Web Form Design
Issue № 255

Sign Up Forms Must Die

A note from the editors: We are pleased to present an excerpt from Chapter 13 of Luke Wroblewski’s Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks (Rosenfeld Media, 2008). Save 10% with code ALAWFD when you order from the publisher’s site.

I’ll just come out and say this: sign-up forms must die. In the introduction to this book I described the process of stumbling upon or being recommended to a web service. You arrive eager to dive in and start engaging and what’s the first thing that greets you? A form.

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We can do better. In fact, I believe we can get people engaged with digital services in a way that tells them how such services work and why they should care enough to use them. I also believe we can do this without explicitly making them fill out a sign-up form as a first step.

But before we get into the potential of gradual engagement (your path out of sign-in “dullery”), let’s look at how the process of engaging with an online service typically works. Since 2007 was a breakout year for online video, it’s safe to assume a lot of people went on the web to post one of their videos. Perhaps they heard Google Video was a good place to do so. Upon arriving at the site, they found a link to share their video and what happened next? They got the form in Figure 13.1.

Google Video requires potential users to fill out a sign-up form before getting started.

Figure 13.1
A sign-up form greets new customers at Google Video.

You are required to give us your email address, select a password, tell us your name, your location, verify this strange word, agree to our terms of service, and finally, you will get what’s behind the form.

Now contrast this approach with that of another online video service: Jumpcut. The primary calls to action on the Jumpcut front page, as seen in Figure 13.2, are Make a Movie and Try a Demo. Right out the gate, Jumpcut is interested in telling you how their service works and why it’s great for you. So let’s dive in.

Selecting Make a Movie brings up a single input field for the title of your movie and a few options you can use to upload media files for your movie. Selecting Upload from this list allows you to add images, audio, and video from your desktop computer. Once you do, you are put in Jumpcut’s web-based video editor. Here you can edit your movie, add styles, coordinate your audio, video, images, and more.

Jumpcut encourages users to create a movie right in their browser.
Jumpcut Step 3: Pick a style for your movie.

Figure 13.2
The process of adding a video to Jumpcut introduces you to the services the site provides, namely online video editing.

So far, no form. It’s only when you want to publish or share your movie that Jumpcut asks for your name and email so you and others can access the movie you just made. Through this process, you learned what Jumpcut does, and you did it without having to jump through a sign-up form. That’s gradual engagement.

Let’s look at another example. Geni is a web service that allows anyone to set up a family tree and share it with family and friends. What’s the first thing potential customers need to do when they arrive at Geni? Fill out a registration form? Nope, they make a family tree. After all, that’s what’s Geni is for.

The front page of Geni (Figure 13.3) makes it clear what the site is for. So get started creating a family tree by entering your name and email address. Next, you can add your parents, their siblings, or your siblings, and in no time, you have a pretty good family tree going. While you were at it, Geni sent you an email with your user name and password so you can get back to your family tree anytime you want.

Geni startup screen: create your family tree.

Geni: Add your parents to your family tree.

Figure 13.3
Geni’s process of creating a family tree contains no explicit registration forms and gets people acquainted with Geni’s service right away.

Once again through the process of gradual engagement, you learned what a web service does, and you did it without an explicit registration form requiring you to fork over a lot of information. In Geni’s case, their approach to gradual engagement has given them five million profiles in five months. Not too shabby.

It’s worth noting that any web service that automatically sets up an account for its customers may leave some people confused about whether they actually have an account or not. After all, they did not explicitly create one. As a result, these services need to ensure they have an easy way for people to access their account information if they did not see or chose to ignore the email they were sent outlining their account information.

Another example of gradual engagement comes from TripIt: a web service that allows people to assemble a trip itinerary, complete with weather and driving directions, using only their flight, hotel, and rental car confirmation emails. The first step to getting started is emailing TripIt a confirmation email from upcoming or past travel. TripIt will send you back a note that provides access to an automatically created personal travel itinerary (see Figure 13.4).

TripIt: Home page tells quickly how the service works and encourages you to get started.
TripIt: Get started by emailing TripIt your travel plans.

Figure 13.4
Using TripIt starts by forwarding a travel confirmation email—not with a sign-up form.

Once again, your first step in using TripIt is not a sign-up form. Instead, you learn how the service works by actually using it. TripIt gets your name and email address from the confirmation emails you send the service. From there, if you want to edit your name, email, or create a password to access the site, you can do so. Chances are you will do so now that you know how the service works and how it benefits you.

