Monday, February 04, 2008

The promise and problems of OpenID

Playing around with an OpenID provider and something bothers me.

The idea behind OpenID of course is to try and get past the problem of having lots of different accounts on lots of different websites. The existence of a site like Useless Account is testimony to the problem.

OpenID, as I understand it, gets you to sign on to a single OpenID provider site, like My Open ID, which you can then use to sign into other sites rather than having to explicitly create a new user/password combination for each and every site you want to use.

The main obstacle at the moment seems to be a lack of major sites that will authenticate using OpenID. There does appear to be some recent momentum, with web2.0 site aggregator Plaxo and the Blogger.com comment system now being accessible through OpenID authentication. But that's not what's bothering me.

What's bothering me is that I already have a lot of accounts on a lot of sites which aren't tied to my OpenID account, and I don't see any way to tie those accounts to my OpenID account. Worse, plenty of existing sites like LiveJournal also act as OpenID providers: you can sign onto an OpenID-compatible site using your LiveJournal details. As a result I now not only have multiple accounts around the place, but two of those multiple accounts are both OpenID accounts. This doesn't bode well for a system aimed at reducing the number of superfluous user/password combinations I have to keep in mind.

Maybe there's something I missed in the protocol, but to my knowledge there's no way to associate my previously existing accounts with my OpenID accounts. Nor do I know any way to make my existing accounts on disparate OpenID providers aware of each other so that I could easily alternate between them, or even subordinate one to the other.

Perhaps someone could point out whether this is currently possible? If it isn't, then I fear OpenID will go down the road of things like the DVORAK keyboard: a technological improvement that is superior, useful and fails because it desn't take entrenched social realities into account. To succeed, OpenID needs to be able to assimilate existing accounts somehow.

1 comment:

openid said...

Maybe there's something I missed in the protocol, but to my knowledge there's no way to associate my previously existing accounts with my OpenID accounts.

Of course there isn't. That's not something the protocol could specify, it's something indivual providers have to work out how to do.

.... that said, I'm not aware of anyone who actually does this. www.billmonk.com do something *similar*, by allowing you to merge multiple accounts together (including the ability to associate your facebook ID)... but that doesn't help openID.