Using email as OpenID

August 22, 2008

One of the most common comments/questions I get while talking about data portability is ‘The OpenID User Experience sucks – how do we make it more user friendly?’.

The problem is two fold. First, users do not understand why they need to provide a URI to log in. Second, users get confused by bouncing around to a 3rd party site.

I’ve given a lot of thought to this problem.

The only answer I’ve had so far is that while the OpenID user experience is difficult to explain to users who expect an email address and password log in, the data portability value proposition may help justify the added cognitive load for users and vendors.

It’s probably true – but it’s not a good enough answer.

More recently I’ve been thinking about another potential solution.

I believe the 3rd party site bounce is actually becoming common place. Passport, Facebook, Google use it and, as such, users are becoming more comfortable with it.

The question of using a URI as a ‘username’ however, is a more difficult pattern to explain to users at a login screen.

Mapping email addresses to OpenIDs

The purists among us will argue that identity should not be tied to messaging. That is, uniquely identifying people by email address is a bad idea. It encourages spam and other unhealthy activity.

Putting that aside for a moment, however, imagine this.

Rather than asking for a user’s OpenID, ask them for their email address:

chris.saad@gmail.com

Now imagine the application refactoring the address on the fly to something like this:

http://gmail.com/chris.saad

The point here is that we take everything before the @ and place it after a slash. Remove the @ and put HTTP:// at the start and you end up with a well formed URI.

Now imagine that Gmail provided OpenID functionality for each email account in this way.

There are a number of challenges to pulling this off. Not the least of which is getting major email providers to support OpenID, and get existing OpenID consumers to refactor email addresses (if provided) on the fly.

It’s certainly worth thinking about though.

As I posted earlier, I am going to be posting my book outline in parts to my blog to get feedback and Ideas – please feel free to chime in!

Except from “Revolution of Me” – A book outline by Chris Saad

OPPORTUNITIES FOR INDIVIDUALS

DEVELOP YOUR OWN BRAND

With individuals in a company becoming increasingly visible, the container we once thought of as “the corporations” – an entity with a single, homogenized voice – is now disintegrating into a chorus of loosely coupled individuals.

As a result, individuals are starting to (either deliberately or not) create an identity for themselves that goes far beyond that of their employer or their resume. Their own personal brand.

Try it. Do a Google search for your name and you will begin to see an emerging digital identity – a living resume of your online legacy. This is especially true in the IT world where early adopters have rushed to try new Web 2.0 tools. It will become increasingly true in most industries everywhere.

You’re resume is now just a starting place. Not only will employers vet you with Google, but they will increasingly expect to have heard of you through their social networks and online interactions. They will check your LinkedIn profile and see how many friends you have on Facebook or Twitter.

Those who have made a lasting and visible online impact with unique and relevant things to contribute to their niche have created a personal brand and have a real and significant advantage in the job market.

Similarly, corporations who look for and recruit these personal brands will be able to make better hiring decisions, and put themselves in a position to positively influence their partners and customers.

SURFACING NETWORK VALUE

One of the inherent results of individuals communicating outside the boundaries of their corporate containers more regularly, especially on the Internet, is that their network of influence becomes visible.

Your LinkedIn contacts, your blog comments, your Skype list and other recorded forms of connection and collaboration can now be measured and valued.

Consider that while your resume details your level experience and qualifications, your online interactions demonstrate your value as an influencer – and individual brand.

This, then, has implications for salaries, hiring strategies, bonus packages and more.

Increasingly (and appropriately) corporations will have to factor in this reality as a significant part of an individual’s potential contribution and value to the corporation. And pay them accordingly.

JOB SATISFACTION

The trend for increased individual visibility in the marketplace has both positive and negative effects on lifestyles and job satisfaction.

Where once corporations and PR departments shielded staff from the burden of after-hours support, spin and general customer hand-holding – now staff are increasingly tasked with taking a personal interest in the success of their products, services and customers.

This will, of course, result in longer work hours, added stress and a general change to the way most people approach their work and home life – and the boundaries between.

On the flip side, however, by extending their reach of influence and creating their own personal brand, employees have the opportunity to become more than just commodities. To set their own terms and find employers that respect their capacity for community engagement.

This careful ballancing act changes the relationship between employer and employee to one of master and subordinate to more one of partnership and mutual respect. In the end, though, corporations themselves may give way to loosely coupled groupings of specialized individuals who are determined to get something done.

Read more on the wiki

Comments, ideas and contributions welcome!