OpenID getting more usable, a tiny bit at a time

JanRain's OpenID Selector makes OpenID just a bit more approachable.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

Webware has been covering the Web authentication standard OpenID since September 2006. It's a powerful alternative to traditional name-and-password Web access control, but it's so completely different from the sign-on methods that people are accustomed to that it remains still unknown to the majority of Web users.

This is changing. Major companies such as AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google are on the OpenID standards committee. AOL and Yahoo, in fact, already act as OpenID "authentication providers;" if you have a login on either of these networks, you have an OpenID.

But the concepts of OpenID are still a bit too weird for ordinary mortals to use. It's in the interest of OpenID technology providers to fix that.

JanRain's OpenID Selector makes it much easier for users to understand OpenID logins.

On Monday, one of those companies, JanRain, will announce OpenID Selector, a widget that Web site owners can use to make logging in via OpenID easier.

It's a simple thing: It shows a list of OpenID providers and lets users click on the one they know they have an ID with. Then the user logs into their provider, and the site using the widget authenticates against it.

Users who don't have an OpenID can set one up from the widget. The default provider is JanRain's MyOpenID, which I use and find pretty straightforward.

Major sites, such as portals, could still do a much better job pushing the OpenID concept. That would be good for them, not just because it'd make OpenID more accessible to users, but because there's a lot of brand affinity that sites can win by having users authenticate against their sites even when they're using some other company's service. Think of OpenID branding as the affinity credit card of the Web: Every time a user logs on to a service they'd get the authenticator's brand popped up in front of them--just like Harley-Davidson does when its Visa affinity card users make purchases.

JanRain, not surprisingly, gets this, and will provide a complete white-label OpenID technology infrastructure for companies or brands that want to become authenticators. So if you want to log on to Web sites with an ID from your alma mater or local Rotary club, JanRain will make that possible.

It remains to be seen when, or if, banks will get this idea, and start leveraging their your-money-is-safe-with-us message into digital safekeeping as well.