Account Chooser: A Better Way To Log In To The Web?

The OpenID Foundation will open the doors to the third OpenID Summit on Monday, September 12, 2011, noonish. Of course, you won’t be there, because you’ll be attending or livestreaming the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be interesting.

The event, which is co-sponsored by Microsoft and will be held at its Research Campus in Mountain View, will be used as the launch platform for Account Chooser, which is billed on the accompanying website as an “open standard and user interface guidelines for the next generation of web sign in”.

The Account Chooser website, which went live rather quietly, was first spotted by Fusible.

As Fusible notes, the domain name was registered by Eric Sachs, a longtime Product Manager at Google, and is actually owned by the company as a simple WHOIS search reveals. However, the project is clearly an OpenID Foundation one, as you can tell from the copyright notice at the bottom of the Account Chooser website (Sachs is also a board member of the organization).

That said, some quick digging shows that Sachs / Google has been publicly talking about and working on Account Chooser since at least June 2011.

Essentially, Account Chooser appears to be a way for website owners and publishers to alter their traditional username/password-based login systems to one that supports multiple identity providers.

Such a system would also allow people to easily switch between accounts.

For a website owner or publisher, the system could increase sign-up and login rates, as well as reduce costs from hijacked accounts and users who have trouble logging into their account for whatever reason. To deploy Account Chooser, they can use a SaaS vendor such as the Google Identity Toolkit and Janrain Login Helper – or simply build their own.

According to the website, Account Chooser is designed to be protocol-agnostic:

“There are many technical protocols support by identity providers (OpenID v2, SAML, OAuth2, OpenIDConnect, etc.) The Account Chooser is not specific to the protocol, and the website can even use different protocols to support different identity providers.”

A lot more information is available here and here, for both end users, website operators and companies who would like to become identity providers.

Google has been experimenting with the Account Chooser system already for its own sign-in flow, as well as previewing a new design here and there.

There are a few other websites where you can experiment with the system, such as this sample e-commerce site is also available that uses an account chooser and a test site which lets you manually reconfigure your account after you login.

See the video below if the system isn’t clear to you yet.