2007/07/14

Login experiences for the standard end user

So I was making my way through my long self made RSS feed of webpages to read through and several of the pages were ones that require me to create an account on the site. Now in true Web 2.0 experience some of them allow you to browse around the site, even start adding personalized content without creating an account first. This in and of itself is a very cool trick I wish more content driven websites would embrace. But this isn't the point that I'm trying to make. The point is when it actually came time to create that account. Many people pick out a username for an online account and then stick with it at every other website they create an account at. This would be all well and good except there's no standards on what are valid characters in usernames and even passwords. I can't use symbols in my username or my password? Or numbers? Okay then, I'll just stick with something like 'password' to log into my account since you're asking to have my information stolen easily. Seriously, it's not that hard to accommodate those characters. And especially in the password since the site should be using some sort of cryptography anyways so that anybody going into the database can't see the password in plain text or be able to reverse the password.

For the username I can't see a purpose for explicitly denying symbols and in some cases numbers either. Unless the site is making use of symbols behind the scenes to state that a username has special attributes to it, there's no reason to deny the symbols. And if the site is doing this, they really need to reevaluate what they're trying to achieve because this kind of programming trickery just leads to headaches down the road.

So one solution that I've come across that works much better than remembering odd combinations of nonstandard usernames is to use a common email address as the username. Since I've come to focus all my email through one solution (namely Gmail), it's easier to remember what email address to use. Plus with a number of sites that send out the occasional reminders or notifications to the email address I can go to the site and be able to remember right away what the username and (generally) password are for it. What gets annoying is when sites explicitly make use of the email as the username, but don't label the text box as such. One of those tips that most developers keep overlooking: if it is hard to use, it will hardly be used.
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