When exploring if gradual engagement might be right for your web service, it’s important to consider how a series of interactions can explain how potential customers can use your service and why they should care. Gradual engagement isn’t well served by simply distributing each of your sign-up form input fields onto separate web pages.

While I applaud Fidelity’s myplan form (Figure 13.5) for its attempt at making financial planning more enjoyable, I’m not sure distributing each of their input fields to separate web pages and presenting them as slider inputs is the best way to achieve their goal of getting people to understand what Fidelity can do for them.

Fidelity: So, how old are you?
Fidelity: What's your investment style? (The user picks a point on a spectrum with growth on one end and security on the other.)
Figure 13.5: Fidelity’s myplan form divides a series of input into stand-alone slider interactions.

Best Practices#section2

  • When planning a customer’s initial experience for your web service, think about how you can avoid sign-up forms in favor of gradual engagement.
  • If you do opt for a gradual engagement solution, ensure that it gives potential customers an understanding of how they can use your service and why they should care.
  • If you choose to auto-generate accounts for potential customers, ensure there is a clear way for them to access their account. Chances are that people will either ignore or not see account creation emails, and may be uncertain if they have an account or not.
  • Avoid gradual engagement solutions that simply distribute the various input fields in a sign-up form across multiple pages. It’s a good possibility that this will reduce efficiency and not delight anyone.

79 Reader Comments

  1. I was surprised this article didn’t mention centralized authentication providers such as OpenID. While gradual engagement and OpenID can certainly coexist on the same system, since they address different issues, it seems strange to me that an article about abolishing signup forms omits a technology can do precisely that.

  2. When you register for subversion hosting at http://www.8svn.com there are no signup forms. You just choose a username and they send you straight to paypal. I have no idea how my account was created and setup when I didn’t even give them my email address but it worked beautifully. I can’t wait until other companies catch on!

  3. Geny is a good example since the user must fill in the form with his future access information: the email address. The password will be sent to their email address later and that way they can confirm that the user almost actually exists in the real world.

    Besides that field, they also knows their names and if they are a “he” or a “she”.

    A shopping cart is similar: the potential customer buy & buy & buy and after they decide if they pay, a form will be shown asking them to fill in their account and credit card information.

    What I mean is that in both cases the signup form is shown.

    I’ve been thinking on the same idea for a while and I always end up on the same thougts: the signup forms can’t die, but they can be shorter.

    Email > [Password or Auto-Password] > Submit > Done!

    After that step they can fill in all the information they want if they want.

  4. After reading this article I wanted to comment, I had to fill in a sign up form; I found it very ironic. Anyhow, the registration was quick and took under 30 seconds, so no fuss.

    I actually think that’s the best way; the main annoyance I find with registration is the requirement for email confirmation. a company should offer a few simple fields to register, then ask for small one/two field information to access other features.

    That myPlan website is really cool, it was much better than filling in the usual forum, and gave you information about it quickly and interactively. Loved it.

  5. After reading this article I wanted to comment, I had to fill in a sign up form; I found it very ironic.

    Registering before you can comment helps encourage a higher level of conversation and discourage (although not eliminate) spam. For these reasons, such registration has become best practice and industry standard on sites that allow readers to post comments. This is different from what Luke is writing about, which is how to remove roadblocks that discourage potential customers from trying a new web service.

  6. I feel rather mislead when I have been able to use a webservice when I have to create an account afterwards when I want to publish my video, or save my settings, or whatever.

    I like the way they do it at “Symbaloo”:http://www.symbaloo.com (you can use the full service (customizable desktops), everything is stored in a cookie, but if you want to be able to stay logged in forever (or use it on other computers) you have to create a free account.) though I think this feature could be communicated in a better way.

  7. I do understand the reasons for ALA to use that signup / registration form before being able to comment. As ALA other websites will also have their specific reasons to require a signup before you can use the functionality. But this article combined with the ALA signup made me think of the difference of theorie and practice…

  8. I notice that you are giving opinions from the user perspective only and thought I could give a company perspective on this.
    A web application I created a couple of years ago (www.ausrackid.com) went through this thought process. Ausrack ID allows IT pros to configure 19″ racking systems in a visual way, save print out the results, and get quotes from the company I work for. I chose having no sign up until the user decides they want to save, at which point you are asked for username and email address, if they want a quote for items they get asked for more details. This is quite a way through the process.
    I was advised to put in a signup process at the front end to allow us to collect information on the users which we could potential use for emailing info. I resisted this at the time, and still do today.
    However, for the first year, the site was getting significant traffic, and significant usage, but very few people were saving their design, or asking for a quote. As the site needs to fund itself, it was very difficult to justify it’s existence at this stage, and the whole project was almost pulled.
    I think the moral of the story is that your user details have a value, and giving those to a website you use may be the only way they can stay afloat. Think of youtube, they can justify their existence by the data provided by the number of users. That is why Google bought them. At the smaller scale my advice would be if they ask for it, and you want to use the service, give them your details, it might just help them survive in a competitive world.

