Yahoo, OpenID and the Identity Problem | February 19, 2007
I’ve been using Flickr for a couple of years and joined before they were bought by Yahoo! As such, I’ve always logged into my account using my “old school” username and password. When Yahoo! acquired flickr, they obviously wanted to promote the service to their existing user base, so allowed people to log in with a Yahoo! account as well.
Over the ensuing months, the Yahoo! account was promoted as the primary way of using flickr and the “old school” log-in was demoted to a small link at the bottom of the page. I had hoped that the “old school” log in would be retained as I didn’t really want to register for a Yahoo! account. I’m not sure why. It may have been that I liked the anonymity of having multiple, unlinked accounts or it simply may have been that I didn’t use any other Yahoo! services at the time and didn’t see then need for a centralised log-in. It may also have had something to do with an innate geek mistrust of large organisations controlling my online identity a la Microsoft Passport. Whatever the reason I resisted the urge.
A few weeks ago flickr informed me that they were phasing out the old school accounts and requiring their users to log-in using a Yahoo! account instead. I can understand the reason for this. After all, what organisation wants to manage multiple log-in types when they can have a single log-in for their whole portfolio of sites. More importantly, identity management and unified log-in are going to be a big battleground over the next few years.
If you control a persons identity online, you can really influence the services they consume. For instance, if I have a Yahoo! log-in, but not a Microsoft one, there is much more chance that I’ll consume Yahoo! products rather than being forced to create a whole new identity. This is especially true if my identity includes information like my network of friends, as it means I don’t have to recreate this information every time I sign up for a new service. The more concerning side is that it also allows companies to track my behaviour across a variety of online properties much like the company loyalty cards I dislike so much.
So slightly against my better judgement, I signed up for a Yahoo! ID. Rather annoyingly my preferred account name of “andybudd” had already been taken. Admittedly it may have already been taken by me, but going through the password retrieval process I was unable to find an account that matched. I also tried “theandybudd” but that was gone as well. I ended up with “andybudd72” which was really annoying as it meant I was forced to ditch my familiar flickr log-in for a much less familiar one.
I’ve currently got five or six usernames on various sites that all relate to a single person: me. This causes a bit of an identity problem. If I owned the username “andybudd” on every new site, you would know that the user who posted pictures on flickr was the same Andy Budd who posted messages on twitter or messages to your blog. Without this central control of identity, you can assume that it’s the same person, but it could equally be another Andy Budd or even somebody username squatting. On a more prosaic level, it also means I have to remember a bunch of different usernames, their associated passwords, and what sites they relate to. This is a bit of a pain.
While at BarCampLondon2 yesterday (which was excellent btw) I sat in on Simon Willison’s session on OpenID. I saw his presentation on the subject last year, and thought it looked like an interesting concept. However it didn’t seem like many sites were using the technology at the time. Fast forward a few months and it seems like a lot more sites have started using it, so during the session I set up an account and then tried a couple of sites like magnolia. This was cool, but the real kicker for me was IDProxy, a service Simon created to allow you to use your Yahoo! account as an OpenID. By adding a couple of links to the head of your web page, you can now log in to a variety of sites using only your domain name, taking us a big step closer to solving the identity problem.
Posted at February 19, 2007 1:45 PM