July 20, 2004

REGISTRATION: Should You Lose the Log-in?

One big question for educators who post free content on their site is whether or not to require users to register and log in to the site in order to access the content.

You can make a very good case for requiring login in exchange for access to free content....For example, for newspapers and other reputable for-profit enterprises, information gathered this way is generally used to target advertising or services to users or to compile marketing data. For nonprofit and educational organizations, it's often used for evaluation and reporting purposes.

But while an exchange of personal data for free content seems like a fair deal to some users, to others it's an invasion of privacy and an invitation for increased email spam.

The latter position often leads users to submit phony information and email addresses - or increasingly, as reported in this Wired News article, to turn to services such as bugmenot.com, which provides username and passwords for popular sites that require registration, or to use email addresses from sites like Mailinator or spamgourmet, which allow users to create single-use email accounts.

I don't give out my own email address or personal information unless I trust the site not to spam me and have a pretty good reason to believe I'll become a regular site user... instead I register using a few free email accounts I use only for this purpose and a fake name and address (which, like most of the addresses on Law & Order, would land you somewhere in the middle of the East River). While the ethics of giving out incorrect personal information might be questionable, based on the volume of spam in my free mail accounts, this has been a wise decision.

Required registration is an annoyance that m