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Usability Troubles for Yahoo OpenID

Too Complicated for Average Users

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On the Yahoo Developer Network Blog, Allen Tom discussed the findings of a study conducted regarding the use of Yahoo!’s OpenID service. While the users who participated were enthusiastic with the concept of OpenID, the results weren’t great.

Yahoo OpenID

First off, if you’re unfamiliar with OpenID, it’s basically a service that lets you create a user name and password that can be used all across the Internet at participating sites (view OpenID’s directory of sites here). Providers include Yahoo, AOL, BBC, Google, IBM, Microsoft, MySpace, Orange, VeriSign. Yahoo’s service allows you to use your Yahoo! ID and password at other sites.

Yahoo conducted a usability study of Yahoo OpenID, in which several "experienced Yahoo Users" (representative of Yahoo’s mainstream audience) tried to use the service to sign into a product review site. The biggest problem that Yahoo found from this usability test was just that – usability.

Apart from never hearing of OpenID before, none of the participants even noticed the sign-in box. Allen explains:

Eventually, we coached the test subjects to use the site’s OpenID Selector, and they still had some problems with the selector’s Yahoo! option. In most cases, the users were confused by the "http://yahoo.com" autofilled in the OpenID sign-in box, and continued to look for for a form in which to enter their Yahoo ID and password…

After a bit more coaching, the users managed to get to the Yahoo! OP where a lot of them got lost. (OP is jargon for an openID provider.) First time Yahoo OpenID users must navigate through a few screens, where they have to solve a CAPTCHA, and agree to a TOS. They are given opportunities to learn more about OpenID, set up a custom OpenID identifier, set up an anti-phishing sign-in seal for their Yahoo login screen, or view a directory of OpenID RPs. ((RP is jargon for relying party.) In many cases, users were overwhelmed by all these options, and failed to return to the RP because they were sidetracked.

After even more coaching and filling out a registration form, users eventually got to where they needed to be. Clearly usability is a problem when so much coaching is required. In the real world, users are not going to have Yahoo employees guiding them along, and are very likely to just give up on OpenID, based on the annoying user-experience.

"The key takeaway here is probably that even if OpenID is ready for the mainstream, the mainstream doesn’t seem to be ready for OpenID," says Josh Catone at Sitepoint. "It could definitely benefit from being simplified (in terms of both signing up and signing in), but the main thing that needs to happen for average users to begin to adopt OpenID is that it needs to be pitched in a completely different way."

That’s probably one thing, but it sounds like some kinks could be worked out as well. Yahoo OpenID is still in beta, so there’s time for that. Perhaps once it graduates from that stage, it will be better pitched.

Usability Troubles for Yahoo OpenID
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