What It Means: Google, Yahoo Come Together With OpenID

Google has announced that Yahoo users will now be able to quickly and easily sign up for Google products using their Yahoo email address. The feature, according to some in the industry, will be a boon for Google and OpenID, the Internet standard behind the feature. But what benefit does this provide for Yahoo?

Will making it easier for Yahoo users to sign in to Google – a direct competitor – draw users away from the portal, search and mail provider, or will it help create an overall better user experience? According to Yahoo, making a process that users were already engaged in simpler will provide a better user experience and keep them interested in one of its most solid products – Yahoo Mail.

According to Kaliya Hamlin of IdentityWoman.net, the step is a big one for OpenID.

“People have been asking FOREVER when are the big web portals actually going to accept other people’s OpenIDs. This a significant step by Google to become a relying party,” Hamlin told us today.

Yahoo is not in the business of locking users to only use its services, especially when the Web is getting so much more distributed and social. – Eran Hammer-Lahav, Open Web advocate for Yahoo

Scott Kveton, co-founder of the OpenID Foundation, agreed that it was “a big step forward for making OpenID that much easier to use”.

“Making it easier to have Google and Yahoo work together is great for Google,” said Kveton, but he questioned the advantage for Yahoo. He noted that “making it easier to on-board users into Google via their email accounts means being able to suck in the social graph.”

We asked Eran Hammer-Lahav, an Open Web advocate for Yahoo, about the feature, and he told us that it had been in some form of discussion for over two years and would provide a better user experience for Yahoo’s users.

“We don’t try to lock our users in any way,” said Hammer-Lahav. “We want them to have a better Web experience no matter what site they are on, just by being a Yahoo user. Yahoo is not in the business of locking users to only use its services, especially when the Web is getting so much more distributed and social.”

Hammer-Lahav told us that Yahoo believes its mail product is strong enough to keep users happy (and loyal), as evidenced by when Yahoo was one of the first email providers to provide address book mobility. When we asked if Yahoo would be offering the same sort of feature, he explained that there weren’t many Yahoo products that required email sign-ins, but the company is adding OpenID support for activities like adding comments, which do require full account sign-ins. In this case, Google added this functionality, he explained, because Yahoo email account holders make up a large percentage of the email market and those trying to create Google accounts.

In the end, that may be just it – the simple fact that users will be drawn to Google’s growing arsenal of Web tools, from Google Docs to Voice to AdWords, and it’s better to keep what business you can rather than have your users abandon your product completely.

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