Will OpenID Lose to Facebook Connect?

It was an inevitable that a company would come along an release a standard for single sign on that had the financial backing to go build strong partnerships and more importantly, mainstream buzz. Yesterday Caroline McCarthy highlighted some of the challenges facing OpenID and I have to say the battle between Facebook and the open standards community is about to get pretty fierce.

So far hundreds if not thousand of sites have implemented OpenID but unfortunately most people don’t know what the service is. One of the main reasons? A lack of a centralized public relations team to spread the word and little incentive for any of the participants to join. It’s a great service but it doesn’t have the more than 120 million (or probably 130 million) users that Facebook now has.

Facebook also ended up with a huge New York Times article earlier this week and that kicked off the buzz about the service. Take a look at the Twitter buzz for Facebook Connect and you’ll see that people are now talking about a service which one week ago was practically unheard of for many. Whether or not that buzz will sustain is another question but it’s clear that Facebook has a very good chance of becoming the default login for many.

It’s also good to keep in mind that a branded single sign on model was attempted before by Microsoft with their Passport network and that failed miserably. The company tried again this year with Microsoft Live ID but that hasn’t seen much traction either. Many tech enthusiasts love to postulate about the day when single sign on becomes mainstream but despite the occasional buzz over the past few years, nothing has really gained traction.

Back in January I wrote about Yahoo supporting OpenID but since then there has been little talk about it. Are users adopting the standard? There’s also the whole issue of trying to be an individual’s OpenID provider and that has resulted in competition among the existing email providers. None of the large companies have bothered to educate users about what OpenID is though so there has been little mainstream adoption.

Facebook on the other hand is simply placing a button which essentially says “sign on with Faebook” and that’s it. It doesn’t require much explaining. So while I believe that Facebook has a great shot at becoming the primary identity provider on the web, there is still a long battle ahead before anything can be possibly called “the standard”. Centralized identity management is an area still ripe for the taking.

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