Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Registration Dilemma

To register or not to register, that is the question:
Whether 'tis better to create a new online account,
or just make do with with the existing ones,
and so lead a slightly less ennobled life.

Online account registration is a barrier, something that we are all thinking about as this is the season for buying stuff. As I said previously, I have about 70 online accounts where I actively maintain a user identity, and I have created many many more. Thus every time I am presented with the choice of registering for a new site, I stop and think, do I really want to create another account? In the past couple of weeks I have decided to forgo on creating 3 new online accounts and just stick to my well traveled paths.

Registration is not always thought of as a bad thing. For example, Dave McLure, Master of 500 Hats, micro Venture Capitalists and relentless promoter of analytics to improve web based businesses, has Activation as the second of his 5 step program to web enterprise success. Now Activation does not necessarily imply Registration, however Registration is the most common and strongest form of Activation. Dave's perspective is that to succeed on the net, your product needs to be strong enough to overcome any barriers to Activation.

There have been many initiatives to vault over the registration hurdle. The most promising one is OpenId, an open system that allows you to use your account at one web site to log onto other web sites. A couple of years ago I thought that this was a good solution to the Single Sign-on problem and worth promoting. Now OpenId seems to be moribund and it is not widely used. I am not sure what happened, but I did hear rumors of a argument and a split which diminished the organization.

One of the problems with OpenId and any other system is that it tends to favor and strengthen the big players like Yahoo and Google. Another idea the people often trot out is some form of micro-payments system that would obviate the need for registration at many sites. There are a couple of problems. Firstly, any payment is its own barrier, and creating many little barriers instead of one is not a path that is likely to lead to success. For a broader discussion of this issue I recommend the book Free by Chris Anderson.

The second problem is that a successful micro-payment system will favors and strengthen the big players that operate it. It has to be a big player as no one is going to trust their payments to some small and unknown start-up. In practice, the only really successful micro-payment site is iTunes, and it shows up all these problems. In the beginning we all cheered as Steve Jobs took on the record companies. Now that iTunes is the leading purveyor of music, many people have taken to railing against the power of Apple.

The Registration Dilemma is this. We can either continue with the current system that has a chaos of millions of sites, each with their own registration that we need to manage, or we can give in to consolidation and just deal with a few giants. Every time I think about it, I end up siding with chaos.

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