Passifying Active Users: Register Required Upfront

A colleague of mine — and I don’t consider him lazy — told me today, that he would refrain from participating in a product forum because he had to register as a user. In his opinion, it was an interesting debate of a product missing an essential feature. An employee from the company had already promised that the feature be in the next version, but another question was coming up — when would the next release be?

I had a similar experience in another forum for my favorite editor, where I ended up spending a month or so before registering. I resisted at first but finally decided to fall in that little category of people going through the pain (and risc) of registering email and all kinds of more or less irrelevant information.

It struck me that all forum software packages I have seen force users to register before they can tell what’s on their mind. Wikipedia and similar does the opposite: Write what’s on your mind, then later you can register.

It’s an interesting situation to look at, and I have some questions for you:

  • What impact does it have on a website to require registration before they can participate in the conversation?
  • How big a decrease in user participation should we expect when forcing users to register?
  • How many potentially active users are made passive in this way, when you force them to register upfront?
  • What difference in user participation could we expect from moving forced registration to the end of the conversation (My personal theory: When users have invested time and effort, they will more likely put some work in filling in a tedious form if it’s in the way for joining the conversation. It’s like being put on hold on the phone: You wait… as long as there is hope you can get forward any moment… The longer you wait, the more likely you are to stay on the phone.  See my vaguely related post on “worst user experience ever“)

For the sake of the discussion, let’s keep spam comments out of the equation, and for the moment consider it a solved problem (we can always discuss what to do about spam comments in another conversation).

Do you have any examples? Experience? Cases? Numbers? Facts? Any research or studies that you know of? Home-brewn theories?

I’m very interested… Please join the conversation below (does not require registration :)

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11 Responses to “Passifying Active Users: Register Required Upfront”

  1. Jermayn Parker Says:

    What I hate is having to register to comment for a blog, I just want to leave my 2c and not have to go through the many steps of registering :(

    btw your footer image is a pixel or two out on my browser (ff2)

  2. Søren Vind Says:

    Just a quick case example:

    Danish computer forum have never required a visitor to register to leave a forum reply or even start a new thread in the forum. It has been one of the largest danish communities for several years.

    The downside to this strategy is of course that _any_ can easily comment – and even if you do not consider the added vulnerability to spam that causes, many comments in the forum seems irrelevant.

    A solution to the problem may be to allow users to reply X times in a forum before registration is required. This will allow users to drop their 2 cents, but cut many of the irrelevant comments.

  3. Daniel Szuc Says:

    Suggest its also a case of “moderation” – if the site is well moderated that you may not need registration. Also marketers love registration as a way to learn more about their users to help them market to them more effectively :) So the question may relate to “benefit” or “what is in it for me” before registering.

    “The essential role of the Registration pages is to help establish an initial relationship with your customers, and let them know that you value the relationship and will treat them with respect.” –

  4. Jonas Moll Says:

    In trying to understand how this “social phenomenon” (which I actually think it can be perceived as) works, maybe thinking in analogies could help.

    For instance, how would you react if you were in a large group discussion – say, at a conference – but before you were allowed to give feedback on a topic, you had to register at the entrance counter?

    I think valuable feedback often comes as a spontaneous reaction to an event or a provocative statement. Having to register fist may suppress the spontaneous element a great deal.

    Recently I wanted to give my suggestions for improvement at a local Barresso coffee shop. They have a special mail box for these mattes, where you fill in a paper form. But there were no forms left and no pens. Before I reached the girl a the counter the thought had circled in my mind, and I decided that it wasn’t *that* imortant. So I moved on. Leaving no feedback.

  5. Jakob S Says:

    I just commented here, obviously. The process of leaving this comment was quick and easy. I even left my email address and website URL while I was doing so.

    Would I have left this comment had I had to go through an elaborate signup process entering details about myself, activating an account via email and whatnot? Probably not.

    But what if the registration process was implicit? I have already left all the details most sites would like to know to sign me up. What if the act of leaving this comment also signed me up, sending me an activation email, allowing me to simply login in the future?

  6. Jon Cram Says:

    I agree that registration stifles spontaneity and feel that a lack of spontaneity dumbs-down the excitement level of participating in a discussion.

    Many times I’ve considered participating in one way or another and simply choose not to if I have to register, particularly when the act I want to perform by no means needs a user account.

    An example: I was looking recently for toys for young children and for one product I read a user review. Below the review was a “Was this review useful [Yes] / [No]” feedback option. I chose [Yes] and was taken to a login page. Why on earth would I need to login/register to convey the fact that a review was useful?

    I very much like Jakob S’s thinking on making registration a reaction, and not a barrier, to user activity. This follows the e-commerce concept of letting someone purchase first and then register once the sale is complete.

    In the case of this blog, I think registration is not needed. Registration may provide benefits to the blog owner, but to the blog user I can see no reason to register – what could you do once registering that you couldn’t do before?

    The blog already remembers by name, email address and website URL – that’s all that is needed, and it happens transparently and without me having to do anything. Great!

  7. Daniel Szuc Says:

  8. Renate Says:

    You probably all know Jotform, where registration is as easy as leaving this comment here. You can use the site, and if you want to save your work you enter e-mailaddress, a username and password and that’s it. No hassle, done in a few seconds. It’s the scenario Jakob S described.
    I guess we all agree that being able to contribute to or use a website without having to go through an elaborate sign-up process is what everyone prefers. Too bad the marketing people still see personal data as more valuable than the actual contributions.

  9. Hannes Says:

    Absolute ack. I don’t count the times when I refused to leave a comment/response due to the hassles of registration.

    Two facts lead to the next question:
    1) Users don’t want to register.
    2) Users are used to the fact that registration is required to leave feedback.
    Do they realize that the comment form on a blog (like this one) can be used without? I can imagine that some are afraid that there is some kind of hidden registration. Wouldn’t it make sense to explicitely say that it is not? Once I found a nice wording for that I will definitely include it on my blog.

    Hey, maybe one could include a checkbox “register for this blog” or sth. like that. That might also help me with the next point:

    On my blog I would love to have (many) co-writers, as it is a news site and I can not cover all topics in depth my own. On the other hand I do not want to give away the control over who posts what. A new user should not be able to publish posts without my explicit permission. Furthermore I would like to see the author’s name besides the post. Thus I require registration. But it should be easy as cake! In theory one field is enough: email. The user gets a generated password and that’s about it.
    Yes, I would also like to know the (real or nick-) name, but I can ask that afterwards. My experience is that I enter more infos about me if it is optional and I am in a good mood because of the fast and easy registration.

  10. Hannes Says:

    Jon: In the feedback process registration is used to help fighting miss-use. It is easier to write a bot that “clicks” [Yes] a hundred times than writing a bot that creates a hundred accounts…
    However I hate that and would never register for that purpose.

  11. Alan from Debt Consolidation Advice Says:

    I think most users would find it frustrating to have to register before they can proceed any further. It would probably depend on how popular and reputable your site is to require a free registration. Take the LA Times for example. They of course, allow free access to some articles, but will require a free registration to access all of their content.