…and it’s also the next Steam.
Dear regular readers: we all know I’m not a regular writer, and you were probably expecting this to be the second post on the series about internet forums in 2018. That post is more than due by now – at this rate it won’t be finished by the end of the year – even though the series purposefully never had any announced schedule. I apologize for the delay, but bear with me: this post is not completely unrelated to the subject of that series.
Discord, in case you didn’t know, is free and proprietary instant messaging software with support for text, voice and video communication – or as they put it, “All-in-one voice and text chat for gamers that’s free, secure, and works on both your desktop and phone.” Launched in 2015, it has become very popular among gamers indeed – even though the service is definitely usable and useful for purposes very distant from gaming, and to people who don’t even play games. In May, as it turned three years old, the service had 130 million registered users, but this figure is certainly out of date, as Discord earns over 6 million new users per month.
If you have ever used Slack, Discord is similar, but free, easier to set up by random people, and designed to cater to everyone, not just businesses and open source projects. If you have ever used Skype, Discord is similar, but generally works better: the calls have much better quality (to the point where users’ microphones are actually the limiting factor), it uses less system resources than modern Skype clients on most platforms, and its UI, stability and reliability doesn’t get worse every month as Microsoft decides to ruin Skype some more. You can have direct conversations with other people or in a group, but Discord also has the concept of “servers”, which are usually dedicated to a game, community or topic, and have multiple “channels” – just like IRC and Slack channels – for organizing conversations and users into different topics. (Beware that despite the “server” name, Discord servers can not be self-hosted; in technical documents, servers are called “guilds”).
Example of Slack bot in action. Image credit: Robin Help Center
Much like in Slack (and, more recently, Skype, I believe), bots are first-class citizens, although they are perhaps not as central to the experience as in many Slack communities. In Discord, bots appear as any other user, but with a clearly visible “bot” tag, and they can send and receive messages like any other user, participate in text in voice chats, perform administrative/moderation tasks if given permission… to sum it up, the only limit is how much code is behind each bot.
Example of Discord bot in action. Discord bots can also join voice channels, e.g. to play music.
I was introduced to Discord by a friend in the end of 2016. We were previously using Skype, and Discord was – even at the time – already clearly superior for our use cases. I found the “for gamers” aspect of it extremely cheesy, so much that for a while it put me off of using it as a Skype replacement. (At the time, we were using Skype to coordinate school work and talk about random stuff, and at the time, I really wasn’t a “gamer”, on PC or any other platform). I finally caved in, to the point where I don’t even have Skype start with my computers anymore, and the Android app stays untouched for weeks – I only open it to talk to the two or three people who, despite heavy encouraging, didn’t switch to Discord. It’s no longer the case, but the only thing Discord didn’t have back then was screen sharing, but it was so good that we kept using it and went with makeshift solutions for screen sharing.
As time went by, I would go on to advocate for the use of Discord, join multiple servers, create my own ones and even build a customized Discord bot for use in the UnderLX Discord server. Discord is pleasant to use, despite the fact that it tends to send duplicate messages under specific terrible network conditions – the issue is more prominent when using it on mobile, at least on Android, over mobile data.
Those who have been following what I say on the internet for longer, might be surprised that I ended up using and advocating for the use of a proprietary chat solution. After posts such as this one where I look for a “free, privacy friendly” IM/VoIP solution, or the multiple random forum posts where I complain that all existing solutions are either proprietary and don’t preserve privacy/prevent data collection, or are “for neckbeards” for being unreliable or hard to set up, seeing me talk enthusiastically about Discord might make some heads spin.
I suppose this apparent change of heart is fueled by the same reason why many people, myself included, use the extremely popular digital store, DRM platform (and wannabe Discord competitor… a topic for later) Steam: convenience. It’s convenient to use the same store, launcher and license enforcer for all games and software; similarly, it’s convenient to use the same software to talk to everyone, across all platforms, conversation modes, and topics. It’s an exchange of freedom and privacy for convenience.
