Hidden Progress of OpenID


Yesterday, the OpenID Foundation (OIDF) published its review of 2009. The numbers mentioned in the blog post look great. Having over 1 billion OpenID enabled accounts worldwide and over 9 million sites that let users log in with an OpenID are truly impressive numbers. Also it is a great list of companies providing or consuming OpenID.

I also applaud the OIDF for cooperating with the US government and initiating a strategy where OpenID logins on federal government websites become reality. It is a great way to help citizens engage with government agencies because they don’t need to register again just to gather some information, making an appointment and what not. Hopefully, this will become a blueprint for other governments as well.

However, having a closer look at the blog post, it becomes apparent that all that glitters is not gold. At least in my opinion.

  • Some of the mentioned OpenID providers like German GMX and Web.de are hardly recognizable as providers. Users can only use credentials of those email providers on Facebook. Well, actually (automatic) login only works if users are already logged in to those providers and Facebbok makes a checkid_immediate call. Having login credentials that only work for one website? Interesting concept. 😉
  • Many big and small companies are mentioned that accept OpenID. However quite a lot of them rely on JanRain’s RPX. There is nothing wrong with it. JanRain is about the only small, independent OpenID company that established a viable business model with RPX.

    But RPX is not only featuring OpenID as a login option but also Facebook Connect and Twitter among others. And some of the companies listed in the blog post don’t even allow logins with custom OpenIDs. Just have a look at the Wetpaint and Qype login screens. Yes, Yahoo!, MySpace, and Google logins are based on OpenID but users cannot use a custom OpenID:

  • And some of the mentioned companies have not even deployed OpenID yet, e.g. German Scout24, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom. If I got things right, Scout24 will also use RPX.

Yes, OpenID progressed in 2009. Though the technology has become more hidden, either behind obscure provider implementations like at GMX or behind buttons and logos of big vendors like Yahoo! and Google. Actually, it is not bad that technology becomes less obvious for users but the original idea of OpenID is gone as well: Having a URL

To empower individuals to define and offer and enforce their own terms in their interactions with others. To not merely be somebody’s user or consumer, but to be a first-class citizen of the net. To not be at the mercy of any government or organization.

as Johannes Ernst wrote in a recent blog post.

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6 thoughts on “Hidden Progress of OpenID”

  1. Having a URL that doesn’t depend on an organisation, that’s not obvious to most people. I like how things are going slowly, so that everyone understands how this can work: first, you can ask site A to authentify you for site B; then you allow site A to change; then the changes are often enough to make sense that you’ll need your own. That way, you are not forcing people onto having “their website” without having anything to say — but you actually let them realise how privacy matter.

    1. That’s a very optimistic view on how users might react. As long as OpenID, but also Twitter OAuth and Facebook Connect, are only used for simple logins, users won’t see the benefit of federated logins.

      BTW, it’s kind of funny that most tech blogs praise Facebook Connect for its ability to post to the Facebook news feed or to import friends, but it is mostly used for logins. Only a few sites make use of the possibilities.

      1. Well: see how things happened with e-mail; I now have the least geeky of my friends asking me about “going on Gmail” and, after ten minutes of my explaining, demanding open export standards for their e-mail archive. When I first mentionned OPML, it was nothing but awkward moments: “No, never heard of that either”; now, people can tell the difference between my OMPL suggestion to them on their desktop, and an updated file on my server. Having faith in humanity tends to work in the end.

        1. Wow, you seem to have friends who are actually eager to learn new things and use the internet more productive. My friends and family are more like Internet = Google search, Ebay, and price comparison sites. It’s a pity!

          I wish more people could tell good stories like yours. Makes me think more positive on the future of the open web.

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