As a frequent Internet user, I must comment on something that frustrates me more than getting ready to tackle a room full of unbuilt Ikea furniture only to find out I don’t have a screwdriver: why do I need an account to use nearly every website? Take a moment and ask yourself how many different online identities you have. I know I’m linked to at least 50, and probably another 50 or so that I don’t remember the password for, or don’t remember existing.
I’m frequently browsing a site when I notice a link that intrigues me, perhaps a photo of kittens sleeping, something for sale, or a program that turns my cell phone into an electronic whoopee cushion. I curiously click on the link, only to be confronted with a “registered members only” message. Now I’m faced with three questions. First, have I already registered for this site? If so, what is my username and password? If not, is this garbage really worth signing up for? Many times I’ll try to create a new account, only to find out that my email address is already in use. Thus begins the game of “what-password-was-I-using-eight-years-ago.” More often than not, these logins are completely unnecessary and do nothing but hinder the quality of online life for all users.
As a software developer myself, I understand the purpose of user registration generally. The owners of the website would like to identify users so that they can provide personalized content, access private information like email or user data, or link information to the user, including posts or uploads. Facebook is an excellent example, requiring users to sign in to view their friends, receive personal messages, and be identified in interactions on the site.
But required registration has other effects as well. It allows site owners to track their users, gives them greater access to personal information (such as your email address, location, etc.), and is a potential privacy threat. These issues often deter users like myself from registering. While every developer may imagine that his or her site is at the centre of the Internet, it isn’t. Ideally, every site that could allow individual users to remain anonymous, would. My username and password shouldn’t be required just to buy a train ticket.
The solution to this upsetting trend lies in the hands of web developers and administrators. We must band together and ask ourselves if we really need to identify our users. Sometimes, the answer is yes, but perhaps just as often it is no. Reducing the complexity of registration by linking accounts together, like Google’s linking of email, chat, calendar, etc., or allowing users to sign in using their Facebook accounts, can be used to reduce the complexity of site usage for many users. I can only remember so many different passwords (four, to be exact). Internet, I beg you, please let users like me remain anonymous and happy.
Sites like bugmenot.com offer free, registered accounts to access a variety of websites. While this is a nice way to avoid registering for an individual site, it does not resolve the problem. The real issue is that, from a web development standpoint, the benefits of registration outweigh the costs. As long as this is so, keep a notepad handy.