I’ve been using WordPress to power my own website for a while now, and working with it in some way or another for even longer. Over the years, I’ve developed the belief that it’s a pretty perfect platform for people to build their own “digital home on the web”, considering the range of plugins and themes available, the flexibility of the publishing options it offers, and the fact that it’s completely open source, so you can do whatever you want with it.
That last bit is important in more ways than you might immediately think. Apart from just being able to write my own plugins or tweak my themes, this also means that I own my own data. I think in this MySpace/Facebook generation, people are all too loose with the data trails they create — giving up ownership of their digital self at the drop of a hat. In case you didn’t realize, when you use something like Facebook, it is not the product, you and your data are the product.
Quite a while ago (like, in at least 2009), I started thinking about regaining control of all the content I was producing online. I was posting photos to Flickr, saving bookmarks to Delicious. I started Tweeting. I was checking in. All fun and games, and all of those services offer great tools for interacting with them (let’s face it, tools that are much better than WordPress’, because they are focussed on one thing). So I figured, why not write importers for these services and pull my content back over to my WordPress. And keep doing it periodically, so that I could keep using those tools. I want WordPress to be my “home on the web”, my digital hub, but I want to use these neat tools with their fancy apps and what-have-you.
Very quickly, I realized that if I was going to do anything useful on most web services, I’d need to be able to authenticate with them. No biggie, right? I know my username and password… Oh. Right. OAuth. Turns out that most web services use OAuth (or something similar) to authenticate, and it turns out that that’s actually a bit of a bear to implement, when all you want to do is write a simple little Twitter importer. And then again for a Foursquare importer. And a Flickr importer.
What I needed was a shared, generic authentication framework that would do all the heavy lifting for me. I would tell it I wanted a connection to specific service, and if it didn’t have one, it’d walk the user through the process of getting one. It’d give me a standardized format of authentication credentials and abstract out all the complexity of making authenticated requests against those services. Then it would make me a coffee*. What I needed, was Keyring.