March 24th, 2008

Beyond the Forest: OpenID and the bigs, all hat and no cattle

It’s no surprise that Portland is rapidly becoming one of the de facto hubs for OpenID evangelism and development.

Scott Kveton, the chairman of the OpenID Foundation now calls Portland home. Portland-based JanRain is a leading force in the OpenID development effort and new Portland-transplant Vidoop is also coming on strong. If Beer and Blog is any indication, we’re all interested in getting more use out of OpenID on our blogs. And having the opportunity to sit down with David Recordon, the vice chair of the OpenID Foundation, is something that’s appealing to quite a number of us.

And while the big companies that we often encounter one way or another—Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and AOL—have all claimed to jump into the OpenID pool, Michael Arrington of TechCrunch is beginning to wonder if this isn’t all a bunch of OpenID lip service. Or to put it bluntly: Are the bigs all hat and no cattle?

The problem, though, is that the Big Four Internet companies that I mentioned above have made big press announcements about their support for OpenID, but haven’t done enough to actually implement it. Microsoft has done absolutely nothing, even though Bill Gates announced their support over a year ago. Google has limited its support to Blogger, where it is both an Issuing and Relying party. Yahoo and AOL are Issuing parties only.

This is a tenuous position at best. For as much ground as we can cover from a grassroots perspective, it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to get anyone—beyond early adopters—to take on OpenID without the support of some of these bigger entities.

Without the bigs, there is no OpenID tipping point.

But the funny thing—not funny “ha ha,” but funny “sad”—is that all of these gigantic companies are struggling with one very similar issue that would be partially—if not completely—solved by an effective implementation of OpenID: bringing acquisitions under a common login credential.

Yahoo! throws its acquirees’ respective user bases into turmoil every time it asks them to move over to a Yahoo! ID. Google takes years in its struggles to get everyone on the Google credential system. Microsoft and AOL are no different.

To me, it seems obvious that OpenID could solve this issue, now and for the foreseeable future. And I can’t be the only one seeing that.

As hard as it may be for them to accept it, the bigs need to move away from their proprietary credentialing structures. They need to embrace concepts like OpenID and OAuth for what they can do to solve their problems, today.

In short, they need to let go and let OpenID.

For now, the jury is still out on when and how the big company momentum will fall behind OpenID in terms of something more than spin and lip service. But let’s hope that day is soon approaching. For all of our sakes.

I can tell you one thing: from a grassroots level, Portland is sure to be leading the charge. And we’re not going to slowing our OpenID fandom anytime soon.

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8 Responses to “Beyond the Forest: OpenID and the bigs, all hat and no cattle”

  1. Scott Kveton says:

    We’ve been hearing this argument about the bigs for as long as the technology has been around (BTW – it hasn’t even been 3 years yet – think about that).

    In the past year we’ve made tremendous strides in getting OpenID adopted … relying parties will come … the best part is Portland is really poised to be the center of this “open web” movement. What a great time to be here … :-)

  2. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Kveton I think I just tend to fall for the “we’re getting antsy” posts, because this seems like such an obvious solution to some of the problems these companies are experiencing.

    Well, and because I’m such a fanboi when it comes the OpenID concept.

    Agree on Portland and our potential place in the whole mix.

    Maybe we Portlanders need to be thinking about an OpenID gathering. Not in terms of geeking out, but in terms of helping businesses understand the value of this pursuit?

  3. I think the focus for implementation shouldn’t be on the bigs but on everyone else. That will provide the true tipping point.

    Also the statement that without the bigs there is no tipping point seems a bit extreme. That implies that Yahoo + Google + Microsoft together are bigger than all the rest of the net combined. I disagree vehemently with that idea and if the open source folk push hard enough for adoption everywhere else the big guys will sit up and take notice. 2 years for enterprise corporations is a miniscule amount of time when you think about it.

  4. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Chris O’Rourke I sincerely hope that your optimism trumps my cynicism.

  5. given that I work for one of the “Bigs” and deal constantly with these frustrations (and, hello corporate bosses, it would be nice not to have to create another stupid profile for every new networking service you buy… *cough* bebo sucks *cough*), I can say that it will be a LONG time before AOL/Microsoft let go and let openid. that sounds like a good bumper sticker, btw.

    it’s something that the geeky open source crowd that’s a minority in most of these companies is clamoring for. at least *i* am!

    (and i go off, thinking of ways to raise the question. of course my list of “corporate policies that don’t make rational sense” just keeps growing…)

  6. I still think that with adoption by and other hugely growing properties it’ll become a requirement before the bigs (esp. microsoft and aol) can squash it with their own feeble “innovations”.
    (also it’s ironic I can’t use OpenID here to comment)

  7. Rick Turoczy says:

    Isn’t though? I blame my new theme.

    But I’m hoping to resurrect the OpenID login after discussions with Scott Kveton at Beer & Blog.

    Maybe we can use Silicon Florist as an example for how easy it is to add OpenID? Maybe everyone should come watch the magic, firsthand?

  8. I installed the plugin listed on and have OpenID comments running smoothly (and easily)

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