6 ideas on how to improve your user driven site

All ideas presented here are revolving around logging in and registering on user driven sites. The ideas are combinations of getting the user more motivated, and lowering the technical thresholds. When the motivation is higher than the perceived thresholds ahead, you ask the user to log in (or register).

Old school register and log in.

Why is this needed, you may ask?
Users are simple people, and software is (still) not. It’s not like they don’t understand stuff, but maybe the thresholds on your site are to high for them to bother?

And why am I in any position to tell you anything about this, you may also ask?
I’ve been working as a administrator and moderator for 4 different forums over the last 3 years, done a simple user test on getting users to create blog and forum content, and analyzing logs and statistics for those forums. And I’ve done all the work from installation, modification, further development, administration, moderation and maintenance on one of the forums my self. But a lot of it is just experience from other sites and software, and some is common sense. And I have the attitude that user is always right. Just focus on their challenges and not so much on their solutions to these challenges.

But what about Facebook, you squeeze in as the last question
For sites like Facebook and Twitter, I guess the motivation is so high that they don’t need these advices. Facebook also motivate new users by making existing users invite them. So, a little social engineering can always help.

Input and comments are more than welcome.

1. Ask for it as a part of the main task

Figure out what the main user task on your site is. Differentiate between what the user want to do, and what you need to know about the user for the user to achieve his/her main task.

A good way to figure out this is asking the rhetorical question: “What does the users want to solve when entering the site?”

Examples on user task can be:

  • Tell something through a forum post, ask a question
  • Helping others, answering a forum post
  • Posting a picture or video for other people to see
  • Creating a blog
  • Posting a blog post
  • Comment on a blog post, photo, video or article.

Don’t ever think of the register- and log in process as a task the users want to do. They do this because you think they need to.

Log in and register as a part of the main task

2. Push the log in/registering process back

Let the user create content, and wait as long as possible to ask him/her to register and/or log in.

If you think shop analogy, you never ask potential customers for money when they try to enter your store. You just assume they have it, and ask for it when they approach the register.

3. Ask only for the info you need

Don’t ask for all the info you want, but focus strictly on what you need. Email-address, nickname and password should be sufficient. In fact, the email-address is the only thing you really need.

You can ask for profile info later.

You may also want to add a simple captcha if you implement idea #4. It depends on how many spammers you will attract. I’ve used a Q/A-captcha for one of my forums.

4. Log the user in automatically when registered

To not have the user wait for the confirmation email to be sent and received, you may want to automatically log in a user that have just registered. (Also, switch of context is one more chance to loose the user.) You could then let the user create content, but wait to make it publicly available until they have confirmed the email-address.

You then make the user go through the same amount of steps, but their motivation is higher when the user tasks are finished, and only yours are left.

If you find out that the email-address provided by the user is not valid before the user has left the site, do tell, so the user can correct the problem.

5. Don’t assume the user know their content is in good hands

So, you’ve let the user create content without being logged in. Good! Now they’re hopefully motivated to log in, and register if necessary. Tell them that content will be in good hands while they do, and show it.

One way of telling it
Button: Register (sub-text:”We will remember the content you’ve created”)
Button: Log in (sub-text:”We will remember the content you’ve created”)

One way of showing it
Let the process of registering and logging in be a in-page dialog box with a translucent background surrounding it. Then the user can see that the content is still there.

A mock up webapp to show the workflow in action

6. Send email from an account that real people read

Not so much about the process, but a valuable tip still. If you send out the confirmation-email from an account the users can answer to, you suddenly have a lot better chance of helping them if problems occur. Sure, they can find the email-address for support on your site, but will they? This has helped me to both identify problems and bugs early and helping the users affected.

So: No noreply@site.com.

Why aren’t register and log in like this yet?

I can think of some reasons:

  • It’s not the main task on the site, and developers don’t focus on the functionality.
  • It’s complex. It takes money, time and smart people to do this right.
  • You make your self an easier target for spam, and need to target that as well.
  • With Facebook Connect, a lot of sites seemed to be content. It makes things simpler, but doesn’t solve the problem fully.


  • If you push these advices too far, I would assume some users would feel tricked into an unwanted log in/register process.
  • You have to store a lot of content for unconfirmed users. Those users can be real, or they can be spam-bots.
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BrowserID from Mozilla seems promising. Would make the authenticating process simpler. It needs critical mass, but may have a better chance for that than OpenID?

Here’s some more info from Mozilla.