Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Sunday, 22 February 2009

Easy login plans gather pace

Open ID logo card
Open ID compare their system with a credit card - as opposed to the "cash" of passwords
Plans for a system that would allow people to use one username and password across the internet have moved closer with a number of popular sites agreeing to the scheme in recent weeks.

Earlier this month Facebook became the most recent site to sign up to OpenID, joining the board of the scheme that provides users with a single digital identity which can then be used across many websites.

Microsoft and Google were early adopters of the single sign-on scheme, and have since been joined by the likes of AOL, Yahoo, IBM and PayPal.

"The idea is that just as you can use e-mail anywhere on the web to sign up for a new service, you should be able to do the same thing with an Open ID - but without having to create a new password," Chris Messina, an Open ID board member told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

'Reusable and durable'

Mr Messina, who describes himself as a "social web advocate," said that Open ID would be much more convenient than the current system of individuals having to create separate accounts for each website they visit.

"Wouldn't it be nice if you could just use these accounts over and over again without having to divulge a password?" he said.


"That would also mean you have to remember fewer passwords, and gives you more control over your online personas.

"Longer term though, it is also important that people are able to establish themselves on the web in a way that is reusable and durable - so they can create connections from one place to another, and those connections go with them."

He admitted that the risk of what would happen if Open ID got hacked was "a very good question" - but added that the risks in the current system are even greater.

"A lot of people on a lot of websites today require you to sign up and provide an e-mail address in the case of forgetting your password and things of that nature, so they can send you a link with a new password to access your account," he said.

"The problem though is that, since you're using only one or two e-mail addresses, if your e-mail gets hacked then not only can you be locked out of your e-mail account but nefarious parties could then use your e-mail to reset all of your different passwords.

"The difference here is that with Open ID, you're able to choose the level of security that you might use. This allows you to avoid being stuck in the situation where you're giving passwords away to a number of different websites."

Different solutions

It is also hoped that the Open ID system will reduce people's vulnerability to phishing scams, as they will not be typing in their username and password into a fake website set up to get their personal details.

Facebook are now on the board of the Open ID scheme
Additionally, Mr Messina said Open ID will be the key to unlocking what has been termed "cloud computing" - the practice of doing traditionally desktop-based tasks, such as word processing or accounting, on the web.

"Just as e-mail created the boom over the last 10 years in terms of the way people communicate, Open ID should lead the next wave forward in terms of collaborating online," he said.

Technology commentator Bill Thompson said cloud computing requires a sophisticated identification system of the type that Open ID offers.

However, he added that this did not automatically mean Open ID was the best option.

"It's just one solution to the problem," he said.

"There's no guarantee Open ID will be the one that takes off - but at the moment it is well-placed to do so."

Digital Planet is broadcast on BBCWorld Service on Tuesday at 1232 GMT and repeated at 1632 GMT, 2032 GMT and on Wednesday at 0032 GMT.

You can listen onlineor download the podcast.

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