Clarifying Thoughts on OpenID

Muppets Two weeks ago I posted two items about OpenID. The first praised the significant contribution OpenID is making to the Open Web. The second raised questions about the direction the OpenID user experience is taking, and how the community discussion seems to be taking a very strong corporate voice. Needless to say, some people didn’t like my questions and what they thought I was implying. Ironically, they opted to send their comments in private.

Let me start by reiterating some points about my employer’s position, wearing my Yahoo! hat for a second, something I rarely do on this blog.

  • Yahoo!’s support for OpenID is unequivocal.
  • Yahoo! is an active member of the community, a specification contributor, and a sustaining member of the foundation.
  • Yahoo! has made a commitment not to invent any new or proprietary alternatives to OpenID.
  • We are also committed and actively seeking ways to support OpenID as a relaying party, accepting OpenID logins from other providers.

Yahoo!’s motivation in promoting the recent usability work (and were the first to host such event) isn’t about promoting the Y! brand of OpenID. It is about allowing us to offer OpenID as a sign-in option for our 500+ million unique visitors a month. Our customers expect a product that just-works, is intuitive, and adds value. We strongly believe OpenID is the framework of such a product but that it has a way to go before it doesn’t confuse the majority of our customers.

The Yahoo! team responsible for our OpenID implementation and strategy is the Membership team, headed by Raj Mata, an OpenID Foundation director, and includes Allen Tom, Chief Architect for membership and identity services. That’s by itself a very strong commitment.

If you are ever in doubt who speaks on behalf of Yahoo! on all things OpenID, talk to them. My public profile and affiliation with Yahoo! as an employee must not be confused with Yahoo!’s views on OpenID. I do not speak on behalf of my employer (on this matter). It if wasn’t clear before, I hope it is clear now.

Taking my Yahoo! hat off. Putting my ranting community activist hat on.

I believe OpenID is at a crossroad. The community is facing challenges on multiple fronts and has yet to truly rise up to them. This is not to say nothing is being done or that people are misguided. There are plenty of dedicated individuals working hard to push this movement forward. But the community as a whole has failed to find a coherent voice and an agreed upon direction. It might end up being a good thing, because a decentralized identity framework should probably not be managed by a centralized effort…

My general sentiment about OpenID is that I love the vision but dislikes the execution. It is pretty easy to find out my many points of criticism, I’m not shy about them (just search the OpenID mailing lists for my posts). Unfortunately (for me), most of my suggestions have either fallen on deaf ears or were rejected outright. But that’s just how public discussion works.

When new OpenID specification work resumes (hopefully shortly), you can count on my involvement and participation. But for now, I do not believe my involvement amounts to any meaningful contribution. Ranting out loud, however, is one of the most effective tools to kick communities in the ass and get them to at least think about the big picture.

I am sure Allen would like me to end with “OpenID FTW“. Sure, why not.