Accept Contributions Up Front
A lot of users turn away when they see a login or registration screen. On my site, the number of is around 94%. Part of the reason is probably that people are just tired of going through registration forms, and they don’t bother when the benefits of doing so is dubious. Part of it, most likely, is that they’re wary of handing out their email address, because they’re more scared of spam email than they are of junk mail, even though the time and effort required to deal with physical junk mail is far greater and don’t even mention the environment.
Rule #1: Accept the user’s contribution before asking them to sign in.
By letting the user contribute what he or she has to contribute before asking them to register or log in, the chances of them going through with the registration improves. The user will have invested some of his or her time in making the contribution, and they don’t want to see that effort go to waste.
It’s the same trick used in most questionnaires. If you can get the person started on filling in the survey, chances that he or she will finish it, no matter how long it is, are pretty good. The initial investment will make them want to finish, rather than end up feeling that the whole thing was wasted.
But Don’t Forget
Unfortunately, registration processes can be lengthy. Maybe the user isn’t sure whether he or she has already registered. Or she knows, but forgot her ID or password. She may have to receive and email and click back to the site to change her password. Or maybe she left out some required field in the registration form.
Even in the light of such complications, you must obey the second rule:
Rule #2: Never forget what the user said.
It’s very impolite to forget what someone said, just because you had to go about dealing with some bureaucratic measures. It pisses people off, and rightly so.
Ensuring that the user’s contribution doesn’t get lost on its way through a complex registration process isn’t exactly rocket science, but it doesn’t come without conscious effort, either.
An example of a site that does rule #1 right, but disobeys rule #2, is Epinions. I haven’t tried all possible routes through their registration process, but what I did try was entering my opinion, trying to register with an email address already in their system, get a forgotten password URL sent by email, then go to that URL to change my password. And my lengthy contribution was gone.
If you’re not going to obey rule #2, you had better not follow rule #1, either. It’s better that the user don’t waste time contributing at all, than have their contribution go to waste because you don’t have your registration process under control.