OpenID is one of those things that I've always been so sure is a good idea that I rarely bother to question it. The question came up a couple of days ago, when Chris underwhelm told a college friend of ours that he'd need to get a LiveJournal account in order to read friends-only entries. Ooh, ooh! OpenID evangelism opportunity! I jumped in to tell our friend that he should really just get an OpenID account somewhere, but I was too late; he already had a journal.
Now, it turned out that he actually wanted to write a journal, too, which, sure, by all means, sign up with LJ. But it surprised me that a technologist like Chris wouldn't be advocating OpenID. I pointed that out, and he responded that not only is it harder to friend an OpenID user on LJ, but, well, if they still need to register somewhere (assuming they don't already have an OpenID provider), why wouldn't they register the same place their friends are registered?
I can't really argue with the "hard to friend" thing. LJ admits that the consumer support is still rough around the edges. As it is, you have to wait until an OpenID user leaves a comment before you can friend them -- which doesn't really work too well for friends-only journals! Not only that, but when you bring someone new to the site, it's a nice thing to do to make it easier for them to find you by initially friending them, instead of waiting for them to figure out how to friend you. You can't do that if they're using OpenID. Is the assumption that a person savvy enough to be using OpenID won't need any help finding your journal? What if you still just...want to be nice to them?
Regarding the "why wouldn't they register the same place their friends are registered?" thing, I think this might cut to the root of why OpenID isn't more popular, and it's complicated by the fact that LJ itself also happens to be an OpenID provider. (By far the biggest one, actually, I'm thinkin'.) If someone gets an LJ account, then they'll automatically have OpenID. So, if what they want to do is read friends-only entries, they don't have an OpenID provider, and they have a choice1 between getting LJ-and-OpenID in one blow or just OpenID, why would they ever choose the latter?
I didn't know what to say. Because, you know, just because! Because they don't want a(nother) blog, and having a blog they won't use is an awful, terrible thing, because...uh. Because it unnecessarily muddles their online persona? Am I the only person vain enough to care about that? Does OpenID depend on people's vanity?
- And another thing: lots of folks might not be aware that they have that choice -- and I don't blame them. There's so much noise about how anyone can become an OpenID provider that it's hard to find an actual, trusted, stable OpenID provider that isn't LiveJournal. I had to dig through Kevin keturn's journal to find the name of the one he works on to pass it along to my friend. I'm probably playing with fire by saying this in the presence of actual OpenID developers, but man, to me it really seems as if nobody wants to get bogged down in discussing actual implementations of the thing, so instead they just talk about how cool it is in the abstract. Which, make no mistake, it's cool. But if you want people to actually use it, you've gotta give them something they can use.