In one of the most significant moves yet in the growing push toward service interoperability on the Web, tech giant Yahoo announced Thursday that it is supporting the OpenID 2.0 standard for a universal Internet log-in.
No matter what your views of Yahoo's current stability may be, this is undoubtedly a big victory for OpenID. Not so long ago, the protocol was considered a dot-com/futurist pipe dream. OpenID was created by Web 2.0 guru Brad Fitzpatrick, who founded LiveJournal and was brought on board at Google last year as one of the most prominent players in its OpenSocial developer initiative.
OpenID is designed to facilitate single log-ins for multiple unaffiliated Web sites. Gradually, large sites like AOL and Plaxo have begun supporting the standard, but it remains a tool for the Web's early-adopter set rather than the online community at large.
But recently, fueled by debate over social-networking interoperability, universal standards have been one of the most buzzed-about subjects in Web 2.0.
Yahoo, which counts its registered users at 248 million worldwide, says that supporting OpenID will mean that OpenID-compatible accounts are available to a total of 368 million Web users. When Yahoo's support of OpenID goes live, starting with a public beta launch on January 30, this will mean that a Yahoo ID can be consolidated into an OpenID account that will be valid at all partner sites.
On the flip side, sites that accept OpenID will have the option of displaying a "Sign in with your Yahoo ID" button.
As more major Web players start to sign onto OpenID--and more casual Internet users start using the standard--there will inevitably be security concerns raised. Since OpenID has no central repository for identity management, users can choose which sites they trust with their OpenIDs. But that doesn't mean they're going to always make the right decisions. Sometime in the not-so-distant future, an incident or two will likely surface that will call into question just what universal standards mean for privacy and personal security on the Web.
This is an area to watch.