  9. This method is all well and good for those who have the flexibility to develop such systems, but what can those of us with existing sites that require a sign-up do to become more user-friendly?

    My advice to those people is to first, strip all unnecessary required fields from their forms (do you _really_ need to know their location straight off the bat?). Second, have a good clear message about what your service does (tour pages are good, but I prefer the style of Blogger’s “simple, clear explanation”:http://blogger.com approach). Third, make the form so easy to fill out you’ll have signed up before you even realise it (see “Tumblr’s famous 10-second sign up”:http://www.tumblr.com/register ). Finally, use screenshots and informative graphics to show the user what they’re going to be getting. Transparency is the key, here.

  10. I think what needs to be done is a mix of a sign up form in the front and gradual engagement.

    I always feel kind of cheated when I go through a long process on a web service and then they point me to a username/password/e-mail form. I simply don’t like signing up for things, and there’s a very small chance that gradual engagement has changed my mind.

    I do think that providing people with a “demo” of what their web-service does is important, but users should be given the option of signing up up front. If I’m notified that I’ll need to sign up for something, I’m in a much better mood when the form comes up. However, if there is no hint that I might have to sign up for this service, I’m very angry when after ten minutes of browsing around I come across a sign-up form.

  11. Well, I also prefer not to have to fill out a huge form before I get to any benefit. But, this is not a matter of design at all.

    In many countries (including Germany, where I live), companies are required by law to acquire this information *before* they offer any service. Also, they open themselves up for all kinds of vitriol from “clever” lawyers who make money by sueing for terms and agreements and such.

    Stupid law, I know, but I guess companies are not free anymore to decide what information they need to get from their users / clients. It’s a matter of law.

    Usually, I would have expected an article of ALA to consider this. What’s up guys 😉

  12. Really want to learn more about the experience in “killing” existing signup forms, like those for Yahoo! Inc.? Is there any in the book?

    Btw, jottit.com is THE example of signup-only-when-necessary.

  13. bq. After reading this article I wanted to comment, I had to fill in a sign up forum; I found it very ironic.

    Ah – but you were able to read the article and comments first, without having to sign up – that’s a key step.

    There are some great examples of websites that don’t require you to register (but obviously, if you are a regular customer it saves a lot of time if you do), but there are also some really dumb ones that force you to register for no reason, and require vast quantities of irrelevant information when you do register.

    Hopefully as people vote with their feet, those sites that welcome visitors with a sign-up form will start to realise why they are getting fewer and fewer registrations.

  14. I completely agree with your view on signup forms.

    We have been working on a series of new Registrationless web services, that lets you get at what you need to do without having to create username and passwords.


    there is too much data being collected by websites today and for what reason? People haven’t yet realised the true horror of putting in their personal details.

    The web should be and needs to be easier.

  15. I do not agree with Jeffrey that obligatory registration for comments improves quality.
    Having enough will/patience for completing registration isn’t virtue of worthy discussion participants.
    People who have something intelligent to say may not have much time to say it (or rather may not find registration worth their time), and OTOH it’s not hard to find trolls that can spend all day trying to vandalize a forum.
    For spam there are anti-spam filters (like Akismet).

  16. These practices would save me the task of replacing all of my account info with the real thing after realizing that I really want a particular service.

  17. bq. I do understand the reasons for ALA to use that signup / registration form before being able to comment. As ALA other websites will also have their specific reasons to require a signup before you can use the functionality. But this article combined with the ALA signup made me think of the difference of theorie and practice”¦


    If I may, and not to belabor this, I consider it not the difference between theory and practice, but rather the difference between one design problem and another.

    The problem on a brand-new web service is to help people understand it and start using it. The problem on a large content site is to impede efforts by spammers and jokers that can make discussion unusable.

    Different design problems; different solutions.

  18. The real killer in these forms is being asked for details that are superfluous to the mere act of signing up. I really don’t care when I’m asked to sign up, as long as the signup process is a brief as it can possibly be. Tumblr’s is a case in point: email, password, go. If the site wants you to give more intrusive information – date of birth, dog’s name, grandma’s tampon size, whatever – then you should have the option of diving right in with a minimal registration and fleshing out the details later. If acquiescence to draconian terms and conditions is required, then setting a sensible time limit for reading them would seem to be reasonable, perhaps by giving the user a trial account that expires in x days if they don’t read and accept the terms.

