The OpenID community is buzzing with board elections coming up next week. With Facebook and Google drawing attention with their simultaneous recycling of old news (MySpace’s PR person should have been fired long ago for being so bluntly left out), there is growing concern in that community for the future relevance of an open, rather than a commercially controlled, identity. Dave Winer thinks the commercialists will kill it by over-complexity. Chris Messina believes that better usability and branding could jumpstart OpenID.
Personally I see no reason right now why Facebook won’t pull it off. The main reason is that they have a full turnkey system in-place. As a publisher, I don’t need to adopt an OpenID library, access a few Contacts APIs (standards are still only making baby steps) and then integrate some form of postback to an aggregator. Facebook gives me the whole monty, on a very large network provider, and a simple WordPress plugin can do all that work.
That’s where an open community lags behind a concentrated commercial effort – tying it all together to a killer-app. An open content platform? well, that was boringly nice, until someone connected it to a killer-app need of an anyone-can-edit-encyclopedia and suddenly everyone’s using wikis. Firefox did not become popular because it’s open, but rather because its openness allowed open features, such as greasemonkeying and tons of extensions. Where is the OpenID equivalent?
Personally I think blog widgets, and in particular commenting platforms, can be exactly it. The blogosphere is decentralized enough for an open product to compete fairly against Facebook’s push. There are already commercial products making use of it, such as Disqus. Now just decentralize that too, and let every OpenID user assemble their own Disqus page from an OpenID-based commenting plug-in. If you don’t like that, find another potential killer-app (David Recordon’s browser-based identity has good potential too), just don’t assume that an open technology alone makes any difference to anyone beyond the techies.