Does your Nan understand OpenID?


There’s a lot of buzz surrounding OpenID at the moment, and there’s good reason for it too. The idea of one single login for all your Internet services has been the holy grail of online authentication for years.

OpenID differs from previous attempts at a global authentication system (Microsoft’s .NET/Live login) in that it is non-proprietary and decentralised. You are not forced to trust any one OpenID provider – you can choose who hosts your OpenID and if you fancy it you can even use your own personal website as your OpenID.

I know I usually try to register for online services with a consistent username/password combination, but this is not always possible. Wouldn’t it be great if we could log in to all our online service providers with one single login? Of course it would and that’s why we’re all interested in OpenID.

However, I read an article today by Kyle Neath on five reasons why he wont be getting on the OpenID train. Each of Kyle’s concerns are very valid concerns but fundamentally there is one issue that I think stands out as a potential show-stopper: OpenID is just bloomin confusing!

I can use any provider I choose to host my OpenID. In fact I can have as many OpenIDs as I like and switch providers if I want. I can associate my OpenID with my own website using something called ‘delegation’. Or if I prefer I can host my own OpenID by installing some PHP libraries and scripts. And, with my dozen or so OpenIDs, I can bunch them together and declare them as one using something called YARDIS.

And all this is BEFORE I’ve even logged in to anything…

So how does one log in to OpenID enabled services? You type in your OpenID, your are then redirected to your OpenID provider, you log in, and your are then redirected back to the place you were trying to log in to in the first place. I’m not sure how user friendly this all is?

Another thing that particularly irks me is that there are many services who offer to host your OpenID. However, some of these services don’t seem to allow you to log in with an OpenID that is provided by an alternative provider. Which isn’t very open and kind of defeats the purpose, as well as add to the confusion.

Out of the murky OpenID fog that is occupying my brain, one thought is overwhelmingly clear: OpenID still has someway to go. I clearly don’t fully understand it yet, and I’m a self-confessed nerd. My Mum and Dad are simply not going to get it, and until they do OpenID will remain that dreamt-of holy grail.