What Does OpenID Mean for Communities?

It appears that we're approaching a time where Internet users will have a simple standard for easily signing into web pages. It's called OpenID and the AOLs and Microsofts of the world are getting behind it.

What is OpenID? At OpenID.net the first line of the description reads:

OpenID is an open, decentralized, free framework for user-centric digital identity.

In more Plain English, it's a standard that enables Internet users to have an online identity (username, photo, profile info, etc.) that is constant for every website to which they belong. OpenID is not owned by anyone and everyone has equal access to it. One password, one login, one identity for each person.

As Scott Kveton of JanRain described it at Ignite Seattle. "It's like Microsoft's Passport, except the opposite." More about how it works in action here.

I'm just starting to learn about OpenID and don't claim to know all the ins and outs. However, I'm very interested and anxious to see what they future holds.

So, lets jump into the future and assume OpenID becomes a standard. What does it mean for membership-based online communities? Here are some possibilities... maybe you have more?

  • More Lurker Conversion? On a lot of community sites, registration is a barrier to participation. Lurkers are often unregistered. There will always be a high proportion of lurkers, but OpenID could lower the registration barrier enough to bring new people into the fray.
  • Less Loyalty? With lowered barriers of entry to community sites, people may explore more, registering with a higher number of sites and spreading themselves more thinly across more sites.
  • More Incentives for Good Behavior? Reputation is a big deal online, either implicit (name recognition) or explicit (ebay rating). If OpenID increases the portability of reputation, people may be motivated (and rewarded) to build a positive reputation across sites.
  • Quicker Community Start-up? If people are able to join a community with an existing identity, some of the process of trust building and personal connections could be hastened. A community could start with members who bring with them a public track record of valuable participation.
  • More Community Sites? Member management and building registration systems is not a lot of fun. If Open ID can make this easier, more people may be likely to give a community-oriented site a try.

OpenID, or more specifically the goal of an open, single sign-in system, is a good thing for the Internet. It does more than make life easier for people who have 6 different passwords, it removes artificial barriers of personal membership management. Technology shouldn't limit membership or particpation, it should enhance it. By removing the login/password/registration barrier, people can choose to participate without having to deal with a broken system.

What do you think?