    What I *really* hate – and what the author doesn’t seem to object to – is being allowed to go through all the steps to create a video/calendar/insert-killer-app-here and THEN being told it ain’t gonna happen unless I sign up. As far as I can tell, none of the quoted examples actually warn the user that that’s going to happen. The irritation may be mitigated somewhat by a simple signup process, but is nonetheless a cue for teeth-grinding. So yes, simple signup and get users engaged before they have to do the biz, but do warn them up front that they’ll need their email address/birth certificate handy.

  19. I disagree, at least in some measure, that this is a best practice. As a USER, I don’t particularly feel comfortable with investing a lot of time into a system without signing up first. It can feel like a sales pitch, and I’m always worried as to whether I’ll get suckered into a lame free account and told I need to upgrade to really do what I want…now I’ve invested all of this time into the service when I would have really liked to go elsewhere that could do it for free.

    Or, there’s always the hope that if I have an account, my information is being saved as I go from step to step. Can’t do that if you don’t have a unique identifier (username) that can go across sessions. In that case, if my Internet connection or browser bombs, I have to start all over again.

    To me, there’s a kind of satisfaction in signing up first (ahh, it really was that easy…look, I have an account now), and then — if that goes smoothly — investing time into the system.

    Maybe that’s just me. I definitely see some benefits for at least considering putting the sign-up form at the end.

  20. I actually went to Jumpcut to check it out. The very first thing it does is scream “Register” at the top half of the page. Clicking “Make a Movie” asks me to register by creating a Yahoo ID.

    Perhaps not the best example.

    I do generally agree with the overall point, however.

  21. Sorry, but this reminds me of the Wizard vs Single page business in client apps. I personally find it frustrating when any web-site takes me through pages of stuff just so I can sign up. When this happens, it is not clear to me what is happenning and I usually give up mid-way and go elsewhere. I already know that web-sites require that I sign up to use their services. So I try looking for a single sign-up link. If instead I am lead through a series of steps to try out their service, I feel like I am being pressured into something and frustrated too.

  22. All- thanks for the timely and sharp comments. Will try to address some of the points made.

    OpenID and single-sign on systems of many flavors are also great ways to avoid sign-up forms. They aren’t mentioned in this excerpt of the book but are discussed in the book itself. So I agree they can alleviate the multiple sign up forms problem.

    As Jeffrey has eloquently pointed out the primary use case for this best practice is allowing new customers to get in and try a web application or service. Usually the only option people have is sign up or not. I think that’s broken. It leaves you with one choice -you are in or out. Most times you haven’t even seen the application yet and can’t really make that choice.

    Other contexts might very well require a sign-up form which as others have pointed out benefits from being streamlined and well-designed. That’s what the rest of the book is about 🙂

    Lastly, as the last example (or counter-example to be precise) of myplan points out, I’m not advocating turning forms into wizards. I’m advocating experiences that get people engaged in products first, then turn them into record sets in a database second. This does not mean making each question in your form a separate page. It means allowing people engage with and use your product before so they can decide whether or not to sign up as a member/customer.

  23. I think it’s great to be able to view something before you sign into it. However, if I’m not informed that I have to sign up for anything first, which I’ve come across several times, I almost never create an account. My preference would be a simple sign-on in the begining, with an option to sign on as a visitor (which has restricted access). This allows me to browse around, and I’m instantly aware there is a sign-up process to follow, should I like the product.

  24. I totally agree as well, a site with a public web app/service should make it clear on the front page important things like if it’s free (and not just free for a trial period or something), what it’s all about, and clearly link to a try-it-out page, a sign-up now page, and a log-in page.

    What personally makes me angry at a site is when I spend 4-5 minutes typing in a lot (too much if you ask me) personal information just to try out their service, only to find out that it’s junk and/or not at all the thing I was looking for.

    If the site had a trial page, or something like Symbaloo where you just start out in it but with links to all the relevant information, I’d have been able to know that it wasn’t what I was looking for before I signed up and therefore I would just be moving onto the next site to try instead of grumbling about the waste of time and generally cursing the creators of that site. Even if it was a good app but just not what I was looking for at the time, the requirement to go sign up before I could find out it wasn’t what I wanted leaves an unpleasant view of the site in my memory.

