I have a pet peeve and like most pet peeves it’s an irrelevant petty little annoyance, not quite a huge, humanity, oppressing problem.

My pet peeve is filling out the same information; name, address, city, etc… on paper forms. All that standard information at every doctor’s office, school, activity registration form for my kids, etc… I mean why do I need to keep writing this stuff? And why does somebody else have to take the time to retype it into their system?

Really! In all seriousness … what a waste of time! 5 minutes I’ll never get back, every time I start a new relationship with any organization.

But wait … I have a vision! Not a big glorious, save humanity vision, it’s more of a save each person 5 minutes of writers cramp, kind of vision. Yes! That kind of glorious vision!

I was originally inspired with this in the mid 1990’s. It started out as a question; why can’t doctor’s receptionist retrieve this information from the province when they scan my health card. But since the likelihood of getting the government to add an API for this is slim, it was reduced to something simpler. Like; Why can’t I hand the receptionist at my new doctor a diskette with an ‘aboutme.txt’ file on it, where she can load it into her PC, and give me my diskette back? This would free me up to spend an extra 3-5 minutes browsing the 4 year old magazines during my 76 minute wait to see the doctor.

Over the years, this vision has transformed from an aboutme.txt file on a 3.5” diskette to an aboutme.ini file on a diskette to an aboutme.ini file on a website to an aboutme.html file on website to an aboutme.xml file on a website to an aboutme.xml file on a USB memory stick. I’m not even going to go into ideas I had for RFID, bar coding, or carrying around printed labels in my wallet.

I’ll agree; this isn’t a big problem, but it’s an irritating little annoyance which can be easily overcome with a very simple programming solution. Surely, this would become a reality. Surely, this simple idea would be recognized by others, and implemented.

But alas, the obvious was never realized and because it would be impractical for any organization to expect you to have this aboutme.* file in your back pocket when nobody else had one or was asking for it. It’s the typical chicken / egg scenario; you need one to start the other.

But now I’m inspired again … by Open ID, or possibly another similar centralized authentication mechanism.

When I log into a new site via MyOpenID, I can chose the persona I want revealed to the site I’m logging into for the first time. One of these personas could easily contain standard address information like that required in the types of situations listed previously.

As Open ID reaches critical mass, with more people understanding and adopting it, providing and/or recommending software functionality to accept basic information via an Open ID login will become more realistic.

It’s easy enough to imagine a plausible working process, so I won’t bore you with that. However, there would be serious security concerns regarding logging into a critical authentication mechanism like Open ID from a shared kiosk, so the user would want to log in via their personal cell phone (or laptop or PC or …). And mainstream user adoption has a long way to go before something like this would even be offered, not because of technology, but due to slowly shifting paradigms.

There are obstacles to overcome before this could ever become a reality, but with centralized authentication schemes like Open ID, expecting most people to have an electronic copy of their basic information available will eventually be reasonable, and generic business software applications will start consuming that information.

And one day, hopefully before I die, I won’t have to fill out another one of those stupid forms.

Copyright © John MacIntyre 2009, All rights reserved

WARNING – All source code is written to demonstrate the current concept. It may be unsafe and not exactly optimal.

3 Responses to “AboutMe.xml”

  1. Marc Towler says:

    I can see where you are coming from with this and the UK government has had a similar idea, but theirs involve a security “smart” card which on it’s chip holds all of your information and all that happens is they scan that to get your details.
    Only problem with that one is the high cost as well as the higher risk of having all of your personal information on one piece of plastic, and for your ideas it is not as severe but still a risk if you lose it or it is stolen.

    • John MacIntyre says:

      Hi Marc,

      The media explains it as ‘all the info on your card’, but I think this is just an easy way to explain it to the layman. I believe the only thing on your card is an ID which is applied against a database where your information is actually stored. The data can’t possibly be on your card, otherwise they’d have to send you a new card anytime anything changed.

      I know what you mean though, and the province of Ontario is coming out with something similar in our drivers licences. But this will never be the solution to my writers cramp issue, since the government will never grant general access to this database (hopefully). So it could never be used by generic businesses.

      Having said that, I don’t know why the heck my Doctors office can’t get this info when they scan my healthcard. Obviously they a) have access and b) have my healthcard.

      Thanks for the comment Marc,

  2. Marc Towler says:

    Hi John,
    I can see where you are coming from andit would be interesting but one solution to your writers cramp would be if more and more companies go online so you could just upload a document with your information. It would make life so much easier BUT as with any pro there is a con and the con for that would be added security but it always seems to be cracked in the end.


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