08 February, 2007

OpenID - One Login To Rule Them All

Yesterday I gave myself a URI. That’s a uniform resource identifier in case you’re wondering. You already know something about these, even if you don’t think you do, because the URLs we use as website addresses are a kind of URI (URL is short for uniform resource locator). Just as a URL uniquely identifies a page in a website (among other things) a URI uniquely identifies anything at all you might find on a computer network.

I gave myself a URI not because I am such a nerd I need a computer-readable tag to identify myself (although it might look cool on a T-shirt – only kidding) but because you need one to take part in a great new scheme called OpenID. OpenID is a free and vendor-independent system that allows each person to have their own user name and password for logging on to websites. Yes, I know you’ve all got plenty of these already (I probably have about 50 myself) but this one could one day replace all of those. Just imagine it, a single user name and password that can be used at any website that participates in the scheme. In addition, you can add a profile (or a set of different profiles – known as ‘personas’ (sic) in OpenID-speak) so that websites you are dealing with for various services can pick up the data they need about you without you having to type it again and again.

There have been many other schemes like this but OpenID has the benefit of being simple, free, and not tied to any particular vendor. It leaves you in complete control of your personal data and your identity does not reside on your PC (or Mac - sorry Wifie). It is relies only on you having an unique identifier – that’s what the URI is for – and that is maintained on a set of servers around the Web.

All of these good reasons won’t make anybody use it though unless some high-volume websites adopt it for login management. That’s why the recent announcement by Bill Gates, that Microsoft would be supporting OpenID – along with earlier announcements by Technorati, Symantec and AOL – give me some hope that this one will take off.

And the best way to help it along? Go to MyOpenID and get yourself a URI, a user name and a password. It takes about two minutes (even without broadband). Then look out for websites with the OpenID logon on them. Hopefully you will see more and more of these in the next year or two.

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