Surprise, surprise: it turns out that making a free-as-in-freedom, libre if you prefer, platform for instant messaging that provides the desired privacy and security properties, in addition to all the features most people have come to expect from modern non-free platforms like Facebook Chat or Skype, while being as easy to use as them, is very difficult. Using the existing popular platforms does not involve setting up servers, sharing IP addresses among your contacts, dealing with DDoS attacks against those servers or the contacts themselves, etc. and for an alternative platform to succeed, it must have all that, and ideally be prepared to deal with the friction of getting everyone and their contacts to use a different platform. It was already difficult in 2013 when I wrote that post, and the number of hard-to-decentralize features in the modern chat experience didn’t stop growing in these five years. The technology giants are not interested in developing such a platform, and independent projects such as Matrix.org are quite promising but still far from being “there”. And so everyone turns to whatever everyone else is using.
In my opinion, Discord happened to be the best of the currently available, viable solutions that all my friends could actually use. It is, or was, a company and a product focused on providing a chat solution that’s independent from other products or larger companies, unlike Messenger, Hangouts or Skype, which come with all the baggage from Facebook, Google and Microsoft respectively. Discord, despite having the Nitro subscription option that adds a few non-essential features here and there, is basically free to use, without usage limits – unlike Slack, which targets company use and charges by the user.
List of Discord Nitro Perks in the current stable version of Discord. Discord is free to use, but users can pay $4.99/month or ten times that per year to get access to these features.
What about sustainability, what is Discord’s business model? To me it was painfully obvious that Nitro subscriptions couldn’t make up for all the expenses. Could they just be burning through VC money only to die later? Even by selling users’ data, it wasn’t immediately obvious to me that the service would be sustainable on its own. But I never thought too much about this, because Discord is super-convenient, and alternative popular solutions run their own data collection too, so I just shrug and move on. If Discord eventually ran out of money, oh well, we’d find an alternative later.
Back to praising the product, Discord is cross-platform, with a consistent experience across all platforms, and can be used in both personal/informal contexts and work/formal contexts. In fact, Discord was initially promoted to Reddit communities as a way to replace their inconvenient IRC servers, and not all of those communities were related to gaming. If only it didn’t scream “for gamers” all over the place…
I initially dismissed this insistent targeting of the “gamers” market as just a way to continue the segmentation that already existed… after all, before Discord there was TeamSpeak, which was already aimed at gamers and indeed primarily used by them. By continuing to target and cater to this very big niche, Discord avoided competing head-to-head with established players in the general instant messaging panorama, like the aforementioned Skype, Facebook Messenger and Hangouts, and also against more mobile-centric solutions like WhatsApp or Telegram.
I believed that at some point, Discord would either gradually drop the “chat for gamers” moniker, or introduce a separate, enterprise-oriented service, perhaps with a self-hosting option, although Slack has taught us that isn’t necessary for a product to succeed in the enterprise space. This would be their true money-maker – after all, don’t they say the big money is on the enterprise side of things? Every now and then I joked, half-seriously, “when are they going to introduce Discord for Business?”
I was half-serious because my experience using Discord, a supposedly gaming-oriented product, for all things non-gaming, like coordinating an open source project or working remotely with my colleagues, was superb, better than what I had experienced in my admittedly brief contact with Slack, or the multiple years throughout which I used Skype and IRC for such things. The “for gamers” aspect was really a stain in what is otherwise a product perfectly usable in formal contexts for things that have nothing to do with playing games, and in some situations stopped me from providing my Discord ID and suggesting Discord as the best way to contact me over the internet for all the things email doesn’t do.
These last few days, Discord did something that solved the puzzle for me, and made their apparent endgame much more clear. It turns out their focus on gaming wasn’t just because the company behind Discord was initially a game development studio that had pivoted into online chat, or because it was a no-frills alternative to TeamSpeak (and did so much more), nor because it was an easy market to get into, with typically “flexible” users that know their way around installing software, are often eager to try new things, use any platform their parents are not on, and share the things they like with other players and their friends. I mean, all of these could certainly have been factors, but I think there’s a bigger thing: it turns out Discord is out to eat Steam’s (Valve’s) lunch. Don’t believe me? Read their blog post introducing the Discord Store.
