The OpenID Branding problem -

The OpenID Branding problem

These days you hear lots about facebook connect and how it might attack the idea of the open web. While I don’t think that it will be such a danger on the long run just because it’s yet another centralized concept (much like Passport back then) and doomed to go away, there is still something which it makes pretty clear: OpenID right now has a problem in terms of branding and usability.

One thing facebook connect does very much right is that it’s an easy to recognize way of logging in. It’s a well known logo and the user experience behind that is implemented very well.

On the contrast look at some examples of when you want to login with your OpenID at some site:

OpenID Login widgets

Here we see a plethora of options where I am not sure myself really what to put in there for all the options. Putting your openid there works though. Having these many options is undoubtly confusing to everybody but the geek user.

Not as bad but still problematic IMHO is this:

OpenID for Google and Yahoo on Plaxo

Here we see at least 2 big providers who apparently want to copy what facebook is doing in providing a well known brand. But it’s still a problem because

  1. it’s not clear that OpenID is behind these options
  2. it’s sort of unfair to all the other providers
  3. it’s again confusing to the user because depending on the site you want to login to you might have different options and providers listed.

Divide and Conquer

So what’s happening here is basically that we are doing facebook a favour in doing the divide and conquer for them.

Instead we should all gather behind only one brand called OpenID and promote that as hard as possible!

If we keep explaining what it is to users they eventually will understand it and will start looking for their own OpenID URL on their social network’s site. They might even ask why there is none. And login buttons only would have one possibility: OpenID and they would know what to put there like they right now know what to put their when being asked for their email address.

Again: There really should be one way to login! Everything else will weaken us!

OpenId 1 vs OpenID 2

There are other problems of course. One is the version problem we have right now. Try logging in with your „“ openid and some sites and eventually you will get an error message saying that no OpenID was detected at that URL. I see that being reported here and then on mailing lists and experiencing this myself.

The reason of course is that the RP in that case does not support OpenID 2.0.

This of course also does not help our case. If you know your OpenID you want it to work everywhere. Joe NormalUser does not understand why it’s not working on some sites although they all claim to support OpenID.

I am not sure how to solve that problem but I wonder what keeps site from not implementing OpenID 2? Using e.g. JanRain’s libraries seems easy enough to me (at least in Python).

E-Mails as OpenIDs?

Another thing being discussed a lot is whether we want to have some EMail to OpenID mapping eventually making it easier for users to know what to put in that field as they already know what an EMail address is.

The problem here is similar to the first mentioned problem though. If we keep saying on the one hand that OpenID is a URL and on the other hand that it is an email address then things gets confusing again.

Add to that that not every email address actually will resolve into an OpenID (or URL in general) and people might be confused again. They also don’t know what to ask for. Ask for „I need an email address with which I can login, too“?

While I first thought being able to use email addresses might be a good thing I am not so sure anymore.

The problem is again that you don’t want to confuse people and gathering behind just one thing which is called OpenID and is a URL and nothing else might be a good thing.

What to do?

I would propose 2 things:

  1. Gather behind the term OpenID and promote that. Put pages up explaining what it is if you support OpenID logins or are an OpenID provider!
  2. Remove all unnecessary confusion from login boxes and just use OpenID.

That at least are my $0.02

Update: The OpenID Foundation is in the nomination phase for it’s board election. Why not join the foundation and be an official part of the movement? It’s only $25/year for an individual and you can register here.

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10 Kommentare » Schreibe einen Kommentar

  1. I agree that too many options are confusing. The problem with only using OpenID is that service providers try to minimize any barriers to entry for folks to access their site. Using OpenID and only OpenID works fine for those that already have an OpenID account, but ut becomes one more thing for the user to do if they don't. It doesn't sound like much, but providers want to keep it simple.

    And, there's another selfish reason too. Providers hate to "give up control" and they think that's what's happening — even though it's not true.

    I would agree with your proposals, but add: education of providers as well. Not sure how likely we are to get only OpenID logins everywhere anytime soon, however I wold consider it a measure of success if the plethora of options were reduced to just one or two!

