joined the OpenID Foundation, something that many OpenID advocates have hoped would happen for some time. The two systems of logging in to distributed websites, OpenID and Facebook Connect, have been characterized as rivals - OpenID being the high-minded but socially awkward one who doesn't get invited to parties despite being a really good person and Facebook Connect being the rich preppy popular kid from the 80's movie who's a bully but is good at sports.Facebook has
Now they've joined forces, on some level. Cynics immediately said it would make no difference, that their cynicism remained unchanged, or that Facebook was likely to "pull a Microsoft" and try to destroy OpenID. We disagree. We think this is good news. Here is why.
- Both make it easier to participate in new websites because you don't need to create a new account.
- Both carry payloads of user data that can yield immediate personalization for a richer experience.
- Both offer authentication that you really are who you say you are. That opens up a whole world of possibilities technically and culturally.
That's what this is all about, here's why we think tonight's news is important.
1. ID Systems Should Be Integrated
Users shouldn't have to choose between logging in someplace with an OpenID log-in or with Facebook Connect. We should be given both options wherever possible, including on Facebook. Facebook could allow users to associate another account with a Facebook account and just log in using that other account. No big deal. As OpenID Foundation Board Member Chris Messina told me in a recent interview, user authentication is like a credit card. You don't go to a restaurant because they accept credit cards, you go because they have good food. To take that analogy a step further, it is good that every restaurant lets you pay for your food with any of the major credit card vendors.
We hope that today's announcement will be a step in that direction.
Image above: JanRain's RPX product, as seen on over 200 Universal Music artists' web pages.
2. OpenID's Momentum is Incredible, Really
A lot of people complain that OpenID is moving too slowly; they see the problems with it and don't understand why it's taking the rest of the web to hurry up and solve those problems.
In reality, OpenID has gone from a LiveJournal technical project, to being a mailing list for freaks and dreamers to becoming a global phenomenon that huge companies are contributing their time, money and brand names in order to help develop - all in just 3 years.
In the past 18 months these companies have lined up to perform the easy part of OpenID, acting as an authentication party at other websites, and now the pressure is building for someone to break the dam and turn OpenID into a big two way phenomenon, allowing people to log in to Facebook with another OpenID, for example.
Just for context - OpenID is younger than YouTube and Facebook, neither of which have quite figured out how to monetize changing the world yet. So give OpenID a break, it's doing really well. Getting Facebook on board the OpenID Foundation is a big win and just the latest of many recent victories.
3. The User Experience Help Will Be Invaluable
Everybody knows that the User Experience with OpenID is difficult for people unfamiliar with it, and sometimes for people who are familiar with it. Facebook is often offered as an example of how it can be done, but as a grumpy OpenID Foundation Board Member Chris Messina put it tonight - "Facebook Connect is simple because there is no choice: you click a button. Of course, that button only works for the growing subset of the web who have Facebook accounts and want to share their Facebook identity with the web site displaying the button, but that's why their experience trumps that of OpenID's. If you take away user choice, everything becomes simple."
OpenID is a complicated thing. Who better to help work on the user experience, though, than Facebook? Their designers have done a great job and everyone says that the UX will be priority #1 now that Facebook is on board. Throw enough designers at the problem, from a wide variety of companies, and there should be several good solutions at least.
It's probably not going to be that hard to fix, either. Check out this proposed solution, for example. That's getting closer is it not?
4. Compromises Will Be Made, Both Ways
How are standards created? Through compromise, negotiation and collaboration. The legal work is one of the hardest parts and the OpenID Foundation completed most of that a year ago, ensuring that no one is going to sue anyone else over using OpenID on a website. Things might get a little more complicated with Facebook's entry, but this capable and now larger community should be able to figure it out.
Will the option to log in with Facebook Connect have to be included on other sites that prefer OpenID? Will OpenID have to be an option on Facebook at some level? Neither of those would be the end of the world and the benefits should far outweigh the costs.
5. Facebook is Not Entirely Evil
Readers sympathetic to open standards and critical of proprietary technology may have a picture in their minds eye of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg rubbing his hands together and cackling about how the famous $1 billion offer he turned down to buy the company was not enough money. In reality, Zuckerberg is a big dork - a brilliant, lucky, too-powerful dork, but he doesn't seem like that bad a person. There are, we're sure, power hungry and distasteful people working in the organization - but there are lots and lots of people who are genuinely focused largely on innovation and improving the world. The OpenID Foundation assured us of that in their announcement today and that's been our experience in dealing with Facebook as press as well. (Trust me, this author in particular generally doesn't like almost anyone in an executive position at these huge internet companies.)
Especially among the Facebook engineers there is hope. Just like we're very skeptical of Google's frightening power over the world we live in but really like a lot of individual Google engineers, so too with Facebook come a lot of people who will be great to have working along side the existing OpenID community.
So, cynics, that's why we think tonight's announcement is good news.