David Recordon, one of the key architects of OpenID and other identity technologies that have emerged over the past five years, has envisioned a new direction for OpenID.
His proposal, which was drafted with input from several people in the OpenID community, is called OpenID Connect. At the highest level, it essentially rebuilds OpenID on top of OAuth 2.0, combining the two popular open source systems for authenticating users and letting them share data with social websites and applications.
“OpenID Connect is an attempt to pull the best pieces of two separate technologies together, to create a single technology stack that’s simpler for everyone to use,” Recordon tells Webmonkey.
The proposed approach combines several interactions around logging in and sharing data with a website or application into one simple step. It also lets a user log in using either a profile URL, a blog URL or an e-mail address. Support for e-mail addresses as identifiers is a big step for OpenID, which currently requires you to type a URL — something that’s confusing to people who are used to typing a user name. Asking somebody to enter an e-mail address requires less of a psychological jump.
OpenID Connect hopes to broaden the technology’s reach as well. Unlike OpenID, it’s been designed to work equally well on every platform in your home: on the web, on the desktop and in mobile apps. “It could even work on your XBox,” Recordon says.
Both OpenID and OAuth have seen wide adoption across social sites and applications over the last couple of years, but both still suffer from various problems of usability (for people trying to log in) and complexity (for publishers who are trying to implement them). This is mostly due to the fact that the two technologies weren’t developed concurrently, and that they were developed for different use cases.
Many of the complexity problems in OAuth were solved by the creation of OAuth 2.0 earlier this year. OAuth 2.0 hasn’t been finalized, but it’s already been adopted by Facebook in its Open Graph API, and by Twitter in @anywhere. OpenID, however, hasn’t been updated since 2007. Three years is an eternity on the web, especially in the mobile space, which has seen the massive growth of the mobile web and the quick proliferation of mobile apps with social networking built in.
Also, the technologies serve two different purposes. OpenID is a way of proving to a server that you are who you say you are, and OAuth is a way of providing an application access to information such as your photos or your address book through web APIs.
“Instead of saying identity and APIs were different things, we wanted to build them together and make them work together,” Recordon says. “This is a smart combination of OpenID and OAuth pieces.”
The idea of OpenID Connect evolved naturally from the work being done by Recordon and his colleagues in the OpenID Foundation, the non-profit that develops and popularizes the technology. Others involved in the creation of this new proposal include Chris Messina, who works at Google and drafted a similar idea earlier this year, and Eran Hammer-Lahav from Yahoo, who recently posted an overview of the improvements in OAuth 2.0. Recordon, who is an engineer at Facebook, just stitched together the pieces and drafted the proposal.
Chris Messina is quick to point out that OpenID Connect is just an idea at this point, not a spec or a complete draft.
“David’s document is a strawman in a very intentional way,” he says. “It is not complete. It’s a starting point. The goal is to start a conversation versus saying, ‘this is a solution.’”
Update: Be sure to read Messina’s follow-up post on his blog.