I’m running for the OpenID board of directors
Dec 17th, 2008 by Luke Shepard

I’m running for the OpenID board of directors. I’m a little nervous, having never done any sort of political thing before. So let me try to answer some questions.

Q. Cool! Can I vote for you?

Anyone who is a member of the Foundation is eligible to vote. Membership in the foundation costs $25, and requires an OpenID (Yahoo or Google will work fine if you have an account at one of those sites).

If you’re interested in OpenID and the future of the web, please join! And then vote for me. Thanks!

Click here to join and vote

Q. Huh? What is OpenID?

If you aren’t familiar with OpenID, don’t worry- you’re not alone. It’s a geeky protocol that says how to use an account from one website to log into another website. It was designed initially as a way to avoid typing a username and password into every site around the web. You should watch the same video I did that convinced me of its potential.

Q. I don’t get it.

You can try it out by visiting a Blogger blog, like my brother Scott’s. You can leave a comment using your Google account, or any OpenID. Providers currently include Yahoo, AOL, Livejournal, and a few others. Here’s a screenshot:

Logging into Blogger using my yahoo.com OpenID

Logging into Blogger using my yahoo.com OpenID

As you can see, the user experience leaves a little to be desired, as it’s not really obvious how it all works to a non-geek.

Q. What is Facebook Connect?

I’ve been working on this project for several months. It basically lets you log into a website using your Facebook account instead of making a new username and password. You also get tons of cool benefits like seeing what stuff your friends are doing, and publishing activities back to Facebook automatically (but only if you want to). Give it a shot at Citysearch or Techcrunch. Or on the Comment form on my blog (if you’re reading this on Facebook, click “view original post” and then check out the comment form).

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 hope that by joining the board I can establish a tighter connection and increase communication between competitors and allies alike.

Q. Watch out for this shoe!


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.

Q. What would you do as a board member?

My understanding is that the board is actually somewhat disjoint from the mechanics of actually moving the technology forward. The board members meet once or twice a quarter, plan and manage finances, and set the strategic direction and overall goals of the OpenID brand and organization. I think I can help particularly in representing the needs of big companies (Facebook specifically), and the top 100 websites, and making sure that their voice is heard within the OpenID board meetings. I’m also really interested in learning about the goings-on in the technology, and talking with representatives from other stakeholders in OpenID.

Regardless of whether I make the board, I plan to work within the community … help with the OAuth extension, continue to evangelize OpenID and other elements of the open stack within Facebook. I’ve done a significant amount of work towards that end already and plan to continue.

Lessons from Facebook Connect
Dec 11th, 2008 by Luke Shepard

Last week we finally launched Facebook Connect to the general public. In the time since I joined the team last May, I’ve definitely been surprised by a few things I thought I’d share.

think big

This time last year, I thought “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if Facebook became an OpenID provider? Maybe if we just put it out there, then eventually people could do redirect back to Facebook, and we could expand the platform incrementally.” Moments of surprise:

  • When Wei told me that we were going to do the entire login flow in an iframe on the remote site, without any redirects needed. And he would build an extension to HTML that would render social data on a remote site, but in Javascript. Whoa, I didn’t even know that was possible.
  • I started to think, “Wow, maybe some sites will actually use this.” Then Josh, Matt, and Dave told me that they had already talked to Citysearch, Digg, CNN, CBS, … I thought, “Wow, real sites? Like ones my friends would use?”
  • As we got closer to launch, the dialog kept growing and shrinking. The feed form kept changing. Engineers would add checkboxes, options, and then Julie would smack them down. Or if she didn’t, Zuck would. After several iterations, I started to grasp the vision. This wasn’t just about letting users share their blog comments if they wanted to. This was about radically changing human behavior so that everything they do is shared through Facebook. Everything. Ultimately, that’s the goal. It blew me away.

marketing matters

The team built a great product, if I don’t say so myself. But it would have been impossible without the partner managers. Zhen, Josh, and Anand were out there every day for six months talking to partners, nursing them, giving us feedback. Somehow they kept track of a software product that was constantly changing. They cajoled and explained to the folks at shopping sites, media companies, newspapers, tech sites, and bloggers. They figured out what each one needed and let them know that Facebook would make them money.

Most importantly, they explained it to us. I didn’t really know what we were building back in June. It was the partner managers that gave us the early Citysearch mocks that let the team know we were onto something. And as the product rolled on, they helped us prioritize. I think most features we built between August and November were geared towards one partner or another, whose feature requests represented the voices of huge swaths of developers that would never ask, but just would not use our products. For example, Citysearch operates on multiple subdomains - chicago.citysearch.com and miami.citysearch.com - and we needed to build out support for that. But because we did that, it made the product that much better.

speedy is as speedy does

The engineers on this team are quick! I think every day for months someone was checking in code. There were some days with over 30 commits, and code being pushed two or three times a week. This is only possible because the whole company is geared towards speed, speed, speed. I credit our main pusher, Chuck Rossi, for launching us at least a month earlier than we would have otherwise. Of course this also meant incredible pragmatism when it came to churning out features. Very little work was wasted in the end, which was a tribute to the product management.

listen to developers

As the first few … dozen … partners rolled out, the team cheered. Each of them represents hours of engineering time on our end working with developers, helping them solve problems, debug issues, just get a mental model for how XFBML is supposed to work. Internet Explorer is not kind to cross-domain Javascript developers, I’ll say that much. But it was worth it. In the past two months we’ve seen what kind of errors people kept making, and tried really hard to reduce the code necessary to make simple things happen. Our initial partners spent so much of their time helping us smooth things out. David Recordon and Jonah Schwartz were rock stars really early on.

Wei and I made a video demonstrating Connect today. The code in this video would have taken hundreds of lines of Javascript only two months ago.

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