In hindsight, it’s relatively obvious this was coming, in fact, I believe this was the plan all along. It’s a move so genius it must have been planned all along. Earn the goodwill of the gamer community, get millions of gamers who just want a chat client that’s better than what Steam and Skype provide while being as universal as those among the people they want to talk to (i.e. gamers), and when the time is right, become a game store which just happens to have the millions of potential clients already in it. It’s like organizing a really good bikers convention, becoming famous for being a really good bikers convention, and then during one year’s edition, ta-da! It’s also a dealership!
The most interesting part about all this, in my opinion, is that Discord and Steam’s histories are, in a way, symmetrical. Steam, launched in 2003, was created by Valve – initially a game development company – as a client for their games. Steam would evolve to be what’s certainly the world’s most recognizable and popular cross-platform software store and software licensing platform, with over 150 million users nowadays (and this number might be off by over 30 million). As part of this evolution, Steam got an instant messaging service, so users could chat with their friends, even in-game through the Steam overlay. After a decade without major changes, a revamped version of the Steam chat was recently released, and it’s impossible not to draw comparisons with Discord.
The recently introduced Steam Chat UI. Sure, it’s much nicer, and you can and should draw comparisons, but it’s no Discord… yet.
I had the opinion that Steam could ditch its chat component altogether and just focus on being great at everything else they do (something many people argue they haven’t been doing lately), and I wasn’t the only one thinking this. We could just use Discord, whose focus was being a great chat software, and Steam could focus on being a great store. But now, I completely understand what Valve has done, and perhaps their major failure I can point out right now was simply taking too long to draft a reply. Because, on the other, “symmetrical” side of the story…
Discord was developed by Hammer & Chisel, recently renamed Discord Inc., a game development studio founded in 2012, which only released one unsuccessful game before pivoting into what they do now – which used to be developing an instant messaging platform, but apparently now includes developing an online game store too. Discord, chat software that got a store; Steam, a store that got chat functionality, both developed by companies that are or once were into game development. Sadly, before focusing on the game store part of things, Discord, Inc. seems to have skipped the part where they would publish great games, their sequels, and stop as they leave everyone asking for the third iteration.
It is my belief that it was not too long after Discord became extremely successful – which, in my opinion, was some time in 2016 – and a huge amount of gamers got on it, that they set their eyes on becoming the next Steam. It’s not just gamers they are trying to cater to, as they started working with game developers to build stuff like Rich Presence long ago, not to mention their developer portal was always something focused not just on Discord bots, but applications that authenticate against Discord and generally interact with it. This certainly helped open communication channels with some game developers, which may prove useful to get games on their store.
Discord is possibly trying to eat some more lunches besides Valve’s, too. Discord Nitro (their subscription-based paid tier, which adds extra features such as the ability to use custom emoji across all servers or upload larger files in conversations) has always seemed to me as a poor value proposition, but I obviously know this is not the universal opinion, as I have seen multiple Nitro subscribers. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have enough disposable income; anyway, Nitro just became more interesting, as now “It’s kinda like Netflix for games.” From what I understand, it’ll work a bit like Humble Monthly, but it isn’t yet completely clear to me whether the games are yours to keep – like on Humble Monthly – or if it’s more like an “extended free weekend” where Nitro users get to play some games for free while they are in rotation. (Update: free games with Discord Nitro will not be permanent)
This Discord pivot also presents other unexpected ramifications. As you might now, on many networks all game-related stuff (like Steam) is blocked, even though instant messaging and social networks are often not blocked as they are used to communicate with clients, suppliers, or even between co-workers, as is the case with Slack. I fear that by introducing a store, Discord will fall even more into the “games” bucket, and once it definitively earns the perception of being a games-only thing, it’ll be blocked in many work and school networks, complicating its use for activities besides gaming. The positive side of things is that if they decide launching that enterprise version, this is an effective way of forcing businesses to use it instead of the free version, as the “general populace” version will be too tightly intertwined with the activity of playing games.
