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Programming Social Applications by Jonathan LeBlanc

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Finger to WebFinger: The Origin of WebFinger

Back in 1971, the finger program was created with the intention of enabling people to obtain information about other users in the network. This information can be any data that people choose to make public. Users access data through email addresses, running a command similar to the following:

finger username@company.com

Unfortunately, finger did not last as an implementation standard for many of our Web 2.0 protocols. It did, however, inspire the initial concept for the WebFinger protocol. After all, using an email address as a means for easily extracting a user’s public profile information is an interesting idea. On many of the most popular sites we interact with on a daily basis (e.g., Yahoo!, Google, Facebook), we associate our email addresses with our user accounts—that is, our email addresses are directly tied to our profiles on these sites.

Now, with protocols such as OpenID—which allow users to sign in on any site using their email addresses from a few root providers—email addresses are more valuable than ever in defining a user’s public profile.

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