After yesterday’s OpenID post I went into pondering mode, thinking about what would be needed to make OpenID appeal to the masses. Because, let’s face it, even the coolest and best ideas are not necessarily taking off. Why?
Not enough of (what I like to call) “teh shiny”.
Let me use one of my favourite open-source projects as example: Jabber. A great idea, a solid protocol, dynomite security and auth features, a lot of potential and fun to tinker with. Everyone should use it. But they don’t. In fact, outside the dev community, it’s hard to find anyone who has a clue Jabber even exist. There is a reason for this, it’s lacking “teh shiny”.
Yes, it’s a stable and secure protocol, with stable servers and many okay clients, and if we all would use Jabber as our primary IM platform, we wouldn’t have to endure the daily IM spam messages from people named fudgepecker69, claiming he/she/it has h4×0r3d lots of supposedly cool Yahoo! IM IDs like “fudgepecker70” or “_toomuch___underscores_”, and that he/she/it would altruistically be willing to part from for a very reasonable price.
But, well, it isn’t our primary IM platform, mostly because mom, dad, your girlfriend, wife, co-workers etc. are not willing to make the switch—because they are somewhat afraid of dozens of different, mostly half-baked open-source Jabber clients. (I applaud the open source community for their efforts, but there is no Jabber client yet that I would suggest using, neither to you, the geeky reader or my parents.) With all due respect, Joe A. Internetuser is more concerned about the ability to “buzz” contacts or use animated smilies and pipe the name of current iTunes song into their status message automatically and so on. Yes, they love “teh shiny” and if the other option doesn’t reach the “teh shiny” threshold, then, well, bad luck, sorry.
So, they stick to the big players with their overloaded, bulky, official IM clients. Because on their “radar” there are no other candidates than the usual suspects.
(A similar effect can be seen @ MySpace. It has “teh shiny”; every fool with a lack of taste has the ability to build his or her personal “home” there. It might not be good looking or tasteful to anyone else, but it is to them, and this is qualification enough. Plus, everyone else is already there, and no other service let’s them fuck up play around with background images and layout that much.)
To stick with the IM example, take a look at Skype. Excellent service with a great client that just works out of the box. People immediately flocked to it, because it looks and feels just awesome. And noone cares that it’s not open source or what the protocol does or doesn’t. They just don’t. It works, it looks good, they’ll stick with it, end of argument.
In my opinion, Jabber hasn’t taken off yet because it is seriously lacking _“teh shiny”_—it will make a splash when there is a good client for it that appeals to the masses. People don’t give a damn about the server component and the protocol features and the good ideas and concepts behind a software. “If you build it, they will come.” In our case, “it” is a colorful, great-looking client with buzz capabilities and animated smilies and some “killer feature” (like buzz capabilities and animated smilies, but these have been invented already, sorry). Or something.
(On a side note, I believe that you could make millions by writing an IM client that would allow the user to project their webcam mugshots onto images of yellow balls—instant, personal smilies. If you end up building something like this: remember, I called it, and therefore expect a good cut of the profits.)
So, “teh shiny”.
OpenID is a great concept, and personally, I like it very much. What it lacks is a killer application. Something great, with an instant “wow” factor for, say, Jim A. Weatherblogger. In the end, noone will care whether it’s good, solid and makes sense. Pack it up, set up a pretty website with glossy icons and art deco design or something, offer free widget downloads for Jim A. Weatherblogger, give it a cool name, get BoingBoing or TechCrunch to mention it, and you’ll have winner.
I guess what I want to say is: I doubt it’ll matter whether a big player is picking it up or not. In the end, it has to look appealing to the average blogger.
If it’s shiny, they will use it.