OpenID is so cool – what’s the holdup?

If you’re unfamiliar with OpenID, read up on Wikipedia. Side note: It’s really amazing how many times I start a post with that phrase and a link to Wikipedia…anyway…

It seems as though OpenID has achieved (or is on the path to achieving) that which Microsoft Passport could not – a widely accepted, trusted, and easily integrable single sign-on solution. It’s seeing adoption from the likes of Yahoo, AOL, Digg, Firefox 3.0, and more (links are to announcements of support). Why? Probably because people are unwilling to give Microsoft any more control over their digital lives than it already has. It’s also probably because Microsoft had a habit of charging expensive licensing fees to any sites wanting to use Passport authentication. Furthermore, OpenID is decentralized, meaning every sign-on system in the world doesn’t go down or get compromised if Microsoft gets hacked.

The benefits of OpenID are obvious and exciting. A single user/password combo that you can use all over the web. Automatic transfer of all your registration data to new services you sign up for, without you having to type everything in again. Never have to remember which of your 10 different user names or passwords you used to sign up for a particular site. One-click ordering from an online store, even if you’ve never purchased from there before.

OpenID has the potential to revolutionize the web, so what’s the hold up?

OpenID’s biggest problem at this point in the game (aside from widespread adoption, which takes time), is that OpenID seems to function as merely a really complex auto form filler. Most OpenID providers only store basic demographic and contact information, meaning having an OpenID often only saves me from typing my name and my birthday. There is currently no way to store my credit card and shipping information in my OpenID, meaning using it at an online store is pretty much out of the question.

I’d also love it if OpenID providers would do a better job letting your OpenID URL truly personify you on the web. What do I mean by that? What if, when you actually visited your OpenID URL, you were presented with an aggregate display of all of your “tracks” around the web. Your Flickr photos, bookmarks, Facebook profile, etc could all be pulled in via RSS and displayed. Then with one click, you could jump to over to those sites, and be automatically logged in via your OpenID.

ClaimID is trying to do something similar, including integration with OpenID, however, the implementation isn’t really there. At present, they just provide a place to post links to your various profiles around the web. Granted, once OpenID spreads around the web, ClaimID has the potential to become exactly what I described – your one stop online identity shop. Keep your eye on them.

I’d like to wrap up by pointing you to a site where you can get your own OpenID, as well as links to a method of using your blog’s URL as an OpenID, and a number of code libraries that will let you run your own OpenID identity provider.

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Bill D'Alessandro