Many people struggle to remember scores of passwords for different websites. They often have to reset an account or dig through years of e-mail to find stored log-in information. A common trick is to use the same password for lots of accounts, but this can be a security risk, potentially allowing many accounts to be hijacked at once.
Even as identity becomes increasingly important online, it is becoming more fragmented, with users signing up for ever more websites and services. Account Chooser, a new service launched by the OpenID Foundation, an organization that includes the major websites Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo, is the latest effort to solve this problem. Instead of having to create yet another account, Account Chooser lets users choose one account—their Gmail or Facebook log-in, for example—and then use it to log in to many other sites. The technology was developed by Eric Sachs, a Google project manager and OpenID Foundation board member. Google is backing the project by hosting the code.
Account Chooser is far from the first effort to create a single account that can be used on lots of websites. But previous endeavors, including the one launched by OpenID, have proven complicated to use. Previously, users had to create an OpenID account, and then manually link it with all of his or her other accounts, which meant figuring out which sites would accept the consolidated account as verification. A number of companies, including ClaimID and Verisign, are trying to tackle the issue with their own unified account technology, but they have so far seen limited acceptance from users and websites.
Chris Messina, developer advocate at Google, says OpenID is trying to create a system that users can easily understand, and companies can easily support. “The lack of a novice-friendly solution to authentication on the Web is one of the OpenID Foundation’s greatest opportunities,” he says.
Account Chooser lets users select any account managed by a company that has chosen to support Account Chooser, and then link that account to whichever websites they choose. It has already been implemented as the log-in page at Flickr, which now lets users access the site using not only a Yahoo account (Yahoo is Flickr’s parent company), but also a Facebook or Gmail account.