declined to pursue a network model offering third-party attestations. A conversation that, while possible in episode #12, would have required much more extensive definitions and breaks for clarification. Both for my own sake, and the audience as well. We’ve both grown up a bit since then.

 

Entering a New Phase

But even if you don’t have a podcast of your own to use as a litmus test for professional development, there are a few broader dynamics that indicate how we as an industry have evolved. Regardless of which signal you prefer to track, from consumer awareness and policy developments, to startups launched, dollars invested, or IPOs floated, the maturity of the identity industry is on full display in 2019.

One such signal that has caught my attention recently, and perhaps received less attention than those listed above, is continued evolution of the role played by standards groups within the industry. Close observers may have noticed the beginnings of leadership transitions at the pioneering groups that worked to develop the standards and technologies that formed the foundation for identity progress. At organizations such as OIX, FIDO, and Evernym, we are witnessing a “passing of the baton” from coalition-builders and boundary-pushers, to the companies seeking to bring the resulting standards to mass-market levels of adoption.

This is a key leading indicator that we are primed to “cross the Rubicon” into the era of broader digital identity adoption that so many have been hoping for since the beginning of State of Identity back in 2016. Taken alongside accelerated institutional investment and continued consumer awareness of digital identity issues, this broader commercialization portends to an explosion of progress in the latter half of 2019. The world’s leading companies have signaled that they now recognize that the time is right for bringing the next generation of digital identity products to market. We hope you’ll stay with us for the next 125 episodes so we can see where that new generation will lead.

Editor’s note: Episode 125 drops Thursday, July 18. Thanks for listening, and please subscribe!