I’ll be honest… things are not playing out the way I wish they would. Discord scares me because now I feel tricked and who knows what other tricks they have up their sleeve. I would rather have an awesome chat and an awesome store, provided separately, or alternatively, an awesome chat and store, all-in-one. (And if the Discord team reads this, they’ll certainly say “but we’re going to be the awesome chat and store, all-in-one!”) But at this rate, we’ll have two competing store-and-chat-platforms… because we didn’t have enough stores/game clients or instant messengers, right?
Because of course this one had to be here, right? I could also have added a screenshot of Google’s IM apps, but I couldn’t bother finding screenshots of all of them, let alone installing them.
You can of course say, “just pick one side and your life will be simpler”, but we all know this won’t be the case. Steam chat is a long way from being as good as Discord, and the Discord store will certainly take its time to be a serious Steam competitor. Steam chat will never sound quite right for many of Discord’s non-officially assumed use cases; for example, even if Steam copies all of Discord’s features and adds the concept of servers/guilds, it’ll never sound quite right to have the UnderLX server on Steam, will it? (Well… unless maybe UnderLX pivots into something else as well, I guess). Similarly, I’ll be harder to “sell” Discord’s non-gaming use cases by telling people to ignore the “for gamers” part, as I’ve been doing, if Discord is blatantly a game store and game launcher.
Of course I’ll keep using Discord, but I’ll probably not recommend it as much now, and of course I’ll keep using Steam, and mostly ignoring its chat capabilities – even because most people I talk to are not in there, and most of those that are, are also on Discord. But for now, I’ll keep the games tab on Discord disabled, and I seriously hope they’ll keep providing an option to disable all the store/launcher stuff… so I can keep hiding the monster under the bed.
People who follow my work probably already know I’m an user of world’s first digital cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. I’m not a very advanced user, I just use it for storing the little profit from my websites and receive a few cents for some occasional work I do online. It is also the only way you can donate money to me. I’m always looking for ways to earn a little more money in preferably free/easy ways, and I’m a bit tired of going through free offers, getting free bitcoins from faucets and waiting for the occasional cent from ads. I don’t think freelancing in the web development area is for me, either – I feel like I’d never manage to finish any work in time, and my skills are not that high.
So, back on topic. What brought me to write this post were two things: a) I didn’t post here in a long time; b) I’m doing this for money. Heh, joking, I’m not doing this just for money. I explain: I was yet again earning a little money from Bitvisitor, when I came across Rugatu. I had read and seen it before, but I never cared to visit it. I thought it was just another questions and answers (Q&A) site, like Yahoo Answers. Honestly, I have better use for my time than answering questions from many noob people (sorry for being harsh, but that’s the truth!), even when the use for that time is spend hours laughing at 9Gag. Oh well – I better stop now, this is ruining my reputation.
One thing made me stop for looking more carefully at Rugatu, and it was probably the only thing that made me register, for the first time ever, on a Q&A website. The thing is, this Q&A website runs on OSQA, which is Open Source software licensed under the GNU GPL version 3! Amazing, isn’t it? Amazing it might be, but no, that wasn’t exactly what made me register on Rugatu. The fact that one gets rewarded in Bitcoins, when answering others’ questions, was the distinctive aspect that made me register at this Q&A site. This may look irrelevant but for me it makes all the difference: you get paid for your work of answering questions.
Yes, I’ll probably still answer questions from noobs, but hey, when my answers are good, I get paid for them! It makes a big difference.
And another thing: that site is not very well known yet. There don’t seem to be noobs there, nor stupid and non-sense questions. Which means I won’t be answering “How format ma pendrive?” questions but interesting ones put by other people. Let’s hope I haven’t set my expectations for Rugatu too high. It’s just that I registered perhaps an hour ago, and still haven’t answered any questions. I’ll try and do it right after I finish this post.
But why would I be writing about this little-known site called Rugatu? Hell, I haven’t even written about my own cloud service which urgently needs to get clients or it flops and puts me owing money to other people, but instead I prefer writing about some Q&A service? I’m writing this for three reasons: first, it gets traffic to this abandoned blog; second, it helps Rugatu grow (I wish people wrote blog posts about my websites, so why don’t I start and do it first about others’ websites?); and a third reason, is a selfish motivation: money money, must be funny… Read here. Yeah, if my answer with this post gets voted up enough, I’d earn 1.50 BTC (over $10 USD considering 1 BTC is now worth about $7), which should be enough to help cover a flop with my service tnyCloud. In fact, if I earn, the 1.5 Bitcoins are going straight to the tnyCloud wallet to help with the server costs.
