Earlier this week, Chris Messina had an excellent post on some problems with OpenID. One of the main problem identified in the post is the fact that there are so many choices when it comes to an OpenID provider that the basic login page becomes a nightmare. As an example, he showed the StackOverflow OpenID Login page.
As you can see, there are a lot of options to choose from. First, you can enter a URL if you know it, or you can click one of the four “major” providers. There is also another list of smaller icons for other providers, mostly blog platforms and other services.
Within Chris’ post, it was argued that for some people, they only want to see the Google button because that is the type of account that they have. Obviously, we cannot default only to Google, so how do we change the login to make things work for everyone?
Chris presents cases for having choice and limiting choice, and does recommend more of a discovery style of authentication and only having one button for OpenID as a whole. However, I think he is applying something very technically appealing that nobody outside of technology would ever use. Before I am called an infidel and moron, let me explain.
First, let me say that Chris has probably forgotten more about online identity than I have learned at this point. So, this is written more from the user perspective. If we want OpenID to become the “one true login”, we need to make it simple. I mean really dumb simple. Chris was right on this, we need a button. However, one big OpenID button does not mean anything to my non-technical friends. What button would make sense? I am thinking that we do need some choice, but we only need about 3 choices.
First, to keep the technical people happy, there will be a Google button that will prompt you for your Google id. OpenID can hook into Google FriendConnect in order to actually authenticate.
Second, to keep the younger generations happy (i.e. those under 45 yrs old), there will be a Facebook Connect button that prompts you for your Facebook id. As with the Google scenario, OpenID can hook into Facebook Connect for the authentication.
Lastly, to get almost everyone else on the internet, we include a Yahoo button that prompts for your Yahoo id. Granted, we need Yahoo to come up with a “friend connect” API, and then OpenID can hook into that API.
By including these three user communities, we have targeted at least half a billion accounts. There is probably a lot of overlap in the user communities as well, but if we assume even 300 million distinct users, that is a really good target for mass adoption.
Of course, people will complain that MySpace, AOL, Hotmail and others are not included. With any technical solution, you will never completely solve the problem, and you will never make everyone happy. AOL has been working on opening up a little, so they could probably strike an “identity deal” with Yahoo where Yahoo accepts AOL accounts or something of that nature. MySpace supports OpenSocial, so they could probably work with Google. That leaves Hotmail as the outsider. I would guess that most real users of Hotmail are likely users of MySpace or Facebook, so maybe they just need to use a different service for OpenID purposes.
This is obviously oversimplifying the problem some, but there is a definite path we could take. The three providers I identified are defintely leading the way in traffic for various demographics. Are we alienating some internet users? Sure, there are always some people that will not be happy. However, this might give us enough coverage for 80% of the people that use more than just one site. That is all we should care about anyway.
Image courtesy of Chris Messina on Flickr.