Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Glenn Reynolds has some comments on the fact that more and more news sites are requiring registration. He makes the key point that it isn't so much the privacy issues as the annoyance issues that people have a problem with. I will merely observe that this isn't a new question: Hotwired, probably the first commercial website, had an on again off again policy with respect to whether to require registration in about 1993.

My thoughts on this are simple. I don't really mind registering to use a site. However, there are a few golden rules.

I should never under any circumstances be asked to register more than once by the same website. If I registered in 1995, then I should not have to register again. There are few things more irritating that being told that "If you registered for this site before March 2002, you will have to register again". If the website's present registration scheme asks for more information than the old one, then fine. However, in that case the website should make do with the old information for the old customers. By all means offer old customers some incentive to provide more information, but do not take their access away. My response to being asked to register again is to fill in the form, but with false information. I normally tell the truth the first time.

The registration process should be as painless as possible . That means it should consist of a single form, on a single webpage. This page should contain text and little if any graphics or anything else which requires high bandwidth, and should load very quickly. One thing I do not want is for a registration system to cause my computer to freeze.

Once I have registered on a particular computer, the registration system should subsequently appear like it is not there. That is, once I have registered, then I should be able to go to pages in the website I am accessing without anything getting in the way. I should not have any boxes popping up to ask me questions before giving me further access to the site. (You know who you are, Mr Washington Post). If this does happen, I am once again going to respond by lying. (This is why one or two sites will have been apparently getting increased numbers of visits from Swaziland who were born in 1906).

From the point of organisations setting up sites that require registration, a light hand is crucial. Annoy people, and the data you get through the registration process will be worse than useless.

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