Usability nightmare (please register to visit our site)

“You need to register before downloading this file”
“You need to register to read this article”
“You need to register before can search this forum”
“Please register to continue”

What's next? Register before viewing our website?

Even with the promise of not selling your email address to third party companies, the registration requirement in many websites create inconveniences for visitors. First, not everyone has the time or patience to go through the terms & conditions, or privacy policies of all the visited sites. Even when they do, there are so many holes and clauses (lawyer talk) that the enforcement is usually questionable. In addition, since so many sites are asking for registration, all this registration time do add up.

If you have never had this experience before, please read on. The frustration started out like this. Let’s say you are trying to read an online article that asked for “a short, free and easy registration.” Since you really wanted to read the article, you start filling out the desired username. Then you pick a password. Then you confirm that password in the next line. When you click on register, you are told that the username you have selected has been taken. So, you pick another one. But, this time, you are alerted that your password is too short and should contain at least three numbers. So, you think for about 10 seconds and proceeded by adding numbers to the password you wanted just to meet the requirement. After this short exercise, you click on “Register” button again. This time, the site is telling you that the CAPTCHA (see the note) does not match. So, you try to read the “supposedly” human readable image of characters and you are unable to tell if it is a Zero or an O or a Q. The only way to get a new CAPTCHA is to refresh the page. When you do that, well, on a few of these sites, you have to retype the username and password again. After going through this small ordeal, you are thinking that now you can finally read it. Not! You still need to complete a few more steps. Why are sites making it so difficult for you to get what you want?

What is CAPTCHA?

Captcha or GotchaCAPTCHA is a contrived acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Lately, it has been widely used on many websites to prevent automated scripts (bots or robots), from doing undesirable actions such as signing up for numerous accounts or filling comment forms with ads. Ever seen one?

Is it really over?

By pure luck, even if you get it right, the ordeal is often not yet over. You may still need to wait for that confirmation email with a link that you will need to click to activate. Though it only take a minute, if the server is very busy, it can take up to 5 of 10 minutes, which is an eternity in the online world. So, there you have it. A simple need turned a complex treasure hunt.

I am NOT going to pay you to help you.

Recently, I have an experience I could not forget. This happened at a Drupal community website selling premium themes for CMSes such as Drupal and Joomla. Wanting to try out a free one they offer, I downloaded this free template. Unfortunately, the installation was not working. Then, I found the main cause and discovered a solution. And on their public forum, I found several people wrestling with the very same problem. I thought, "I will let them know." So, I tried to register and login to their public forum. Guess what? You need to pay a subscription fee to register, just to post in that forum. Undeterred to help, I went to their contact page. And there it was, another roadblock. A CAPTCHA challenge that is so difficult, even with my designer eyesight, I had to try 20 times to get it right. Now, talking about making it difficult to help.

What can be done? Not much, unfortunately.

For all the people frustrated with being hounded for registration, a website does exist for users tired of registering at so many sites. It’s at www.bugmenot.com. (I'm in no way advocating this site or condoning this). When you get there, you need to put in the address of the website you need free registrations for and then hit the “Get Logins” button. It’ll spit out a bunch of login/password set that people already registered for if available. If the logins/passwords are available, the ones on the top have a better chance of working. Then, all you need to do is use that username/password at the website. Beware that it does not work with all the sites however.

For sites with unusable CAPTCHAs, it is up to the site designer to make it usable. Perhaps, visit usability expert, Jakob Nielsen's website and read a bit.

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About the author

Larry Oo is a MCSE, CCNA, A+, Network+, Security+, Linux+, iNet+ and CISSP certified information systems consultant with over 14 years of IT experience. He believes in creating secure yet usable websites. If you have a comment or suggestion, please contact Larry at larry |@| kcconsultants.com