David Recordon just let us know about a little strawman proposal he’s calling OpenID Connect. It’s not exactly perfect, but it’s a good jumping off point for the ideas that are shaping the next version of OpenID. And I love that he’s just throwing some ideas out there. It’s really in the original spirit of Request For Comments. There’s even code in there!

Most noticibly, the proposal guts most of the work in OpenID, replacing its discovery and security bits with LRDD and OAuth 2 respectively. LRDD is a rewrite of the discovery process used in OpenID 2 intended to be more modular and simpler. OAuth 2 is also a rewrite, but not of existing OpenID parts. Instead, it takes the OAuth concept and makes it easier for to write clients, among many other changes. But with OAuth 2, you can just use curl to get at APIs instead of having to dig into HTTP headers. Having OAuth 2 underneath OpenID should make it much easier to write clients that work with OpenIDs.

There are some other changes as well. OpenID currently lets you delegate your OpenID from any web address to any OpenID server. This is pretty much only used by early adopters who want vanity OpenIDs. That’s how I’ve got my OpenID set up today. But really it provides almost no benefit with the new disco process. And most people are using an insecure web address to delegate from, making them vulnerable to well known weaknesses in OpenID. The consesus is that all future OpenID versions will have to mandate TLS to keep things safe. If you’re enough of a power user to limit your vanity web address to HTTPS, you’ll have no trouble setting up your own OpenID Provider as well. So losing delegation is a non-issue.

But the OpenID Connect proposal has one change that I can’t talk myself into to supporting. It introduces a very simple User Information API that provides the basic personal information every site needs for registering an account. The problem is that we already have the Simple Registration Extension and Attribute Exchange. Instead of reusing the format of either, it introduces another new one.

Instead of inventing another new format for the next version of OpenID, I’d much rather it have a common way to embed existing formats like hCard, vCard, FOAF and PoCo. Like YADIS so long ago, we’ve got a bunch of competing tools for the same job. So let’s build a way for them to compete instead of one more extremely specialized solution. LID and DIX may no longer be with us, but OpenID incorporated their best ideas. Maybe we could call it Yet Another Personal Information Schema System? Nah.

I figure X/JRD gets us most of the way. Webfinger demos show that we can already do this stuff by just pointing around. But what’s missing is a way to inline the data so clients don’t have to keep making requests to get standard data. I imagine it could be as simple as:

 "link": [
        {"id": "692",
         "displayName": "David Recordon",
           {"familyName": "David",
            "givenName": "Recordon" },
           [{"value": "[email protected]",
             "type": "home",
             "primary": "true" }],
            [{"value": "http://pics.fb.me/davidrecordon",
              "type": "home",
              "primary": "true" }]}}},
    "type": "application/rdf+n3",
    "entity": "You get the idea"}]}

Specifically, this would just be an OAuth API that provides X/JRD data to authorized clients. The only extension is to add an entity element to a resource descriptor link that includes the copy of the linked resource.

Two things complicate a solution like this. First, encoding is hard. There are four main kinds of data that people will want to embed, JSON, XML, binary data, and everything else. XML and JSON are special because they could concievably be included inline in XRD and JRD respectively. And really, that’s the ideal because no one likes having to pull out more than one parser just to deal with some data. I’m not entirely sure how to handle this, but formats that have both XML and JSON would be very nice. So Portable Contacts gets extra points here.

Binary and other data still make trouble though. What’s the best way to signal that you’re using Base64? Is it enough to just use the type of the link? Only some implementation experience will really tell. Singpolyma has done some fancy things with data: URIs, so that may be a starting point for binary.

The other issue is that web resources are more than just data. Good HTTP servers provide all sorts of metadata about when the resource was updated, how long to cache, &c. The simplest solution would be to just include the entire HTTP response as a string, but that’s certainly more trouble than it’s worth. CloudKit handles this by tacking on etag and last_modified values. Seems like a sound blueprint to me.

If OpenID adopts this sort of solution, it’s not just good for OpenID users. Everything else that uses XRD would benefit. If you want to have standard data publicly available, you could have that on your public XRD, while more sensitive things would be available to clients you trust. And maybe you could finally start doing more with your web identity than just log in.