The trend toward mandatory user registration on news Web sites is growing. That hit close to home a few weeks ago when the Globe and Mail announced that free access to parts of its site would soon be denied to anyone who hasn't registered.
To get access to breaking news, daily stories and the seven-day archive, Globe visitors will need to provide their name, e-mail address and some basic demographic information. According to its FAQ, the Globe wants a better understanding of its audience so it can tailor content to their needs and interests.
An additional benefit is that the paper can charge higher rates for advertising directed toward targeted demographic and geographic audience segments.
The Globe also announced the launch of Insider Edition, a second tier of value-added content and services for users willing to pay $14.95 a month (less for print edition subscribers) for access to the complete Web site, plus the day's editorials, columns and crosswords, e-mail alerts, breaking news from the Wall Street Journal and a 30-day archive.
Will users be willing to pay out? That depends on the individual and his or her information requirements. For many, access is worth trading personal data, and a select few will become full paid subscribers. The majority will just become registered users. And a bitter minority will threaten to cancel their print subscriptions in impotent disgust and swear that their personal information will never be contained in any database owned or controlled by the Globe and Mail.
That minority, like so many other minorities who were formerly ardent fans of the world's content Web sites, have been turning to BugMeNot.com for a password allowing them to bypass compulsory registration. This moderated Web site lets consumers anonymously share active user names and passwords for almost 30,000 Web sites, though not for paid content areas, due to the easily calculable damage costs in potential litigation.
Each listed site is considered "liberated" when login information first appears in the database.
Getting around mandatory registration saves consumers time, forgives them for not remembering passwords or bogus registration information, is easily portable from machine to machine, grants them a tiny bit more privacy and anonymity (having their name on one less e-mail list) and allows them to feel clever, like they're performing a low-level hack and not getting caught.
But as more and more users log on, many publishers are periodically visiting BugMeNot.com to see what logins are listed and remove them from their own systems. It will likely eventually become a null game, where logins are made public and disabled in quick succession.
Many Web site publishers view the usage of BugMeNot.com as the digital equivalent of copying someone's keys and trespassing.
Interestingly, their perspective on this contrasts slightly with their toleration of the bogus user information used by many when registering for Web sites. People enter fictional information (the name of their favourite athlete and Bill Gates's e-mail address) into various databases. When e-mail confirmations are required, Mailinator. net anti-spam throwaway e-mail addresses usually do the trick.
Content sites have had to make a tough choice: should their sites be optimized for the best user experience or for capturing an optimum quantity of quality user information for current use and future profiling?
The goal is certainly to have it all logically interconnect to the benefit of all three interested parties, but for now the Globe has made its choice, following the path taken by CanWest Global's National Post and the Canada.com network last year.