Allen Tom has an interesting post on the Yahoo! Developer blog entitled Yahoo! Releases OpenID Research where he shares the results of some usability studies the folks at Yahoo! have been doing around OpenID. The concluding paragraphs of his post are particularly interesting and are excerpted below
I'm happy to announce that Yahoo! is releasing the results of a usability study that we did for OpenID. Our test subjects were several experienced Yahoo! users (representative of our mainstream audience) who were observed as they tried to sign into a product review site using the Yahoo OpenID service.
On the Yahoo! side of things, we streamlined our OP (OpenID Provider) last week, and removed as much as we could. We removed the CAPTCHA and slimmed down the OP to just a single screen, and focused the UI to get the user back to the RP. We expect that RPs will enjoy a much higher success rate for users signing in with their Yahoo OpenID.
On the RP (Relying Party) side of things, our recommendation is that they emphasize to users that they can sign in with an existing account, specifically their YahooID. We believe that the YahooID, as well has IDs from other providers, have a higher brand awareness than OpenID. We also believe that first time users signing in with an OpenID should be able to go directly to their intended destination after signing in, instead of having to complete additional registration. Hopefully, as SimpleReg/AttributeExchange are more widely supported (Yahoo does not currently support them), relying parties will no longer feel the need to force the user through an additional registration form after signing in with an OpenID.
It's nice to see how much of this dovetails with my post on Things to Keep in Mind when Implementing OpenID on Your Website. In that post, I pointed out that the key risk of using OpenID on your Web site (i.e. being a Relying Party) is that there is a high risk of losing users if the OpenID sign-in flow is more complicated than simply having the user sign-up for your site. The Yahoo! usability study points to the fact that this seems to be the common case in typical OpenID deployments.
Actually there are two problems. The first being that most people don't know what OpenID is so simply stating that people can use OpenIDs to log-in to your site or using the logo may work for geeks but doesn't work for the typical Web user. The risk here is that the work of deploying ID on your site ends up being wasted. The second problem is the risk of losing the user after they decide to use OpenID to sign-in either due to an unintuitive user experience on your site (e.g. having to enter an OpenID URL) or on the site of the OpenID provider (e.g. lots of jargon with no clear call to action).
I did find it interesting that Yahoo! is recommending that services should prefer to using the brand of the target services whose credentials you plan to accept [especially if you white list OpenID providers you support] instead of using the OpenID brand since it isn't recognizable to the typical Web user. I tend to agree with this, OpenID is a means to an end and not an end in itself so it is weird to be putting it front and center in an end user facing user experience. Talking explicitly about OpenID should probably be at the developer to developer level. I feel the same way about RSS and other Web technologies for connecting services together.
The other interesting point is that a lot of services still require users to go through a sign-up flow after logging in with an OpenID thus the only thing they've saved is having the user pick a username (which would probably have been their email address) and password. That saving doesn't seem worth the extra complexity in the user experience of going through an OpenID provider. I agree with Tom that if more OpenID providers supported OpenID Attribute Exchange then the need for a post-login account creation would likely disappear since the Relying Party would get the basic information they need from the OpenID provider.
In conclusion, the typical way OpenID is being implemented on the Web today leads to more costs than benefits. Hopefully, services will take to heart the lessons from Yahoo's usability study and we'll start seeing smarter usage of OpenID that benefits both users and the services that are adopting the technology.
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