Have you ever tried to set up logins with a handful (or more!) of different websites in the same day and thought to yourself… “there’s just GOT to be an easier way”? One of the most cumbersome and many argue antiquated tasks that users perform routinely online is signing up for and into websites. The sheer magnitude of websites available to users, which is increasing every day, provides frustration by requiring their own login credentials. Users of a wide range of web accounts are desperate for a unified login solution.
Facebook connect is probably the most well known login system at the moment, being used by a rather impressive list of websites now, including as of a couple days ago, Yahoo. Facebook connect allows the large Facebook community to go to a variety of sites and, rather than have to create new login credentials, just hit the Facebook connect button (and then their FB username and password) to gain native access to the site. Users absolutely adore this, as indicated by the large numbers now utilizing it.
While setting up some social media tools yesterday, I needed a login at about 40 of the top social media/bookmarking sites. You can probably imagine the pain and massive time sink of setting up that many credentials. Perhaps even worst than that is, because its something we often want to rush through and thus don’t pay particular close attention, its very tempting to re-use unsecured passwords. This could potentially jeopardize the livelihood of someone that depends on social media if their account became hacked and the hacker was able to access a variety of pages using the same weak password!
A unified login such as is provided by Facebook connect allows users to create a nice strong password and – as long as Facebook upholds its end of the security bargain and the user does not compromise their own login via phishing or link scraping – be safe from such threat. This is also a win-win situation because Facebook keeps you loyal and remembering how much you like using the connection and the new site is able to get you signed up easily, potentially leading to higher sign-up numbers.
Google hasn’t ignored the desire for a unified login and has their own solution as well, called Google Friend Connect ) Google Friend Connect is most commonly seen in the blogosphere, fueled by Google’s Blogger. Friend Connect allows users to add others blogs as their “friends”, providing easy ways to find them again, connect, say thanks, and provide social proof for the existence of the blog. Unfortunately Google Friend Connect inst used too much outside of the Google properties and blogging world.
OpenID is a slightly different approach to answering this need. It provides much the same continuity of sign-in ability without specifying who can and who can not store the information for original login. In the above two examples, that data is held by Facebook and Google respectively. OpenID allows anyone to create an OpenID site and offer the service, and that service to allow unified login to any site that is set up to accept OpenID. OpenID is probably the most respectable answer to not having all your data held by a large cyber overlord, but has struggled to gain traction. According to Wikipedia, some major sites offer OpenIDs including AOL, BBC, Google, IBM, Microsoft, MySpace, Orange, PayPal, VeriSign, LiveJournal, Yandex, Ustream and Yahoo!. Because of the global nature of an OpenID, a OpenID from Yahoo would allow you to use that same ID to log into AOL and visa versa. I suggest you check this link to find out if you may already have an OpenID through one of the most common providers.
Many other sites offer unified login as well, although so far these remain the top three. Most recently there was rumor that Ebay may leverage its Ebay or Paypal ID in a similar fashion as well.
So whats the answer to this riddle? Odds are, we haven’t seen it yet. Many people speculate that Mozilla could make some adaptations to the OpenID model that allow it to take off. However that remains to be seen. Currently the best answer is to have one of all three of these login types and use them any place you can. Unfortunately that still puts you having to create credentials for a lot of sites manually. As an open source fan myself, I hope that the OpenID model is able to be improved upon, but only time will tell if that’s true. Best of luck to all of the contenders in their race to become a TRULY unified ID.