Monday, August 9, 2010

Registering user accounts: Do we really have to?

I have tens of user accounts. The number is probably much greater than I can think of. Most of them I really don't need and probably don't even remember having. There only few accounts that I really use, such as Facebook or Twitter. Unfortunately, most of the accounts I don't use at all - and didn't even want in the first place. This doesn't make any sense but I had no choice. And I'm certainly not alone with this annoying situation. Here's why.

Web terrorism: if you want to do something, you need to register. 

Does this look familiar? "if your comment is worth it, then you should do it"? Excuse me, but what the hell? If I feel kind enough to offer more user-generated content to your site, why do you bother me with this nonsense? Are you saying that my comment is not worth it anyways, if I don't want to give you my email address? I found this notice in the comments section for an article about user experience expectations. Ironically, this must-register-thingy ruined the user experience for me. I mean, come on. Who really wants to register to a random website in order to leave one comment?

Pointless registering makes web a total mess

Yes, I have registered to tons of websites just to be able to do one thing, say, buy something online or comment on an article. I usually use mailinator.com (an email generator to help activate registrations without using your real email address) to create a non-sense account for anything else than online buying. But the number of times I gave up and left never to return? Much greater.

Let's think for a minute about how absurd this is. Say, in real life, you go to a shop wanting to buy something and this dialogue happens:

Shop keeper: "Sure, after you register, you can buy whatever you want. But you need to fill this form first. You'll get these great membership benefits! (...And while you're on it, write down your email address so we can disturb you with our ads every now and then.)"

You: I don't care about the membership benefits. Can I just buy this thing now, please?

Shop keeper: "Sure, after you register, you can buy whatever you want..."

You: Thanks, I'll go some place else.

Simple math: Companies are losing money because of mandatory registering.


Registration is required almost every time you want to comment on a news or blog article, buy something online, interact on a website. Basically, you need to have a user account for every little thing you do online. That's web terrorism and it kills great benefits that Internet offers. If you want to do something that takes 10 seconds to do, are you going to waste 5 minutes to register, and give out your email for spam? Who wants those news letters or special offers anyway? And who can even remember all those user accounts and passwords (if not using the same one everywhere)?

There are websites like Facebook that need user accounts for a reason, but most websites really don't have any good reason to ask for your email.

Don't require registration

My advice to site owners is this: Don't require registration unless you absolutely have to. People hate it. Registering has never been a user goal and it will never be one. Registration is an obstacle to users. They only register if they really, really want to use your site. However, this "take-me-to-be-your-user-please-I-want-it-so-much!" group of people is a small one. There are always more of those who want to be convinced first that the website is worthy of their time and email address. 

But my site absolutely needs it

If your site's sole purpose depends on user accounts, try to come up with content and features that are available for everybody. This way you can get users to like your website. If they like something, there's a much better chance that they'll come back. And if you offer something really cool for members, many will gladly register.

When you offer the registration form, ask users only the most vital information. For many websites, two fields should be enough: email address and password. Make it easy to join in. Use a polite tone - make sure you're asking nicely, not demanding aggressively. When a user sees a registration form, it's decision time. If it looks nice, easy and quick, your conversion rate will be much higher.

After you get users to join in, you can ask (again, in a polite tone) for more details. But don't put anything irrelevant as mandatory. If you do, you'll have to deal with the user type that claims to be Elvis Presley, 120 years old, from the moon, with contact information ihateyour@spam.com.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The worst websites are ones with content issues, not necessarily the ugliest

Iltalehti, a Finnish tabloid and one of the most popular websites in Finland, published an online news story entitled "Is this the world's worst website?". They linked a Finnish camping site - and for a reason. Take a look: is this the content for a camping site? I mean come on. A Middle Eastern person with a rocket launcher? On a camping site? That site's even owned by the city of Hamina, not an individual or small company.


a screenshot from the haminacamping.com news page. Nice camping times!


In the news story, the author also asked people to list bad websites in the comments section. As you can imagine, links to amazingly bad websites kept (and still keep) coming.

But that's not everything. Surprisingly many took the time to complain about sites that aren't that bad. People absolutely hated the sites that lacked the information they wanted. That's not so obvious to designers. The most important thing for web users is to be able to find the information they're looking for. The graphics aren't totally meaningless but the content is what got the user there in the first place.

Let's think about a car trip for a while. It's always great to be able to drive on nice, well-maintenanced highway. A bad road with bumps and cracks is literally a pain in the... you know. The condition of the road is only about convenience. The point is the destination. Think about what happens if you miss the turn you needed to take because the sign wasn't obvious enough. You end up some place far away from your destination. Then it doesn't really matter if the road was perfect to drive on. Everything was a big waste of time. On the other hand, the road to your summer house might not be in a perfect shape. Still, you enjoy the trip because you know you'll love it in the destination.

Websites are like roads. A good one guides you to your destination - gives you the information you want. A bad one wastes your time. Visual design is not the main concern.

As I mentioned early on in this post, people posted links to ugly, unusable websites. There are ugly websites and then there are amazingly ugly websites. Here are few links to some sites that might need a redesign. I guess it's safe to say that visual design does matter, too. Have fun.

http://haminacamping.com/
http://yvettesbridalformal.com/index.htm
http://www.lippis.net/aaargh/index.htm (made on purpose)
http://www.pianot.com/
http://voittajakennel.com/SIVU3.htm
http://personal.inet.fi/yritys/palvaanjarvi/
http://www.pelulamu.net/pelulamu/ (made on purpose)
http://www.fcjazz.fi/
http://www.radiokirppis.net/
http://www.kolumbus.fi/jedi.akatemia/ (made on purpose)
http://www.saunalahti.fi/lerpa/
http://www.parolli.fi/Sivusto/TERVETULOA.html
http://www.korea-dpr.com/airkoryo.htm
http://www.vanhemmat.com/
http://www.kotinet.com/meripaviljonki/
http://www.vennamo.com/
http://members.multimania.co.uk/kotkanpoika/
http://www.newroz.fi/
http://www.koillismaankuvaamo.fi/
http://www2.eduskunta.fi/fakta/edustaja/478/ (quite bad for a politician)
http://www.amfetamiiniyhdistys.eu/
http://personal.inet.fi/yritys/atkvisio/
http://pena.dy.fi/
http://www.eeroaven.fi/
http://www.isojoki.fi/
http://www.palikka.fi/
http://www.mmpoolservice.com/FIRST_PAGE.html
http://www.lomaturussa.fi/

Feel free to link more, I'll add the most horrible ones to the list.