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Login, profiles and authentication: JanRain, the Journalism Accelerator and you

Journalism Accelerator

Transparency around how we are tackling technology, building community and enabling connection is a core value of the Journalism Accelerator. Our intention is to clarify the thinking behind the JA’s authentication process, so you can feel informed in your decision to participate on the site. And be comfortable knowing what information you are sharing with the JA when you join the community. When you join the Journalism Accelerator community, we ask you to share who you are. Some members have asked about our thinking behind that. We believe how you technically connect to this website affects how you connect as a person to the living, breathing community the site gathers and reflects. We asked our technology advisor Jeff Lennan to tell you more about the login system we use and why.

Connection and Conversation

The Journalism Accelerator aspires to connect people and promote conversation around questions and resources to enrich the new media news ecology. In addition to running technology for the JA, I’m a community organizer. In that role I also aim to create new connections and conversations, while working through the opportunities and challenges of bringing people together.

Jeff Lennan JA profileI think in terms of people working together, in their mutual self-interest, often in new and unexpected ways.

As a technologist, I know that systems and networks help make this possible. We now have opportunities and capabilities for this that simply did not exist only a few years ago. Platforms, tools and devices have restructured and redefined communication, community and commerce.

It is clear that the Internet age has changed everything, including how we think about who we are and what we want. One important way that people shape and experience this is with their online identity. From a teenager agonizing over his relationship status on his Facebook profile to a job-seeker revising, then re-revising her LinkedIn profile, the Internet is a real-time identity workshop.

For those who choose to interact and connect on the web, the profile(s) we create are how we reference ourselves. Our online identity defines who we are in terms of what we do, what we say  and who and what we are connected to. While many choose a pseudonym as their profile, rather than their “real name,” that profile is still attached to what that person says, does, and IS on the web. It is this association that provides authenticity, which enables relationships, conversation and connection.

Making the Journalism Accelerator Useful

The primary goals of the Journalism Accelerator are to deepen connection, conversation, network confluence and collaboration.

The Journalism Accelerator’s sign-on system achieves these goals, based on three key assumptions:

  1. You work to shape at least one profile on the web that you believe best represents you and is optimized to achieve your objectives.  Most people have or can easily create one on a current major social platform (Google, LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook), and find it convenient to choose one to connect and participate here.
  2. Connecting in a way that allows others to learn who you are and get to know you through your conversations, work, products and expertise is a useful way to expand your network, broaden your knowledge and fuel experimentation.
  3. The process is easy (just one click), because simple is good. Busy people avoid creating new accounts, retrieving passwords or answering security questions.

This last assumption, simple matters, may just be the most important reason of all. We believe the best technology is the technology that works and doesn’t get in your way.

So far, our system of connecting people through their “real identities” is succeeding. New people joining, returning site visitors, comments, and JA community members choosing to share additional background such as their websites, a brief bio, and expertise areas in their profiles, have all increased dramatically with the ability for you to participate in the JA using your  preferred web profile.

JanRain and the Journalism Accelerator

The Journalism Accelerator uses JanRain Social Login. This is how the Journalism Accelerator is able to use one of your existing web profiles on Google, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

JA JanRain loginThis system provides a number of important benefits for you:

  • Security:  We believe that the major identity providers like Google, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are better suited than we are for managing (and protecting) your identity on the web. When you connect to the Journalism Accelerator, you do so on the secure servers of those platforms.
  • Ease of use: Your initial connection only requires one click, and when you return if you are not already connected, you can do so again, that’s right, with just one click.
  • Track Record: Big brands use it because customers like it.

The system also significantly protects the community against spam, which means conversations in the forum are able to remain open, as the topics they cover continue to unfold over time. And, as we have detailed above, it lets you know who you’re talking to!

Your Privacy: What the Journalism Accelerator Does with Your Information

Providers like Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook give access to a fixed set of information when you connect to other sites using your profile. To see a list of what information your provider allows, visit JanRain’s Provider Guide.

We apply a subset of this information, far less than what the providers offer. To give you an idea of what this looks like, here is what we store, by provider.

The Profile Data We Use

Our policy is to only store a very limited set of information when you connect to the Journalism Accelerator. In other words, we do not see or store nearly all the information available from the providers.

Facebook: Display Name, Profile Photo, Verified Email
Twitter: Display Name, Twitter handle, Bio, Profile Photo, Website
LinkedIn: Display Name, Twitter, Handle, Profile Photo, Position, Website
Google: Display Name, Verified Email

While Facebook and Google provide an email address, if you connect using LinkedIn or Twitter, the Journalism Accelerator will ask you for one. Google is the only platform that does not provide a photo. If you connect using Google, we ask you to edit your profile and upload an image to use on the Journalism Accelerator.

Why JanRain?

There are a number of ways to integrate social login into a website. Here are some things that informed our decision to use JanRain.


We chose JanRain because it gives us a simple way to provide social login via most major social networks, without the requirement to code to each one.  A major challenge of social login is making sure the mix of social logins functions effectively with all of the other parts of your website. JanRain makes sure social login works across all major networks, which frees us up to make sure the Journalism Accelerator works for our site visitors.  With JanRain, we are free to use our own profile-based functions on the site, like comment threads and “voting up” content, instead of having to plugin various third-party applications for these features that are fundamental to the utility of our site and our project.


In order to use JanRain the way we do on the Journalism Accelerator, we do need to do some coding.  We are integrating the social login services of JanRain with BuddyPress, a WordPress plugin that powers the profiles that you see under the people tab on the site.  While JanRain provides a WordPress plugin, this is for a much more basic level of WordPress site, and we definitely have had to modify the plugin.  Another significant factor is cost.  In order to achieve what we needed with social login, we had to buy an enterprise license for JanRain, which costs around $3,000/yr.  At $250/month, this level of software is simply out of reach for many site operators and projects.

There may be something you’ve realized as you read this that will help you think through your own project, website, or other work. Let us hear your response to the choices we’ve made around identity and authentication! You thoughts feed the JA community evolution. We’ll keep reporting on that here as it continues to unfold.

Jeff Lennan

About the Author

Jeff Lennan consults for the JA on technology, strategy, and site creation. He is experienced in both the development and use of Web applications for communications, advocacy and activism. He is a partner at Red Hot Penguin, an open source technology development outfit based in San Francisco.