Over the past half-decade, there’s no denying that for all the amazing things the internet has brought us, it’s also been the source of quite a bit of annoying crap in everyone’s lives. From spam (\/|@GR@, anyone?) to phishing attempts to search results polluted with splogs to malware, a lot of people are out there exploiting the inherent trust model on which the fundamental internet protocols were based. What we’re all left with is an email system in which more than 9 out of 10 messages sent are spam, and with commerce websites and other online communities that have no way to trust their users other than to force us to create entire new identities on each of them if we want to use them. I don’t think it’s that wild a guess to say that many of us spend as much time each day dealing with all of these issues as we did performing their analogs in the non-internet-enabled world (driving to stores, writing letters, making phone calls), but today, the stakes are a lot higher — our family photos, bank accounts, and credit card numbers are all out there waiting for someone to exploit a hole in the armor and scurry off with them.

It’s because of this that I’m so happy to see an initiative like OpenID succeeding. A few years ago, the idea of OpenID was floated by the inestimable Brad Fitzpatrick (the father of LiveJournal, now a Six Apart property) as a way for people to carry around virtual identity cards on the net, and to securely use those credentials as a way of demonstrating to others on the internet who they really are. Between then and now, OpenID’s development has taken place out in the open, on mailing lists and wikis and web forums, and the result is a technology that Microsoft adopted last week and AOL has been quietly rolling out to its online service and instant messenger users for a few months now. That’s a great adoption rate, and I’d like to think that it’s because it’s a technology that’s sorely needed on today’s web. I’m not naive enough to think that it’s a salve to cure all the net’s wounds — for example, there’s still work to be done to make sure that anonymous ID providers don’t become the way spammers and miscreants get around the system — but I’m hopefuly enough to recognize that OpenID might be one of the more important building blocks to us all being able to trust our online interactions just a bit more.