Un-befuddling OpenID

Lots of "medium-to-high internet savvy" users are "befuddled by OpenID", or so says Yahoo's usability study.

The above is something that I just don't get. On other hand, I program for a living so maybe my brain is broken in a way that normal people's aren't.

So this is my attempt to de-mystify OpenID.

What's an OpenID?

When it comes right down it, an OpenID is just a url. It's a regular old url like http://www.cnn.com or http://antelopelovefan.com.

But it's a special url, under your control, that lets you log into other web pages. Instead of having a username or using your email address, you use your special url!

Why do I care?

There are lots of reasons to care.

  1. You only have one username and password that you can use on lots of different sites. (Don't worry, the number of sites that support OpenID will start going up).
  2. You can control how much personal information gets sent to the site you're logging into.
  3. (And I think this is the most important one) You don't have to trust the site you're logging into. The site you're logging into doesn't get to know your password because someone else (your OpenID provider (more on that in a minute) ) is responsible for authenticating you.

How do I get an OpenID?

There are lots of different ways to get an OpenID.

If you have an account with Flickr, Blogger, AOL, Yahoo, and a bunch of others, you already have an OpenID.

That said I recommend myOpenID. It's easy to use, well implemented, and has lots of nice features like easy support for multiple profiles, etc.

But wait! There's another way!

Now I said that I use myOpenID as my provider. But I don't actually use my myOpenID url when I log into sites. I've created an OpenID Delegate.

This means that I have a url that I created myself which then hands authentication over to myOpenID. The great thing about this is I can dump myOpenID today, start using some other provider, and still use the same url to log into all of my sites.

Here's how you do it:

You need a url somewhere that you control. I have my own hosted websites so I just created the url http://antelopelovefan.com/id.

Let's look at the source for that page

That's all there is to it. The openid.server tag says that my authentication is going to be handled through myOpenID and the openid.delegate tag tells what my special OpenID url is.

Can I see an example of how this works?

Well, since you asked so nicely, OK.

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  • It asks for my OpenID (which is http://antelopelovefan.com/id). You can see helpful links to lots of other providers.

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  • I click Login and I get sent over to myopenid.com where I have to answer my password. Now remember that it's myopenid.com that knows my password, not StackOverflow. I don't to trust that shifty Jeff Atwood with my password. Just kidding. Jeff Atwood's awesome. I'd totally tell him my password! But not anyone else.

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  • Once I've authenticated with myOpenID, it asks if I really want to go on and sign into StackOverflow. It also gives me to option to skip this step next time. This is handy because I can set StackOverflow to remember me, set myOpenID to remember me, and never have to log into either again (until I clear my cookies).

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  • An, voila! I'm logged into StackOverflow.

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