Andrew Examines Identity Online, Unceasingly

So, you’re on the web (or you wouldn’t be reading this) and you need to identify yourself to various web services and to various web readers, many of whom are real human beings. I was enthusiastic about OpenID a few years ago. But OpenID resonated with only a small and rather specialized subset of people.

Most people want to use an online identity they already have, or are already considering having, rather than forging a new “one identify to rule them all”. That cuts the field down rather drastically.

Maybe you want an identity that is lightweight, in the sense that it doesn’t carry the burden of private information. That’s an argument against Facebook, which seems to want to be your identity and to gather somewhat private stuff about you.

Fred Wilson argues that the lightweight criterion suggest Twitter as identity provider.

Twitter is default public and everyone knows that’s what it is. Your Twitter identity is the lightest weight, most public, and therefore the best identity on the web.

I’m inclined to agree with Fred. How about you?

Identity: Usernames, Rings, etc.

Three years ago, I was pretty enthusiastic about OpenID.

Those of us who use (or at least try) too many web services tend to regard OpenID as good news: it means that each of us can sign in to one service in order to access multiple services… Now we get to the bad news. Most of the services I use don’t accept OpenID.

The bad news never went away, and is in some ways getting worse. 37signals will cease to support OpenID on May 1.

There are at least three other strikes against OpenID, besides the fact that many sites don’t accept it. Your ID is a URI, which might seem a little weird unless you are actually a web page. That URI can seem like one more thing to keep track of, bookmark, etc: the OpenID as well as the sites you use it to access. And what do you do when your OpenID provider is down?

So, more and more, we see web services inviting us to sign in using our credentials from one of the big sites, often Facebook. This may seem a little like using the one ring forged in, and always owned by, Mordor.

But we do have our choice of lords of the login. Mike at RWW recently noted that LinkedIn is growing as the login of choice for business-to-business (B2B) sites. He deduces from this that “users prefer certain identities for certain online activities.” So maybe Jekyll and Hyde is a better literary reference than Lord of the Rings when it comes to logins.

Google Profiles

Yesterday, I realized that I had something called a Google Profile, and that it was linked to my Google Reader account. Today, several of the blogs to which I subscribe using Reader included posts about Google Profiles. One of these, GigaOm, directed me to its colleague Web Worker Daily.

The post at WWD, by Mike Gunderloy, is pretty good, raising some interesting questions. A Google Profile “is simply how you represent yourself on Google Products” – but what are the future plans?

I’m not sure why I’d want a profile that was limited to Google products. I do want a profile that spans products, but I also want a profile that spans vendors.

I’d like to know how Google Profiles will be related to standards such as OpenID. Without a good story on that, Google Profile will begin to look like Microsoft Passport.