Lately I’ve been looking for a good way to explain OpenID to people, since they need to know what it is to sign on Moneygement, which uses it. I haven’t been able to find a good guide, so I decided to write one, and here it is.

The official OpenID site says that “OpenID is an open, decentralized, free framework for user-centric digital identity.” That’s a rather useless explanation (admittedly I did use the “for geeks” one). What that means is that OpenID is a single, central way to tell sites on the internet who you are. You don’t have to remember separate usernames or passwords for each site you are subscribed to or sign up at each site you want to use each time, you just tell a site your OpenID and you’re logged in. Here’s how:

Say that you want to use a new site you just came upon, which supports OpenID. That site is the consumer (I’ll use Moneygement as an example). You arrive at the front page and want to sign in to see what it’s about. With OpenID, you don’t need to go through the signup process every time you come across a site you’ve never used before, you just use your OpenID (which is sort of a username) to log in.

So, you arrive at Moneygement’s front page and enter your OpenID in the box. Moneygement then visits the address you entered (an OpenID is also an internet address) and it asks the site there (that site is called a provider) if you are who you say you are. The provider, in turn, asks you if you want to tell Moneygement who you are, and it asks you to tell it some things about yourself. You don’t have to tell the site anything, but some require it. Moneygement, for example, will happily log you in even if you don’t tell it anything about you, but it uses a nickname for personal displays and an email for notifications.

After you decide what you want to tell Moneygement, you allow the provider to verify that you are in fact who you are, and you return to Moneygement and are logged in. The entire procedure took just one or two clicks and you are now registered and have an account with Moneygement. Notice that at no time did your password leave your consumer. Moneygement knows nothing about your password or anything that you haven’t explicitly told it. This ensures that noone but you will have access to your password.

OpenID is really the last username you will ever need. Of course, you can have as many of them as you want, perhaps for added anonymity, but it’s not really necessary. You can also use your own website’s address as your OpenID (for example my OpenID is by taking a few simple steps.

I hope you have understood better what OpenID is. If you don’t have one and want to start using it, you can do it immediately by going to my favorite OpenID provider. Have fun!