Recently I wrote about the online authentication system OpenID, which cleverly allows Web sites to verify who you are by checking to see if you are logged into your own secure site on your computer. If you're authenticated on that site, you don't have to sign in on any site that uses the OpenID system.
OpenID lets other sites confirm that you are who you say you are. It doesn't, though, tell these sites what you want. For that, there's another new system, PrefPass, which is designed to record what you like, and then pass that data to other sites, so they can give you content you want and advertising that's relevant. The service is now in public beta.
Here's how it works. First, you register at PrefPpass. This entails identifying yourself by your email address, and then defining your preferences by pointing to online resources that you like. If you write your own blog, that's a natural choice. You can also link to your Del.icio.us account, and any other sites or blogs that speak to you. From that collection of sites, PrefPass generates a list of keywords for you.
A PrefPass-enabled content site will have a "Grant Pass" button. Once you press it, the content site connects to your PrefPass account (if you are logged in to it on your PC), and gets your keywords. Those keywords are used to select content and ads for you. PrefPass does not pass identify information to the content site, just what you like.
Site owners can avail themselves of PrefPass tools, like a blog site plug-in that will list the posts on the site the PrefPass user is most likely to have affinity with; and a module that serves up relevant Amazon products that are related to the user rather than the content the user is viewing (which is what Google Adwords currently displays).
PrefPass is a very interesting way to separate preference from identity, and CEO Adam Marsh assures me that's what content publishers want. They don't care nearly as much about who you are, he says, as they do about serving you ads you're likely to click on. It's also worth noting that PrefPass doesn't give a content site any information at all until you authorize it to make a connection.
Since the system is new and there are not a lot of publishers using PrefPass (and those that do so far are just experimenting with it), there's no great need for you to rush to set up a PrefPass account right now. Although doing so is very fast and easy if you want to join the experiment. I'm hoping some big publishers pick up this system (CNN? Digg?), since on sites like these one tends to get lost in the sea of content, and a system like PrefPass could help a lot.
One last note: PrefPass looks like great technology for matchmaking services, especially the new LonelyBloggers site (I am not making this up, although I wish I was).