    BTW: great article!

  2. But couldn't service providers simply provide their own username/password and additionally something which is clearly labeled as "OpenID". And I am not sure if it's really about giving up control. Fact is that services are already offering login via OpenID so they seem to see the benefit but they just name it all differently or give several names instead of just one.

    I think the name simply needs to show up everywhere with some link to what it actually is, explained for normal users.

    I think OpenID providers should also make very clear to their users what their OpenID is and how they can use it. That fits well into your point about education. I see it more though that not providers need to be educated but providers need to educate their users. They also have the power to do that (esp. Google and Yahoo with their userbase).

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. "But couldn’t service providers simply provide their own username/password and additionally something which is clearly labeled as “OpenID”."

    I think that IS the VERY REASONABLE answer. As far as "control," service providers still haven't grocked the idea that somebody else can be the base repository and it still works perfectly with their services without them giving something up. Time, educaton, and market pressure — they'll eventually get it!

  4. one could maybe say: Time, Education and facebook connect ;-)

    Also service providers need to learn that when I sign up to a different service, I am not lost for the previous one. Or you can also say: The easier it is to move means that it's also easier to get new users.

  5. The biggest issue I have as a service provider is that I'm giving basic control of my users up to someone else. If someone using OpenID has problems logging into my site there is *nothing* I can do about it. I still have to incur the support cost and walk the user through the "who is your OpenID provider – go talk to them" steps. I do enough of that with email addresses and passwords already.

  6. Pingback: Promote the utility, not the technology at notizBlog - a private weblog written by Matthias Pfefferle

  7. I absolutely agree with you Christian. But I would like to add, that I am still not happy with the brand name itself. What Facebook does pretty well, is to choose and clear and descriptive term for their technology.

    "Facebook Connect" – everybody can understand, that's about connecting with Facebook.

    "OpenID" – well open? is that secure? I don't want my ID to be open. Aehm – which ID do you mean? What does ID stand for?

    The brand name is to much confusing, from what I experience when I talk to non-geeks about OpenID. Sure – let's promote a brand – let's skip all the confusing stuff around it — but is it the right name?

  8. I don't agree that "Facebook Connect" means more than OpenID. I had no idea what it meant until I read up on it. I do agree that Facebook's strategy of proprietary competition is unlikely to be a winner. The idea that everyone in the world will have a Facebook account, or that every service will agree to restrict their users to only those that have Facebook accounts doesn't make sense.

    OpenID does have some issues, but all it would take is for Google to start issuing and/or accepting them, and that would crack Facebook's strategy in one fell swoop. Google is much more likely to be enlightened on this issue and people view them with less suspicion than they do Facebook, which is patently predaceous.

    Steve Repetti Re: Service providers not groking that they don't "lose control". You are SO right about that. But I think in time it will get through. It took a long time for retail merchants to understand general credit cards like Visa and MasterCard. Then at some point they finally realized that the name of the game was making it easy for people to buy things.

    I think for OpenID to be successful there needs to be some organization behind it with some money that does marketing and most importantly educates and provides implementation support to service providers. It has so much going for it in terms of simplicity for the end user AND the services that act as consumers.

    The best thing, in my opinion, is to get to people who are just starting to build services and try to convince them to at least offer it. The people who don't "get it" won't get it until they see someone else be successful with it. We are starting to see some of that now.

  9. As for the name I think people will get used to it.. People right now don't think that much what EMail might be, they see an email field and instantly know what to put there. I think the same needs to be true for OpenID.

    I also wonder if people might ask at some point what this openid thing actually is they keep seeing on several sites (assuming more and more sites provide it). Then also mainstream media might jump on that train and explain it to the masses.

    BTW, services using Fb connect might also restrict their users to the FB TOS. Maybe also not something you want.

    @Brad: right, there are still issues.. and you can either give them the possibility to use more than one openid for their account or (I think that's what you mean) to give them access via their email.

  10. Pingback: OpenID Connect und MySpaceID at notizBlog - a private weblog written by Matthias Pfefferle