    I’ve noticed some people here posting belong to a camp very opposite myself preferring to sign up before even testing something, and while I sort of understand your view about giving you confidence that your session will be saved and all, I just don’t get it enough. So I have to ask, when you’re trying to find a specific feature found in maybe 20% of the sites in the category your searching, we’ll say job search sites that let you search by wage and benefits in this example (and yes I’m sure 20% is way high for this, I’m not even aware of one site like this), how do you feel after going through several sign-ups just to find out each time that the site doesn’t have what you’re looking for? If they all had (or even if just a lot had) a single page that lets you test their job search engine would’ve saved you a lot of time and meant that you put out your personal information once (or only a few times) instead of many times, and I just can’t see how signing up all those times is preferable.

  25. Or would you? That depends on the culture, I suppose.

    Ancestry.com seems similar to Geni, as they both gradually engage you to enter more information about yourself and your family, and then finally your email address. Unfortunately, that’s when they lost me with all the bulk email. Great engagement, but they came on way too strong after that. Remove.

    Great article, and something I need to consider regularly for landing pages and Web applications.

  26. Isn’t it ironic that you write an article on sign-up forms, but the platform that you use to host your article requires one to register just to write a stupid comment!

  27. An earlier post indicated “make a movie” now wants a Yahoo ID (which I forgot I had), but the next step takes you to another form for creating a Jumpcut ID! The final insult is the site crashes both Camino and Firefox on my Mac (G4, OSX 10.4.11). I hope this isn’t indicative of where Yahoo’s other ‘services’ are going, because it feels like the Microsoft purchase has already been consummated.

  28. Ironic? No, not at all.

    I actually consider the design of this comment system to be an example of good design. Yeah, it has a signup form, but you were allowed to read the article and all previous comments without a login, no?

  29. When I go to Jumpcut – http://jumpcut.com/ – and click Make A Movie, I’m taken to a form on Yahoo. This seems to be the worst of both worlds. I’m taken to a sign up form on a totally different site. Only after reading all the fine print do I understand why I’m signing up for a Yahoo ID to use Jumpcut.

    Why is Jumpcut used as the “good” example in this article?

  30. Thanks for the article! I agree with it that we shouldn’t just put in a contact form where we could have some information about our site. Funny, though, when I went to sign up for this website, what was I greeted with? A form! 🙂

  31. Great article! I totally agree that sign up forms must go the way of the dodo!!!!

    The silly thing is that i had to fill out a form to make this comment 😉

  32. One post mentions Drop.io as a service you don’t have to sign up to. I had thought that one of the points of Drop.io was that it didn’t collect user information. The lack of sign up is therefore a function of what the site wants to do rather than an example of a slick UX (I have to say it is quite a slick UX too)!

  33. Great article, but I’m not sure the Jumpcut example stands ground anymore.. If I go on Jumpcut the first thing I see is a big “Register” button… kind of goes against the idea of the article.
    Even worse is that if you click on it you’re then taken to a completely differently branded page for a Yahoo login (with hardly any preceding mention of some connection to yahoo services)… I find that worst than the Google Videos example.. in a way..


  34. When I went to tripit. I looked at 3 different pages in Tripit before I realised I dont need to sign up. After being conditioned to signup for services, when something offers me a service without any “effort” it is difficult to do at first. Hopefully such offers become more common. But for now, it is “disconcerting” at first even though very useful.

  35. I would love to see this article go more into specifics of implementation strategies. In my daily work, I deal with various sign up forms constantly and would love to create some type of demo to convince the bosses that this approach is best for our apps.

    Personally however, I will either have to code my own site (after investing time that I don’t have), or wait until Joomla gets a clue.

  36. I fully agree, which is why I try to make signup forms short, sweet, and only requiring the info that is needed. Also, allowing access to an application before signup is a new trend that people seem to be implementing. Using session data to “save” work and letting the signup process “cleanup” later is a great idea. I’ve used this in my recently launched “StreamStory”:http://streamstory.com/ tool.

  37. I have to agree with this as it concerns new sites and services. The number of times I found myself exploring a site, only to learn it requires a sign-up to really get to the goods (example goods anyway), are countless. In other words I will not sign-up to register with a site unless I’m damn sure I want it. I will not sign-up, then determine if I’m interested – I must have the interest and understanding first. My loss? Perhaps. The site’s/service’s loss? Almost guaranteed.

  38. I think a stress upon the fact that creating user accounts and profiles are different things is missing from the article. This fact is a key to build a nice and quite simple sign up form. Not so long ago these were the same 🙂
    As of the paired example with Google vs. Jumpcut. Jumpcut is what is her name stands for: with a user account you can create and share videos, thats all. Google offers more, I think, thats why they ask more at the entry level.

