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On the Net, curiosity has a price: registration

©New York Times, published January 24, 2000


No matter where you go on the Internet these days, it seems you won't get very far without registering, signing in or becoming a "member," which require you to provide your name, your e-mail address and other personal information.

Many computer users shy away from registering at such sites out of concerns about privacy and spamming. But others don't bother because registering is a time-consuming pain in the neck.

"I wish people wouldn't require log-ins for sites that don't really need it," said Rhonda Hyslop of Washington, who spends about an hour online each day.

"There are two or three sites I've actually signed up for, but unless they provide me with really good information, I'm not going to bother," she said.

Access to the further reaches of a site typically requires you to register by picking a user name and a password, then entering line after line of personal information, which can take several minutes.

The quest for an unreserved user name is one example of how an Internet site throws a wrench into what should be a quick and easy task.

In some cases, if a desired user name is taken, the site will send the surfer back to a blank page to enter not just a new user name but every other piece of information relinquished on the first go-round.

"A lot of the time that the Internet was supposed to save you by not having to run to the newsstand or to the library is being lost by what you have to do to get into it," said Joseph Riser, a marketing consultant in Los Angeles.

"You end up registering for these sites that you might not ever use again," he said, "but getting beyond the first page is often not worth the effort."

Greg Peters, president of Vignette, an Internet consulting firm in Austin, Texas, said: "It often seems like Internet companies are more interested in the data than in the person who's actually coming to the site. You have to gain someone's trust before you throw a form in their face. It's like trying to kiss on the first date."

Approximately one in five people will register at a site to get beyond the first few pages of information, according to a recent survey of 10,000 Internet users conducted by Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass. The firm recently published a study predicting that electronic businesses would spend between $1.5-million and $2.1-million in 2000 to redesign sites, in part to address usability issues.

"Everyone is focusing on being first to market right now," said Nora King, vice president for interactive services at Xcelerate, an electronic commerce consulting company in Fort Lauderdale, "but if companies can't master customer profiling in a way that maintains credibility and integrity, they won't stay in business."

Until then, one of the most effective solutions to registration overload is Enonymous.com's Enonymous Advisor, software that stores personal information on a person's computer and automatically plugs it into the appropriate registration boxes at the user's request.

The Windows-only program, which is free at http://www.enonymous.com, is distinct from similar software in that it rates the privacy policies of thousands of Web sites and reveals the ratings to the surfer in pop-up windows whenever a new site is visited. The person can then decide, based on the rating, whether to register.

Blue Mountain Arts, the electronic card company, is one of the few popular sites that does not require registration. That is because the information that is handed over online is not always valid, said Karen Davidson, vice president of marketing and sales.

"Whether it's out of privacy concerns or not, we find that a lot of people give out information that's only partially correct anyway, so for now, we don't require it," Davidson said, although Blue Mountain Arts may change its policy after Excite@Home completes its acquisition of the company.

"If it's used in a good way, and not just turned over to an advertiser, we don't have a problem with that," she said.

But for patient users, the benefits of taking the time to register make the process worthwhile. "I've never considered registering any deterrent," said Roger Asbury of Fairbanks, Alaska, who is registered at several news and community sites. "It gives me some semblance of confidence that someone can't post a message using my name. Some of the places I visit don't have a lot of members, so they really know me by the name I use, which lends to the sense of community there."

News and community groups that users can customize are other perks that make registration worth the effort, Asbury said.

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