OpenID becomes more available, but its concept remains a mystery to many

Posted by Samantha Rose Hunt

Opinion - The Internet could be a much simpler place. Utilizing one password, one log in to keepg a close eye on all of your contact information is actually possible. You can even make decisions as far as how much information a website has access to, and which websites you share with. We’re getting closer and closer to employing this technology utilizing OpenID. OpenID allows you to minimize your passwords and account user names to one. The problem is that the concept is still too complicated for the masses and few actually know how to apply it.

For a long time OpenID was just a thought and not many large Internet players were utilizing it. In January of 2008 this changed, with AOL and Yahoo hosting the accounts. In October, Google, MySpace, Plaxo, and Microsoft opened their programs to support the technology, thus thrusting the single sign-on technology into the limelight.

Now we are on the brink of major widespread adoption of OpenID. Unfortunately, the usability issue of the program has engineers and design experts flustered. Even though the typical Internet user more than likely has an OpenID account linked to their Google account, AOL screen name, or Yahoo ID, they more than likely have no idea how to take advantage of this technology.

Google and Yahoo recently conducted user experiment studies that proved that the average Internet user has absolutely no clue how to deal with the OpenID login process. When they are given the option of signing in with a Yahoo or Google account, they usually completely ignore the OpenID option, and instead simply enter their Gmail or Yahoo login and password. Getting individuals to switch to OpenID logins would require quite a bit of retraining.

OpenID providers and major news outlets recently met in New York to discuss their concerns with OpenID. Google’s Eric Sachs confirmed that the conference in fact provided some interesting feedback. “The first was that the user interface that the identity providers had was too complex,” Sachs told Webmonkey. “The second thing that those websites said was ‘Hey, we have a very large installed base of users who already log in to us with an e-mail address. We need to provide some user-friendly way to potentially transition them to (OpenID).’”

But the fact that OpenID isn’t user friendly is not the only issue. Both Google and Yahoo are making efforts to retain the login behavior of their users. Yahoo has reduced the number of steps that it takes to log in from twelve to two. And Google has replaced the cryptic URL-based login used by OpenID with one that simply uses an e-mail address. However, these methods both require that a user bounce over to Google or Yahoo for authorization before they head back to the site they were originally trying to gain access to. There ought to be a more logical and simpler way to take advantage of OpenID.

OpenID has all the right genes to become a major trend on the Internet. For now, however, there aren’t enough websites supporting the technology and its imagines ease-of-use just isn’t there yet.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.