About two weeks ago Chris Messina wrote a post titled OpenID Connect where he argued for the existence of a Facebook Connect style technology build on OpenID. He describes the technology as follows

So, to summarize:

  • for the non-tech, uninitiated audiences: OpenID Connect is a technology that lets you use an account that you already have to sign up, sign in, and bring your profile, contacts, data, and activities with you to any compatible site on the web.
  • for techies: OpenID Connect is OpenID rewritten on top of OAuth WRAP using service discovery to advertise Portable Contacts, Activity Streams, and any other well known API endpoints, and a means to automatically bootstrap consumer registration and token issuance.

This is something I brought up over a year ago in my post Some Thoughts on OpenID vs. Facebook Connect. The fact is that OpenID by itself is simply not as useful as Facebook Connect. The former allows me to sign-in to participating sites with my existing credentials while the latter lets me sign-in, share content with my social network, personalize and find my friends on participating sites using my Facebook identity.

As I mentioned in my previous post there are many pieces of different “Open brand” technologies that can be pieced together to create something similar to Facebook Connect such as OpenID + OpenID Attribute Exchange + Portable Contacts + OAuth WRAP + Activity Streams. However no one has put together a coherent package that ties all of these together as a complete end-to-end solution. This isn’t helped by the fact that these specs are at varying levels of maturity and completion.

One of the reasons this hasn’t happened is for a reason I failed to anticipate. Back in late 2008, I assumed we would see lots of competitors to Facebook Connect. This hasn’t truly materialized. Google Friend Connect has turned out to be an interesting combination of OpenID sign-in and the ability to add “social” widgets to your site but not about integrating with Google’s social networking services in a deep way (probably because Google doesn’t have any?). MySpaceID has failed to gain traction and lacks key features of Facebook Connect such as being able to publish rich activities from a 3rd party site to MySpace. And that’s it. Those two technologies are the closest to Facebook Connect from a major online player and they fall far short.

So do we need an OpenID Connect? We would if there were lots of Facebook Connect style offerings that significantly differed in implementation. However there aren’t. One could argue that perhaps the reason we don’t have many is that there are no standards that guide websites on what to implement. However this sounds like using “standards” for inventing technologies instead of standardizing best practice. I’ve always considered this questionable from my days working with XML technologies XML Schema, SOAP and WSDL.

If you got together to create an OpenID Connect now, the best you could do is come up with a knock off of Facebook Connect using “Open brand” technologies since that’s the only example we have to work off of. That’s great until Facebook Connect adds more features or websites finally wrap their heads around this problem space and actually start competing with Facebook Connect. Premature standardization hinders instead of helps.

Although we might need OpenID Connect someday, that day isn’t today.

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