Slaying the Straw Men

I have a lot of respect for Johannes Ernst. He has done a lot of great work in identity and even though we disagree on many things about OpenID, I always like hearing what he has to say. That said he has drafted quite a platoon of straw man arguments to fight, and one of them looks remarkably like me:

Having said that, I think it’s not a bad idea to respond to the various points that are being made as I understand them. To make this easier, I’ll paraphrase and summarize:

  • Argument 1: “OpenID will never come to anything, as half a billion of available identities means nothing if there aren’t similarly many places where one can use those identities.” This is known as the relying party adoption problem, compounded by extrapolating past trends linearly – which is of course not the way markets work.
  • Argument 2: “Unless I can have one single identity that works for the entire web, OpenID has no value proposition and nobody will ever use it.” I call it the OpenID-all-or-nothing argument.
  • Argument 3: “If OpenID does not break down walled gardens, and so far it has not, it’s useless.” I call it the OpenID-matters-only-as-a-political-tool fallacy.
  • Argument 4: “Facebook is going to win the internet identity war with a proprietary approach, there is nothing anybody will or can do about it, and OpenID (and by implication, all other identity technologies) are going to be irrelevant.” One could call this the Passport 2.0 argument.

Setting the straw men to the side where they won’t get hurt, this is really all very simple. Either OpenID is gaining widespread market adoption in terms of actual use by consumers or it isn’t. And this question is actually very easy to answer, given the right cooporation.

The OpenID identity providers and relying parties could publish actual OpenID use numbers. For instance Netmesh, Yahoo, Versign, and MySpace could publish how many distinct OpenID authentications they perform on a monthly basis. Likewise OpenID service providers could publish how many users authenticate via OpenID on a monthly basis. Even if only a few of these companies published numbers you could still ballpark the adoption rate.

But call me skeptical if you want (no really, I like it when people call me skeptical), but I have seen no evidence that OpenID is being used by more than a relatively small population of technology enthusiasts. I won’t even hazard a guess at what percentage of the half billion OpenID enabled accounts that represents.

But the companies that service those half billion accounts could.


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