I'd seen it before on a few other sites, didn't know what to make of it, and kept going. But when I saw it front and center on Plaxo's main sign-in screen, I knew it was time to check out this latest web innovation: OpenID.
Viewed at 50,000 feet, OpenID is an ingenious concept: You can register (once) at any OpenID-enabled site, and then use your username (in the form of a URL) at other OpenID sites to skip the dreaded process of re-registering at every single site you visit. It's a classic win-win: publishers gather more registrations complete with highly valuable user data, and users get faster, more fluid access to a large number of sites.
I spent a little time reading up on OpenID to get the gist of it. Then I created an OpenID for myself at www.openid.org. Time to give it a whirl.
I went to the LiveJournal.com, a blogging site. I logged in with my OpenID and was presented with a totally confusing page in response that left me uncertain if I had logged in, but in clicking around some more, I think I was logged in. I went back to Plaxo, entered my OpenID, and in response got an error page so lengthy I actually think I may have crashed their server. I tried to log into NerdBank, a programmer community site (they should know how to make it work, right?) but got only "authentication error" in response to my login.
So what's going on? Two seconds on the official OpenID site yields the answer: OpenID is being killed by the very programmers who are developing it. It's nerd heaven, too clever by a half in almost every respect. Everyone is running around finding clever new applications for OpenID without taking the time to make sure that its most important application, cross-site registration is working simply and dependably.
OpenID is great in concept. It appears to be getting some traction too, with Microsoft, AOL, Sun, Novell and others embracing it. I thought it was really hitting its stride when I saw it so prominently featured on Plaxo, but it's not yet ready for prime time. I am not ready to write it off, because its goal is so worthy, and its upside potentially so great for publishers. But for now, just watch and wait.