Sorry if this post looks like a forced positive review of a service which, actually, I haven’t tried very well yet. If it looks like so, then it probably is – but one needs to compensate the little amount of advertisements on this blog somehow, right? You can start thinking about what my next post will be: perhaps I’ll become a Microsoft advocate (ugh!) to win a free copy of Windows 8, or an Apple fanboy (ugh ugh ugh!) to win a Apple sticker (they don’t give away anything more valuable) or I’ll just argue how Samsung is right about their devices not copying Apple just in order to win a Galaxy Tab. Probably next blog post will be something just as boring as the one I wrote about the Like button some time ago. Eventually, it will be about intellectual property and the stupid thing software patents are.
For some reason, this post is looking like a link farm. I better finish it with a giant link to the website this post really is about…
Try it, question it, answer it! Then earn the coin 🙂
EDIT: I did it! I won the 1.5 Bitcoins. Yeah! 🙂 Thanks a lot Rugatu and everyone who voted.
Of all the ways to express your opinion on some subject, I believe the “Like”, “+1” and similar buttons are some of the worst. Why? Well, nowadays “liking” something on the internet means little to nothing. People are asked to “like” things, “likes” are sold and bought as a product and not actually as a consequence on someone’s feelings on what one has seen/read/experienced, and now the quality of things seems to have become measured in the number of “likes”.
I usually say the “Like” button was the best invention for those that are so lazy that don’t want to write anything, or those so lazy that don’t want to create an opinion on a certain subject. It is also a great thing for those who don’t care about explaining why they “like”. The same argument is also true for “disliking”, on the places where that’s permitted. Those who have something to say will comment or reply, but “liking” is something so vague that adds little value.
It’s important to let people express their opinion on other Internet content in a meaningful way. Allowing users to comment and reply in an Internet that’s more and more made by its daily users is a good thing (that is, if you really promote freedom of speech). It perhaps even motivates people to think about things and form their own view on the subject, instead of just “liking” a view that’s being forced into their minds.
Imagine someone on the Internet says “WordPress is a really cool blogging tool”. You have the following options: you can either “Like” this statement, comment on it, or don’t give a s*** about it and move on. If you agree with the point of view stated, but have nothing to say on it, you’ll probably click the “Like” button. If you don’t agree, you’ll move on, or eventually post a short comment stating that you don’t agree. And if you are of those that actually wants to express an opinion and cares to write trying to use the language properly, you’ll comment. Now imagine you can’t comment… probably you’ll just move on.
If you comment and your comment is insightful, it will add value to an existing discussion or perhaps even start a new one. But those who “like”… what will happen? When you see “34 people like this”, do you have any idea of what those 34 people think? Did they “like” because they found it funny? Because that content was interesting? Because it was so wrong that it made one laugh? And who knows how many people didn’t like that content, specially when compared to something else? I think this need for comparison and ranking caused “likes” to be used as if they were a measurement unit, as I’ll explain later.
I even fear one day people living in a democracy will vote for their representatives by “liking” them. Knowing how many didn’t “like” any of the options is going to be hard. And you won’t know it was because none of the options suited them, or because they were ill in the elections day, or because they preferred going to the beach instead of voting, errm, “liking”. Knowing how many people “liked” twice can get hard too, but that’s easily fixed.
One more thing that illustrates the stupidity of the “Like” (or similar) button: it doesn’t exist in natural human communication. Well, it does exist, but it’s way more elaborated than a “Like”. Imagine you’re hanging out with your friends, in the pre-“Like”-button era, and one of them tells a joke. Nobody’s going to say “I like” without saying anything more. Since it was a joke, if one has found it funny, laughs will follow. And if it was really funny, one will laugh a lot (I also have my opinion on the LOL thing, but that’s for another post). And if the joke wasn’t funny at all, or the way it was told wasn’t good enough, one will at least smile, or say “Man, you’re not good at telling jokes”.
