XNS/XDI progress after 15 years?

Anyone remember the effort by XNS to create a trusted environment on the Internet (ref Adam’s article from late 2004 (https://tidbits.com/2004/10/25/persistence-pays-the-return-of-xns/)?
The XNS initiative morphed into XDI, and that hasn’t been covered much in the IT trade press I read (or rather I should say that I haven’t seen articles/notes about it so it may be that my reading net isn’t wide enough…). Seems like it’s still a great idea, but as Adam noted 16 years ago, people don’t like change.

A very good question—let me see if I can get Drummond Reed to share the history of what happened.

Thanks, Adam; please do. Drummond will know the terrifying details.

[Part One of Two—"new users can only put 5 links in a post]

Wow, this one takes me way back. It’s late on a Friday afternoon so I’ll keep this to bullet points:

  • It’s correct that XNS evolved into XDI (Extensible Data Interchange) which has been a Technical Committee at OASIS (the standards body) since 2004.
  • XDI had quite a lot of interest as a protocol for Internet identity, privacy, security, and trusted data interchange, but never gained enough developer traction.
  • In 2015, what was initially called “blockchain identity” began emerging, and those of us working on XDI began realizing that “cryptographic verification” using blockchain technology was an important new ingredient that was only a background component in XDI.
  • “Blockchain identity” evolved into “decentralized identity” and that turned into “self-sovereign identity” or “SSI”. As the architecture began to mature, and it became clear it could overcome longstanding barriers to Internet-scale, privacy-respecting digital identity, interest began to skyrocket. You can read and hear all about it in 40+ webinars at http://ssimeetup.org/.
  • SSI is now the hottest area of digital identity and has spawned several entire new organizations similar to XDI.org (which was originally XNS.org, of which Adam was the first chair). Specifically the Sovrin Foundation (where I am a founding trustee) and the Decentralized Identity Foundation (where I was a founding board member).

[Part Two of Two—“new users can only put 5 links in a post”]

  • SSI open source technology has also become one of the hottest areas of blockchain technology development. It is the basis for three of the most active Hyperledger projects at the Linux Foundation—Hyperledger Indy (started based on code contributed by the Sovrin Foundation), Hyperledger Ursa (a common crypto library for all blockchain tech), and Hyperledger Aries (code for interoperable SSI digital agents and wallets).
  • Lastly, my XDI startup, Respect Network , was acquired by Evernym, who is now the leading “pure SSI” vendor. You can find tons more info about SSI at http://www.evernym.com/. For the past three years I’ve been Chief Trust Officer at Evernym and I’ve never had more fun in my entire career.
  • The “SSI stack” has matured into a model we now call the Trust over IP (ToIP) stack, which is written up in a Hyperledger Aries RFC, and will shortly become a standalone project at the Linux Foundation.

The ToIP stack incorporates most (but not all) of what we were doing with XDI (plus much more in terms of cryptographic-verifiability and privacy protection) and almost everyone working on XDI is now working on SSI and ToIP. So, after what’s getting close to 20 years…we’re finally getting there!

I couldn’t be happier. And Adam helping get it started!

Thank you again, Adam.


Postscript (that’s just dripping with irony): I had to split up that post because, according to TidBITS Talk, I’m a new user. I had no way to carry over my digital identity from the many projects where I’ve been involved with Adam and Tonya and this community.

It’s about time for truly portable, user-driven, self-sovereign identity!



Hi Drummond

Thanks for the update, I am sure a longer TidBits Article would be of interest to many folk here.

After XNS went into hibernation it didn’t reappear on my radar as I mostly do IETF/RIR tracking stuff these days so apart from occasionally wondering what happened to it… Anyway definitely time to have a look at where it is at now.

Hey, it looks like a useful real world use case for “blockchain” :slight_smile:



Thanks for all the history and links, @drummondreed! And yes, Discourse has all sorts of protections against abuse that could be avoided if we had portable identities. (Those are all settings that can be changed, but I haven’t run into an issue with the restriction on the number of links before, so that one remains at the default.)

Since Discourse is open source and quite popular, it might be a useful target to approach for support. The guy behind it is Jeff Atwood, who also started StackExchange.

Thanks, Drummond.