Windows Live ID – Mesh’s barrier to entry
The intentions for Live Mesh are pretty clear. Mesh is the platform that Microsoft will soon want their developer army to start developing for so that Mesh becomes the centre of your online experience. I’m sure that even as we speak there are teams beavering away in Seattle working to produce toolsets, documentation, demo applications, training courses, presentation material and other such paraphernalia that are all intended to make Mesh arrive with a bang when it reaches the masses in and around October later this year. However, there is one important aspect to Mesh though that I hope has not been overlooked.
To use Mesh today you need to login with your Windows Live ID. Microsoft claim that there are 440 million active Live IDs out there today which is a formidable number but doesn’t come close to the estimated 1.4billion people that are using the internet today. (N.B. This doesn’t mean that 440million people are actively using a Windows Live ID – two of those Windows Live IDs are mine for example). So, depending on whether you are a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full kinda person Mesh could be considered as open to (max) 440 million people or alternatively closed to 1 billion of them.
Hence I’m of the opinion that if Microsoft truly want Mesh to be the de facto platform for future web development then Windows Live ID is a barrier to entry. As I’ve just explained the majority of internet users today do not have access to Mesh and in fact is that there is a large contingent of those users that simply don’t want to give their personal information to Microsoft or any other corporation.
So, Microsoft have a problem. What can they do about it? The answer to that question is actually pretty simple, they should allow people to login to Mesh using their OpenID. Support for OpenID would allow those people that do not have a Windows Live ID to login with (for example) their Yahoo ID or, in the future, their Google ID. That’s great for people that don’t want to submit their data to Microsoft and ergo even better for companies that want to do business on the Mesh because they have a much bigger user base. Its also great for Microsoft because this move would win them a lot of mindshare with internet users that are skeptical about Microsoft’s direction for the web.
A question arising from this is, "Is it in Microsoft’s interests to allow users of other identity systems to login to their services?" The answer to this is a resounding YES. Given the choice between (1) knowing everything about their Mesh users or (2) having more users I’m pretty sure that Microsoft would choose "having more users" and they have already demonstrated through their policy around Live Contacts that they value users more than user data. If Mesh is going to be the service that Microsoft want it to be then they need to lower that barrier to entry and allow OpenID authentication for Mesh.
Before I go I want to call out a quote from a blog entry that Dave Winer posted yesterday:
"People return to sites that send them away"
I agree with that philosophy. Treating users how they want and deserve to be treated engenders loyalty. Allowing OpenID login to Mesh should be a strategic decision, not a compromise.
Will we see Mesh support for OpenID? I hope so.
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