  39. ok … soooo .. i want to make a comment (on another article) and what am i confronted with? A SIGNUP FORM.

  40. I really liked this article, especially because you describe something I hope to see more often when surfing myself.
    However, I still think that in many cases (mine) a short sign-up form’s simplicity outweighs the effort and forethought required for the type of gradual engagement you describe. Especially temporary sessions and accounts can be worth a lot of work, that could be vested in making the user eager to sign up and providing the smallest sign-up hurdle possible.

  41. Currently were going through this type of problem with a client and they think that their form is the answer to all their problems. They want the form to answer every question that they will have for a user even though they don’t know all the questions to ask.

    It’s a nightmare to say the least. It’s hard try to explain to a client what how and the form should work.

    Hopefully this article will give us a little ammo for the next meeting.

  42. It is indeed a nice article and clearly demonstrates the bugging issue of Signup forms. But it misses some issues –

    1.)A better approach to kill signup forms is OPENID. This article has not mentioned it at all.

    2.)Second thing is, when I tried to comment on this article, I was served a “Create an account ” form first and then comment later. I think Alistapart.com should itself try to implement
    what has been said in this article.

  43. Nilesh, I disagree with the practice of using OpenID for anything other than a blog – so I don’t think it is really relevant in this article. Centralizing our information and consolidating it may make things seem simple or easy, but really what is your identity on the internet? If we hold all this info in one place, it could be compromised more easily and used against use in a more horrific way. This scares me because it is like giving out an ID card – something a person shouldn’t need on the internet but I fear it will happen soon anyways.

    I agree with the idea of this article though. It is annoying to have to give up so much of your info just to see how something works. I would like to apply this in some of the projects I have in my future.

  44. This seems like a great idea, but collecting personal data without age verification (13+) is illegal in the US. Also, having played with geni a little bit, quite a few people have felt like they’ve been spammed, since there’s little indication that they’ve actually signed up for anything.

  45. As folks continue to bring up OpenID, I’ll re-iterate: single sign on solutions also have the potential to remove the need for sign-up forms. However, they have yet to become widely adopted by the majority of Web users (hopefully this changes over time), and they only resolve the issue of user identification. Single Sign-on solutions don’t let people experience applications and services before requiring them to authenticate.

    The point here is that the initial experience with a Web-based product can be used to engage new customers and illustrate what a service offers and how it works. User authentication doesn;t meet that goal.

    Similarly, keeping sign-up forms short (while a very worthwhile pursuit) doesn’t address this point either. The fundamental problem is we have a tendency to treat people as record in a database. That’s what the sign-up form is: an output of the fields in a recordset that uniquely identify a user. This is not how people think of themselves and their relationship to product or service. So while we can make sign-up forms shorter and we can try to spread single-on sign solutions, the bottom line is we are concerned first with the recordset, and second with the person coming to our site or service.

    I genuinely feel there is an opportunity to do better.

  46. @John Josef and others:

    With respect, I think you need to understand more about OpenID before you accuse it of “centralising” information. OpenID is a decentralised identity system, which is why I and many others use it. I did not, and never would, use a single sign on system for anything other than a closed network for precisely the reasons you state.

  47. that signing up for things stinks in the long run. Just now I signed up to post on this site, and I had to fill out another form. Some of the information you give is for demographics, and others are just plan stupid. I was going to sign up for an AOL account and they asked me to supply my phone # and address. I stopped right there because I know that if I finished who knows what kind of stuff I would get in the mail from AOL.

  48. I wanted to comment this, and after attempting I actually had to sign up. Hahahaha. I was going to say, I’ve seen sites lately where I don’t need to sign up, but it asks for just my name and a link. I would prefer all sites like that.

  49. Great excerpt, great discussion – I look forward to reading Luke’s book. My comment is, as Jeffrey Zeldman pointed out earlier, slightly off-topic as it relates to commenting/posting rather than testing out web services, but since the registration issue keeps coming up, I thought I’d toss this in to the discussion.

    I am currently doing some ad hoc research around the effects of registration on the volume and relative value of user-generated content. I agree with others here that the inclusion of a minor registration barrier should elevate and enrich the discussion – at least that’s always been my hunch – but I was recently referred to the following article that suggests that registration actually dilutes quality discourse:


    Has anyone else here witnessed the phenomenon described here, where the absence of a registration barrier actually generates more and higher quality responses from users? If this is true, then the only benefit of the registration barrier benefits the business (potentially less spam to comb through).

