Don’t Be Monogamous; Date Your Users

By Cody Romano /

dinner date

Imagine that you’re on a first date with someone who is interesting and attractive. Walking back to your car after a successful dinner, you intend to reconnect with the person in the near future. That’s when he or she turns to you and says, “Before we move forward with this relationship, I’d like to collect your full name, address and phone number so I can contact you twice a week.”

Most people would find this behavior unattractive in a romantic context, yet we’ve come to expect it in our relationships with websites. Many online services ask us to sign up immediately after — or before — they’ve made a substantial first impression. Would you like to stream music? Or buy a Christmas gift? Well, just a moment; let’s get to know each other first. Some sites offer an instant trial, which is better, but they still hit users with a brick wall-like registration form once the trial is finished.

We, web developers, should throw away the concept of a sign up process. Let’s take a cue from the dating process, in which people gradually build relationships by learning about each other over time. Amazon.com embraces this practice. You can begin shopping and adding items to your cart before offering any information. By filling the cart, you effectively commit yourself to Amazon before it even asks for you name.

Modern web browsers provide us with some exciting tools for collecting tidbits of data about users. My favorite is the JavaScript Local Storage API, which lets us store up to a few megabytes of information on users’ devices. Using LocalStorage, the developers of a music streaking website can, for example, keep a record of an anonymous user’s song searches on the user’s device. When he eventually completes his profile, the site can provide him with a list of relevant bands.

The problem lies not in what information sites are asking for, but how they’re asking. While some sites need email addresses and passwords to identify us and secure our accounts, developers should rethink the traditional brick-wall sign up page. Let’s get to know our users through a series of interactions. No one likes being interrogated on a first date.