And another example: if you go to a restaurant and you enjoy the meal you ordered, it’s unlikely that you just say “Like”. Even if you only want to say you liked what you ate, there are many, many ways to say “Like”. Now if I want to be ultra-nerd, I can even say the “Like” button impoverishes people’s vocabulary. 🙂 So to conclude this point: at most, people have brought “I like this” into real-life communication after it became popular in the web – it didn’t exist in such a monotone and endlessly overused way before that.
I’m not saying the “Like” button isn’t useful – for the times when you actually like and there’s nothing else to say. The problem is, people became lazy and now they prefer to click a button than to write their opinion – sometimes because they don’t have any opinion, other times because it’s just easier to “Like”. Again, if I jump to extreme cases, the web might become something where some party says “1+2=5” and all there is to say is that “56,322,943 people like this”.
Now about the “Like” button as a measure of quality of things. If for a given “product X” there are 60000 likes on some social network and for another “product Y” there are only 2000 likes, people will often think “product X” is better than “product Y”. But those who will care about doing some research will find that “product Y” doesn’t contain “substance N”, which is really bad for health, while “product X” does contain it. “Product X” has more likes because it appeared first on that social network as part of an advertising campaign that costed millions. Conclusion: the number of people that “Like” something is worth nothing, even though at first it might look like so. Even because “likes” can often be bought: imagine that millionaire advertising campaign included buying 10000 “likes” to bootstrap it, and “liking” things becomes even more meaningless.
But the example doesn’t need to be about evil companies and products that are bad for health being advertised in a giant scale. You certainly know those people that ask for likes on their content. And those annoying “If you are happy, like this”-style messages. This happens in social networks in each other’s friends circles.
Oh, and another thing: “Like” buttons are used for tracking people whenever they go on the web. You can leave the “website X” that hosts a “Like” button, that as long as there is a “Like” button of that “website X” in any other page, the owners of that website can know you’re at that page. And I’m not dreaming, as you know, Facebook and other social networks do this.
This stupid “Like”/”+1” button is one of the many reasons why I deactivated my Facebook account some days ago. But this isn’t only about Facebook, it’s about everything sponsoring a “Like” button. (At least Twitter doesn’t have such a “feature”, hooray! 🙂 )
Putting short: yes, you can keep the “Like” button, but make sure people can comment – and I’d encourage them to comment and show their views on things whenever possible: I think it adds a lot more value to the Internet.
EDIT: looks like Facebook “Likes” aren’t speech protected by the US First Amendment.
Do you remember the OpenID standard, that aims to describe “how users can be authenticated in a decentralized manner, eliminating the need for services to provide their own ad hoc systems and allowing users to consolidate their digital identities.”? Well, if you happen to frequently authenticate on a service or website that supports it, or if you happen to run or maintain one of these websites or services, most likely you remember. But the surprising part is, OpenID is used in more things than you can imagine.
Till some time ago, I don’t recall seeing much opportunity for logging in with an OpenID – except on the websites of the ID provider themselves. The first OpenID authentication method I recall using was using Twitter IDs, although in that case I could as well have used Google or Facebook. But people use OpenID without actually recognizing it as an implementation of that standard. Yes, OpenID is that “Login with Facebook” or “Login with Twitter” thing. These login methods are usually just not (visibly) branded as being OpenID.
So basically, that represents a win for OpenID, right? Well, in theory yes, but my opinion is different. While many websites carry out OpenID in such a way that it is comfortable for every user, others simply don’t. What do I call a “comfortable usage” of OpenID? An implementation of the standard in such a way that it allows you to choose the ID you want to use. Eventually, it also lets you not use OpenID, through the creation and authentication of a traditional account, where the chosen authentication parameters are isolated to the website or service in question, like we’ve seen before the OpenID boom.