    The vast majority of premium content sites that allow commenting and voting ask for, at minimum, a registration via email address and a password before users can submit content. But does the fact that everyone’s doing so make it a best practice? We strive in all other ways to reduce the amount of administrative debris we present to users, but in this case we seem to agree that it’s worthwhile to derail them from the completion of their task.

  50. bq. _Registering before you can comment helps encourage a higher level of conversation and discourage (although not eliminate) spam. For these reasons, such registration has become best practice and industry standard on sites that allow readers to post comments._

    Although a common, I wouldn’t call it best practice. This doesn’t bring any value to the users who just want to post one comment, it can even discourage from posting. The way this site does it is to make users enter a username and password, but without requiring an email address for confirmation. This doesn’t stop spam, and doesn’t stop multiple registrations, so why not just let users comment directly, and only require to enter a “type this word” function (with an image showing scrambled letters) to prevent bot automatic posting?

  51. The Doodle website (www.doodle.ch) is even better – there is no registration or login.

    (BugMeNot doesn’t either! And I’m not Peter Brown)

  52. Hi,
    Excellent post. But how could you ever sign up to a new GMail account without providing any data? I think sign up forms will still exist even in 20 years…

  53. Reading some of the comments on here about “ooh… it was an article about signup forms and we had to signup to comment, how ironic / ALA get your house in order…” etc… strewth!

    Ok, as an occasional reader of ALA articles (usually from a google link – I long-since learned to trust ALA articles) I just decided that it was about time I signed up, so I can take part in the discussions. I was required to enter a username, password, and my name. Email and URL were optional but I gave them anyway. Bish-bash-bosh and I’m signed in. It’s not like they are asking for my biometrics! A few simple fields filled in and we are good to go.

    Furthermore, surely the ALA process is exactly what this article was about? You get to read some excellent articles on a wide range of subjects. You get to read the comments that people make. If you want to comment, you are informed that you will need to sign up. The sign up process is simple and doesn’t even require email address. By reading “you need to sign up to post comments” you know exactly what benefit you will get from signing up. From reading articles and comments, you know exactly what you are signing up for. Seems to me that ALA have got it bang on with this!

    The other thing, as I said I am an occasional reader of ALA. Now that I have taken the next step and signed up, this has introduced a new level of my relationship with ALA, which means I may be more of a regular than before – with increased benefits for myself and (hopefully!) ALA.

  54. I was just about to comment on this myself.

    The entire point of the article was to let the people that come to your site actually see what they get out of membership and then have an “information as needed” sign-up form. ALA is a perfect example of this.

    On the other hand, there are cases where there must be a sign up form for something to work right. Timo points out a good example with webmail, something that does actually need a sign up before you get to use it, but still there should be something like screenshots and maybe a video of some actual use with a dummy account that people can see before deciding to sign up for an account.

    The key is balance, letting users get as much of a taste of your service as you can before you actually need to have them sign up to avoid things like malicious use of your service. You also need to balance what you ask for, a webmail company does not need my name, age, address, social security number, height, weight, age, birthplace, first pets name, and a contract to give them my firstborn child, etc… It needs Name, ID, PW, and maybe an alternative form of contact (snail mail or phone number) in case you forget your PW and need to reset it. Let me do a job search without being a member of your site though, and if I like your search methods I’ll join, rather than force me to join before I even see a readable screenshot of your search page.

  55. I see this as useful methodology in my direct marketing work. I market to potential new medical plan customers for my Medicare clients. Standard method is to mail them an info kit and drive them to our micro-site to answer a short questionnaire, check a box to ask for an outbound quote call, etc. or ask for sign-up forms. Medicare is scary, and I see this as a way to make it warmer to the prospect (age 64+, in terms of Web familiarity and comfort). Seems like it could only lessen the rate of abandonment in those sign-up forms.

  56. I read this article and found what it had to say rang true in a number of cases. However, there are sites where the details of a member need to be checked before access is given. One way to check that is to get the information required in a sign-up form. the account is created but not validated until the site moderator can check the validity of the applicant.

    This is a different area to ‘web services’ this is really very specialist, data sensitive web communities. Ensuring the quality of members before they gain full access goes some way towards protecting existing members. It also improves the quality of experience once they have registered – opening doors to new content and new features. Whilst providing good content and useful experience for those who do not wish to register. I admit this is not perfect but for some sites it is essential.

    The one thing I found disturbing about this article was the blanket approach it advocates – all sign up forms must die. this is not true and not wise.

