Usability Research on Federated Login

SEP 19, 2008
By Eric Sachs, Product Manager, Google Security

Federated login has been a goal of the Internet community for a long time, but its usage is still quite low, especially in the consumer space. This has led to the constant need for users to create yet another account to log in to a new website, and most consumers use the same password across websites even though they realize this is a poor security practice. In the enterprise space, many software-as-a-service vendors such as and Google Apps for Your Domain do support federated login, but even those vendors encounter usability problems.

On September 12 the OpenID Foundation held a meeting to gather feedback on how to evolve the best practices for using OpenID so that it might be used by websites in a larger number of market segments. The meeting included representatives from many mainstream websites including The New York Times, BBC, AARP, Time Inc., and NPR. Google has been researching federated login techniques, and at the meeting we showed how a traditional login box might evolve (see below) to a new style of login box that better supports federated login.

We also shared a summary of our usability research that explains how this helps a website add support for federated login for some users without hurting usability for the rest of the website's user base. We hope that industry groups, such as this committee in the OpenID Foundation, will continue to share ideas and experiences so we can develop a model for federated login that can be broadly deployed by websites and broadly used by consumers. If your company has experience or research that you can share, we hope you will get involved with the OpenID community and join the further discussions on this topic.