Online Identity Disorder? Try OpenID

How to Be the Same You Everywhere in the Digital Domain

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With this being the "digital age" and all, most of us have a number of IDs across a variety of online networks. And on any given day we may have to access three or four of those networks to read e-mail, check stock quotes, see what our friends are up to and find out which long-forgotten business associates or high-school classmates are trying to track us down. In fact, here's a look at a typical day and the thought process that accompanies the journey.

Sign in to Google account

Standard procedure, no biggie.

Sign in to Yahoo
Yahoo ID:

Here we go again with this sign-in nonsense.


Do I have the same password for this as the previous two? Dammit! I don't. Now I have to wait for them to send it to me ... "immediately." Yeah, right.

E-mail address:

God, this is so annoying, it makes me want to hit something. Bang (fist on desk)! One identity for each of these would be so much easier on me and my desk.

In the grand scheme of things, we can all agree this is probably not the biggest concern we have, and complaining about it seems a bit selfish. But you have to admit that things would be a lot easier if one ID worked across all of these networks. Well, OpenID may be just the answer many have been looking for.

The idea behind this relatively young -- and free -- concept is to abolish the need for multiple user names across different websites/networks. According to, the home page for the OpenID Foundation, which was established in June 2007, consumers get to "choose the OpenID provider that best meets" their needs and that OpenID stays "with you, no matter which provider you move to."

When looking at the lineup of companies endorsing the OpenID Foundation, consumers will have no shortage of heavyweights to choose from. Board members include Google, IBM, Microsoft and Yahoo. But the involvement of such big players must mean significant marketing opportunities.

Branding potential
Gary Krall, director of emerging-products development at Verisign Innovation and Verisign's representative on the OpenID Foundation board, said big names are getting behind OpenID for a number of reasons, including the branding possibilities as well as the support it's gaining.

"OpenID as a protocol is a grass-roots movement," Mr. Krall said. "They realized it could also be beneficial to them and wanted to be part of that momentum. ... It's the adage of embrace and extend."
Kim Cameron, Microsoft chief identity architect
Kim Cameron, Microsoft chief identity architect

On the branding front, Mr. Krall said if users chooses Yahoo as their OpenID source the search engine then becomes this "ubiquitous" identifier they can use to access all other OpenID-enabled networks.

Kim Cameron, Microsoft chief identity architect, said OpenID creates the potential for a new advertising model. "It allows the marketer to engage the user as a collaborator," Mr. Cameron said. "In other words, it rewards the user for cooperating with the marketer by providing them with offers on things they have an interest in."

Mr. Cameron sees the evolution of OpenID as an important step in creating a digital environment that resembles an actual city. "In a city, you don't become a different person every time you go into a different store," he said. "You can be the same person as you move around. You can also achieve privacy in the city, and that's the way we want the digital systems to function."

At this point OpenID is a technology for social networking and consumer applications only. It does not have the characteristics that would make it applicable on things like banking sites.

As for deeper penetration across the Web, Mr. Cameron said it's being embraced by early adopters and people who don't even realize they are using it. "The question is how fast is the integration of those two sides going to grow," he said. "It will depend on the competition between the sites to service this thirst for portability."
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