Perhaps It's Time for Aggregated Registrations

There's been quite a bit of grumbling and online petitioning surrounding the notion of forced registration at content Web sites. A good number of publishing clients have recently asked us how they should tackle online registration and how much content they should give away before requiring a user to register. Consumer opinion on the subject is not to be disregarded - many privacy-conscious consumers are resorting to using pooled log-ins taken from sites like in order to avoid having to submit registration data for their favorite content sites.

I think publishers need to be more upfront when they require registration data from consumers. Most privacy policies do make mention of the reasons why they require ZIP codes, demographic information, and other data points from consumers, but that information tends to be buried within privacy statements and legalese. Perhaps a home page link ("Why This Site Requires Registration") could help consumers understand the need for publishers to underwrite their content through targeted advertising.



Reading some of the online petitions circulating this past week, I noticed that there seem to be two main reasons why consumers dislike registration:

  1. They dislike interruption - News sites, blogs, and other content aggregators tend to engage in a good deal of deep linking, more so than ever before. While many such sites discourage deep linking to sites that require registration, it still does get done quite a bit, and it's frustrating for consumers to have to register for a site they may use only once to check out a linked story. My own surfing behavior often involves hitting my browser's back button when confronted with a mandatory registration for a site I'd probably never use again.
  2. They're increasingly privacy-conscious - Mixed in with the privacy-crazed who believe all content should be free forever and that targeted advertising is the spawn of Satan, you'll find quite a number of concerned consumers who simply do not understand why many sites require registration. They may or may not be aware that ad targeting has something to do with it. After reading several comments on anti-registration petitions late last week, I came to the conclusion that there may be a good number of consumers out there who simply don't get it. And that's a bad thing.

At a minimum, I think it's certainly time to address the concerns of the folks described in No. 2 by being a bit more upfront with why publishers need certain data points from their regular users. To address the people who fall into the first category, perhaps it's time to examine the notion of aggregated registration, in which one company or entity could handle the one-time registration for a number of content Web sites. This seems to be an easy play for many newspaper networks or an opportunity for a specialized company.

Doing nothing, however, will lead more consumers to be suspicious of publisher motives. Those who are already suspicious are either registering with false information or using pooled log-ins from BugMeNot and similar sites. If sites like BugMeNot can emerge without help from publishing companies, there must be enough concern out there to merit something like an aggregated registration process, such that a single consumer can register for several sites in one shot.

The hard-core privacy activists will always rail against registration, but I think the average consumer can come to understand why registration is important to publishers. Smart companies are using solutions like those offered from eMeta for access control, and such solutions can be tailored to take advantage of deep links that propagate throughout the Web, while simultaneously ensuring more consumers do eventually register.

Through a combination of transparency, technology, and compromise, I think we can tweak registration such that it will continue to work for publishers for quite some time.

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