  57. The most annoying thing in a sign up form is mostly the capture. Sometimes the letters or numbers are so weird deformed that it is not possible to read them. And if you enter the wrong code and the form is reloaded sometimes all the entries you have done before are deleted. These captures really must die!

  58. I will admit I am completely of a mind with you on gradual engagement – and you will see this approach in our ecommerce experience at Seatwave… (wait for it) …but:

    – why don’t you publish numbers? I am constantly bewildered by aspiring thought leaders propensity to expatiate an opinion without providing numerical evidence of why it matters, for example:

    Did Google’s signup process have a higher conversion rate to singup or did the other website’s? Your opinion’s nice and fine, of course…

    I will state categorically that 100% of businesses that succeed pay attention to numbers – and 100% of those that don’t (well, ok 99%) completely fail.

  59. Jeffrey — I definitely take your point about desiring a higher order of discussion on ALA, but OpenID might actually encourage that at this point — since it would make it a lot easier for those of us with OpenIDs to get in and focus on the comment we’re thinking of making before having to register.

    I guess my point is that they’re not mutually exclusive. You can still offer registration as you already do, but for those with IDs stored elsewhere, you can make it easier for us to get up a running — and to prove that we’re from a certain URL/web address.

  60. Jeffrey — I definitely take your point about desiring a higher order of discussion on ALA, but OpenID might actually encourage that at this point — since it would make it a lot easier for those of us with OpenIDs to get in and focus on the comment we’re thinking of making before having to register.

    I guess my point is that they’re not mutually exclusive. You can still offer registration as you already do, but for those with IDs stored elsewhere, you can make it easier for us to get up a running — and to prove that we’re from a certain URL/web address.

  61. Good info with clear examples.
    Only a few visitors will ever register on a website.

    We are now discussing how to make our “Free Trial” as simple as possble. We need some basic info: email, url, username.
    But can we ask more? Like company name, real name, country.

    As mentionned, OpenID should be an option avoiding to register on our website. OpenID will get more traction as he organisation is getting into marketing thigs now.

  62. Agree 100% with most of the article, however, using Fidelity MyPlan as an example shows that the author did not take the time to understand what it actually does. In the case of MyPlan it’s not a sign up form, but a way to collect some basic info in order to proceed. Without that info MyPlan simply cannot be used and since you can’t have a talking computer ask users a few of these basic questions that was the most fun, visual way they could have done it.

  63. This is a very good article. I strongly agree with the author. This is a big help when I interact with business clients. Thanks for this wonderful tip! Keep it up!

  64. I came across this post after seeing it referenced on another site adactio.com (1) The most elegant sign up form I have seen so far doesn’t look like a form…rather a simple fill in the blanks. Very non threatening, concise and quick.

    Any doubts were disnmissed about the effectiveness of this form when I asked an 83 yr old Grandmother to sign up. Not a single question nor problem.

    It’s found at http://huffduffer.com/signup/

    G. Wayne Clayton -Social Marketing Expert

    (1) http://adactio.com/journal/1521/

  65. The website examples used in this article were for free online services. I don’t like sign up forms either and would like to get straight to the point….but does not having a sign up form apply to services that cost money? (say, a monthly price) Would this confuse and “trick” potential customers into thinking that there is no cost..until we asked for them to pay a couple hundred bucks after they’ve gone in, used our product, and is ready to share with the world?

  66. Hi everyone,

    I’d like to make a comment on one of the earlier statements.

    Rochelle is asking a very good question about how to deal with using fewer forms in the case of paid services.

    In my opinion, a big part of the internet business community is already moving towards making more and more free material available to their customers to generate trust and demonstrate both quality and concern toward them.

    So far, the only remaining “price” for users is the signup form, which, indeed, seems like the bare minimum in the case of a paid service oriented website.

    But ultimately, isn’t it conceivable to deliver the same free material without even asking prospects for an email?
    1- If the material is really good, prospects will come back for more and then it’s only fair to request that they give some information, which is necessary anyway since they require a paid service and become actual customers.
    2- wouldn’t such a system attract even more potential buyers?

    “Honest Reviews”:http://www.HonestFreeReviews.com

  67. This article is about what this comment function is not about?

    – Why do I have to sign up to comment an article?
    – Why can´t I start writing before i sign up, like the article says?
    – When I have signed up I have to find my way back to the article I wanted to comment?
    – But on the other hand, what I wanted to say is that I would be frustrated with thw video service who says “create your movie” and the wants me to register before I can use it (ie publish it). It didn´t say “create movie and sign up”. But now I have put in effort and time to make this movie and are left with the choice of throwing my work away or give them my details and more time…
    Bad idea.

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