Doing Different Things with Federation

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently talking about the non-library usecase for the UK federation. After all, dealing with publishers all the time gets a bit wearisome for all of us 🙂 An established model in the US for sometime has been using the concept of federated login not to facilitate login, but to prove that someone is a student or staff member at a university. This is often used to give you free stuff – that can’t be bad! We saw the beginnings of this approach with the Microsoft DreamSpark implementation. A company called Unidays is looking at the same concept.

As you can see from the screenshot below, Unidays uses the UK federation not to manage your login, but to associate you with an institution and verify your ‘studentyness’. The verification screen (with a well designed embedded WAYF – brownie points) points you to your local Shibboleth or OpenAthens identity provider where you login once and create the association. I know they have been having some inital problems with some institutions but I’ve seen it work for students registering at King’s College London (Shibboleth) and Swansea University (OpenAthens). As I mentioned at recent OpenAthens Seminars, I think the importance of being able to declare your studentyness with this verification process may become more important than the use of institutional credentials as we move forward with identity management in educational settings.

Some challenges remain here – revocation is an interesting point. I wonder if Unidays are going to force a reverification at certain points? Also attribute management – we often see this approach ‘forgetting’ to distinguish between student@uni.ac.uk and member@uni.ac.uk – meaning that staff can get a sneaky discount too 🙂