The Open Stack at the Internet Identity Workshop

The Open Stack enables users to take their identities and their data with them to the sites that they use, without Havi Hoffmanng to re-register, set up a profile, copy data, and re-friend everyone every time they want to use a new site. The stack consists of a collection of complimentary Open Standards: OpenID, OAuth, and OpenSocial, which work together to enable portable identities. These standards make the web more open, social, and interconnected, with standard interfaces that allow sites to easily consume Open Stack identities.

Traditionally, websites were reluctant to accept 3rd-party identities because the overhead of accepting external identities did not justify the return. But now, as the web is becoming more interconnected and social, established identities are far more valuable than newly registered accounts. Not only do established identities have a username and password, they usually have a rich profile, reputation, and connections. In contrast, a user who registers for a new account starts off with a completely blank slate, and an impersonal and asocial experience on your site immediately after registering.

Not only are established identities more valuable than newly registered accounts, users signing into sites with their OpenIDs can bring with them massive referral traffic when their activities are broadcast to their connections through Activity Streams. In the future, when users sign into sites with their Yahoo OpenID, their onsite actions and activities can be broadcast (with user consent) to their Connections on Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Messenger as Updates, with the potential of reaching well over 300 million active users.

The foundation of the Open Stack is OpenID, which lets users sign into websites and share a profile, making it possible for sites that accept OpenID to streamline, or even eliminate, their registration flow. All Yahoo!, Google, AOL, and MySpace users have OpenIDs, meaning that virtually all visitors to your site can share their name, email address, and profile with just a few clicks, without Havi Hoffmanng to be coaxed into a registration flow.

Last week, Yahoo!'s OpenID team attended the eighth Internet Identity Workshop, a premiere "unconference" event for folks working on the Open Stack. The IIW brought together people from a variety of Internet communities and companies for an in-depth exchange of ideas. OpenID has been gaining lots of momentum lately: George Fletcher (AOL) and Luke Shepard (Facebook) led a session at IIW discussing their experience becoming OpenID Relying Parties. Today, users can sign into MapQuest (an AOL property) or Facebook using their OpenIDs.

The biggest hurdle to OpenID adoption is that the user experience (UX) of signing in with OpenID is not as intuitive as signing in the old fashioned way, with a username and password. For instance, to sign into MapQuest using using your Yahoo! account, you first click on the "Sign in" button, then on the OpenID tab, then enter "yahoo.com," then click the "Sign in" button.

The OpenID Foundation is deeply committed to improving the OpenID user experience, and our goal is to make OpenID sign in the easiest way to sign into a website. At the Internet Identity Workshop, the OpenID User Experience Working Group released an implementor's draft of the OpenID UI Extension, as well as actual reference implementations of the improved "popup" UI from MySpace and Google. Yahoo product designers Steven Jackson and Barry Crane have been contributing wireframes and mockups as reference designs. For now, the infamous OpenID NASCAR UI, as coined by OpenID Foundation Board Member Chris Messina still seems to be the most common UI, but the community is experimenting with email addresses and other innovative UIs to streamline the OpenID sign in UX.

We made tremendous progress building out the Open Stack at IIW, and we enjoyed collaborating with colleagues from around the industry who are also working on OpenID, OAuth, Activity Streams, OpenSocial, and other identity technologies.

Open Stack, FTW!

Allen Tom
Architect, Yahoo! Membership