This “comfortable implementation” fits the most users I can think of: by assuring authentication using accounts on the most popular OpenID providers, such as Google, WordPress and Facebook, and using simpler, standalone (i.e. not tied to any service in particular) and/or less-known providers such as chi.mp, claimID and myOpenID, the chances of the person willing to be authenticated having an ID with one of the providers supported is way bigger. But because not everyone likes the OpenID idea, or they might simply not have a registered account with one of the IDs supported, an additional “traditional” authentication method should also be provided, so people can create an account with the website or service in question, and not tie that account with an OpenID.
The advantages of what I call a “comfortable implementation” are very noticeable in my opinion: it increases the user base of a website, since if people find it easy to login with an account they already have on other service, it’s very likely they’ll login on that website. It also makes the act of engaging with the website a breeze, because people don’t need to go over the hassle of maintaining yet another user/password combination, there is no signup form, captcha or email validation. While this may change depending on the OpenID provider and on the service or website implementing OpenID authentication, in most situations the OpenID login process is easier. We just got to recognize another advantage: if users find registering and logging in easier, the website or service will not only get more users, as it will have its users more satisfied. As I said, for the user there’s not the hassle of not remembering the specific password and having to reset it, and for the website management, there can be also a reduction in the number of support requests, assuming OpenID is properly implemented. All I did here was point some of the advantages of OpenID, but it can also have a lot of disadvantages when its implementation is not so comfortable for the user.
A website that I remember having a proper implementation of open IDs is Blogger, at least when posting a comment on a blog – it allows you to choose which profile you want to comment under, from a Twitter, WordPress or Google account to a OpenID, discussed here.
But what is an “uncomfortable implementation”? From my point of view, OpenID can become a very negative thing if, for example, the website the user’s tying to authenticate to doesn’t offer the ID provider on which the user has an account. It is also possible that an OpenID implementation fits most, but not all. A very clear evidence of this problem is given with websites that offer “Login with Facebook” as their only authentication method – I don’t think this can be called an OpenID implementation, even though Facebook is an OpenID provider. But why is this a problem? People just start based on the premise that all the internet users have a Facebook account. False. I can illustrate this with personal situations… it’s not happened once nor twice, but dozens of times: *le me browsing the ‘net*, *le me finds a website he likes*, *thinks he should signup*, *looks for the signup link*… oh crap, looks like all we get is this:
Call me stupid, “forever alone”, or whatever you want: I might even have a Facebook account, but I may not use it and even if I do, I don’t want all dozens of websites being authenticated with that s*ht Facebook is, and eventually with these websites being able to post to my Facebook wall, access my status, photos or other things “normal” people put on Facebook.
I’m giving this example for Facebook, but the problem goes for other ID providers. There are websites that support open IDs, and a few even say they support OpenID (the standard), but then you’re presented with a “Login with XYX” link where XYX is a single ID provider of their liking. Sometimes you’re lucky enough and you have an ID from this provider, other times you just need to go registering for yet another ID, defeating all the purpose of open identification and OpenID.
Although, there are cases where requiring a login with a specific service is mandatory. For example, on services that are dedicated to changing your Twitter profile background with a generated one, a Twitter account is of course required, so a Twitter-only login makes all sense. Same goes for Google/Blogger/Facebook/WordPress dedicated services, but please, if it’s not required to be tied into a specific service, then just let people use whatever ID provider they want, or provide a traditional signup and login method. Else, open authentication and OpenID might become hassles that drive users away.
Other things can be discussed about OpenID – I can argue that it is unsafer than traditional user/password logins, because if the OpenID provider gets cracked and authentication information gets exposed, then all the accounts authenticated with OpenID on other websites are open to the crackers – much like an user that always uses the same password and username on multiple websites. We can also discuss about these shiny buttons provided by social networks and the like, that allow you to authenticate using your account on them, to “like” or to “share” posts – these are used for user tracking, and seeing what the crowd likes, helping on creating even more directed advertising. There are plugins that block these trackers, and usually some hosts file or iptable rules work well, fortunately (if you don’t use the service from which the shiny trackers are coming).
I do not represent the OpenID foundation, Facebook, Google, Twitter or other OpenID provider. I am not encouraging their use or otherwise; I’m just exposing my very irrelevant opinion on the subject. If you spot any factual or spelling mistake, please contact me or comment below. Thanks for spending some minutes of your life reading this post!