Facebook Connect Engineer Running for OpenID Board of Directors

In what some may see as an ironic move, Luke Shepard, one of the lead engineers of Facebook Connect, is in the running for one of 17 seats on the Board of Directors at OpenID.

Obviously, having someone from Facebook’s Connect team on the OpenID board of directors may raise some eyebrows in the OpenID community. Facebook Connect is Facebook’s approach to extending Facebook identity, privacy, and friends across the web, which some see as competitive with the aims of OpenID.

Anticipating these questions, Shepard wrote today in his blog:

Q. But I heard that Facebook and OpenID were competitors. Why would they want you on their board?

Well, they aren’t competitors so much as just working at the same problem from different angles. You could say it’s complicated.

OpenID is a protocol, like HTTP, SSL, 802.11b. Facebook Connect is a product offered by a single company. But as far as products go, I think we did a pretty good job of it, and I’ve learned a lot that can be shared with the community.

Ultimately, I would love to see a world in which your information and identity follows you around. If you interact with a website, or a store, or a phone, then it knows who you are – to the extent that you want it to. All your data should be privacy protected, so that the user is ultimately in control of who gets to see what. But we can remove a lot of the friction that gets in the way of people sharing their data with who they want to share it with. I don’t think that Facebook can get to this world all by itself – that’s why they built the platform, and now Connect. I also don’t think that the OpenID community can get there without someone from Facebook working with them. So I hope that by joining the board I can establish a tighter connection and increase communication between competitors and allies alike.

Q. What do you think OpenID needs to do to improve adoption?

The message of OpenID has generally been “make it easier for consumers to log into multiple sites without a new password”. Well, after a few years, it’s pretty clear that that is not enough to get people to adopt it.

The primary competitor to OpenID is not Facebook Connect, Google Friend Connect, or any of these new systems. It’s old-fashioned email. When a site gets your email address, they get both an identifier and a way to contact you. When they get an OpenID, all they get is an identifier. As long as an OpenID is less valuable than an email address, it will not be adopted widely. So we need to make it more valuable to websites.

There are elements of the “open stack” that can layer on top of OpenID and provide not only a way to contact the user, but also get their profile info, friend data, and distribution among their friends. These are all available via Facebook Connect, and they offer real value. For instance, with Connect, websites are impressed by how much data they get from their users, and how much more content users contribute. For example, Govit reported that more than half of their new users use Connect, and they all have names and profile pictures, and they can publish their stories back into their Facebook Newsfeed.

Unfortunately, OpenID providers aren’t there yet with providing all that value. There are extensions to OpenID that help with this: simple registration, attribute exchange, OAuth, portable contacts, …. Sorry, did I lose you? These different pieces are really confusing and inconsistently applied. As long as that is true, it will be really difficult for relying parties to well, rely on them being there. Yahoo is the only major OpenID provider that offers simple reg (I mean of the big few) and even they haven’t released it publicly (although soon will). I hope during 2009 that the breadth of providers offering the full “open stack” will be dramatically expanded, such that relying parties can come to expect a consistent experience from the average OpenID provider. It should be as consistent as it is with Facebook Connect.