OpenID Goes to Washington

OpenID Sites & ProvidersToday we learned from RWW’s Marshal Kirkpatrick that the US federal government is considering the adoption of OpenID and other related open identity technologoies and practices for citizen identification on government websites.

This is big news for several reasons. First, by adopting OpenID, the governement would be putting the ownership and control of digital identity exactly where it should be: with the citizen. Second, a very large and conservative player—the US federal government—is taking OpenID seriously, which will do much to support OpenID’s continued adoption and evolution. Third, the government will work to establish criteria for OpenID provision that may help us all select credible and worthy identity providers. I’m sure there are more implications as well that will start to surface as government support for OpenID becomes better defined.

OIDF’s New Suit

Also today, we were able to learn more about this big news with the simultaneous launch of a newly redesigned OpenID Foundation (OIDF) website, a joint project with many collaborators including folks from Portland’s own Cloud Four, Janrain, and Richardson Consulting. as well as OIDF board members and executive director Don Thibeau.

The new OIDF website is a substantially improved on many different levels, from basic usability, to the breadth and depth of information it already delivers and promises to provide going forward. The new site design does a good job with the difficult task of meeting the different needs of diverse audiences, including the OpenID community, developers, government, and most importantly, individuals who are seeking to learn more about and start using OpenID.

Average users should find the site much more useful than the old one, and yet there is at least one area where I think it could be improved sooner rather than later. In a single page, the site tries to introduce users to the wide range of OpenID providers, including all the existing websites and services that provide de facto OpenIDs for their users. What this page does not do is give people a simple framework for thinking about how to choose an OpenID provider, or why to use one of their existing OpenIDs rather than establishing a new one. As it is, this page provides a richer version of what others have described as the NASCAR effect: a bunch of logos, without a lot of direction about why we might pick one over the other. I realize the OIDF must remain neutral about the different OpenID providers, but there is no better entity to provide uesrs with a guide to selecting and using an OpenID.

Speechifying the OIDF

I’m also especially happy to see a new interview with OIDF ED Don Thibeau by board member Chris Messina posted on the new site, which goes a long way to answering my earlier call for more information about what the OIDF has been up to since Don took the helm earlier this year.

And while I applaud the new site—it was obviously a lot of work, done well in a short time by some really dedicated people who will probably get less praise and credit than they deserve—I can’t shake the same nagging desire for a different paradigm of communication from the OIDF that prompted my earlier post. The new site could be the best design ever, but unless a new engine of communication stands behind it, it is likely to end up becoming little different than its predecessor, which lay mostly fallow for months.

Someone wiser than I explained that the OIDF will never become the communication engine I’m hoping for because of its nature as a standards setting body. That may well be the case, but it will be a significant failure in my eyes if the OIDF falls into that brittle mould. I believe the “open” in “OpenID” should fulfill its promise, leading us to remagine and rearticulate the OIDF’s purpose as something more than a machine to hash out standards for widget inputs and outputs. It is a key organization leading the way in the fundamental paradigm shift to a user-centric web. Now that the large beast of the US federal government is slouching toward the right goal, it is even more important that the OIDF become not just an open standards body, but an open standards bearer, alive, vibrant, leading the way.

Or do we have to form yet another open web organization to stimulate, educate, advocate for and communicate with the broadest communities who will benefit from these increasingly successful, open standards? I hope not. Aren’t we all getting spread a little thin as it is?

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