How registration is going, leading to thoughts on the value of registration

So far, 18 people have registered to comment on howardowens.com.  For a fairly low traffic blog, I think that’s pretty good.

What’s interesting is how many people have registered — the majority — without then leaving a comment.  They just registered.

That’s a phenomena we’ve observed at GateHouse, too, where we recently launched a registration system for comments.  People just register.

I’m not sure why:  Is it a matter of trust with the brand; they want to affiliate themselves with that brand? Or just anticipation of commenting later?

I will say most — but not all — of the people who have registered on howardowens.com have commented previously.

Only two people registered without their real names, but in both cases they use handles I know and recognize (one person is somebody whom I know his offline identity).

Observationally, I would say my comment traffic is about what it was before registration — some, but not much.

There’s still some people who think all of this registration tied to participation is somehow anti-net, or that it kills participation, that people will never accept it.  It’s a fool’s delusion to fight against the web’s built-in bias toward anonymity and unfettered communication.

Balderdash, I say.

At GateHouse Media, the level of participation and registration is quite healthy, and the feedback generally positive.  The vast majority of people want a safe, civil environment to hold conversations about topics of interest. They trust their local newspapers and don’t mind giving up a little personal information in order to achieve that worthy goal — if registration will cut down on the flamers, race haters, insult idiots, etc. — then they see registration as not just a necessary evil, but an absolute positive step.

The information ethic of the web is trending toward a bias in favor of real identity, or at least reliable persona (we may not know your real name, but we know who you are — you present a consistent persona online that we can trust).  In order to be credible, you need to be a trusted user.  Trust can be built over time in an open system, or a certain level of instant trust can be gained through a site owner’s registration system.

Some of what inspired these thoughts this morning was a post from Nick Carr about Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia moving away from the language of the bazaar to the language of the club (Carr’s characterization).

Wales described Wikipedia: “the online encyclopedia in which any reasonable person can join us in writing and editing entries on any encyclopedic topic.”

Which makes his conception of Wikipedia today far more insular than it was ten years ago, when anybody could do anything.

I’m fine with that. Rules and expectations are good. Apparently, Carr, who advises Encyclopedia Britannica, thinks Wales is selling out.

In part, I go back to Kevin Kelly’s post on how economic value is derived from something that can be endlessly copied — such as digital content.  When content wants to be free, content only gains value through non-tangible values that cannot be copied.  One of those values is trust.

Registration in exchange for participation helps establish trust.

Trust is not one of the values mentioned in Kelly’s post, but it is a value that obviously can’t be copied, so it fits within his thesis.  Registration, however, does mesh with another one of his values — authenticity.  Users want to know that there is a real person who stands behind the content — be it a news reporter or a person leaving a comment on that reporter’s story — whom they believe to be real with a reputation to protect.

Of course, any registration system can be gamed, but gaming — false registrations for the purpose of deceit or incitement — can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by an engaged community manager.  It isn’t difficult.

In an era when news is increasingly treated as a commodity by the market place, it’s essential for news site owners to recognize the true value of what it is they can deliver to an audience.  Among those values are trust, authenticity and a safe environment for participation and conversation. Registration can help us achieve those goals.

As I suggested previously, it isn’t a magic bullet, but it is a step toward better online communities.

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  • http://wendylbolm.wordpress.com wendylbolm

    I know that when I register to comment but don’t comment immediately I have usually encountered a problem. The most common are getting an error that doesn’t allow me to comment and giving up, having problems finishing the registration for commenting, and getting blocked by spam filter programs that won’t let me comment. The only time I register to comment on a site is when I actually have something to say. But, that’s just me.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Me, too, but then I’ve learned a lot of people aren’t like me. Fortunately.

  • http://www.heraldnet.com elainehelm

    Any thoughts on how to convert the people who register into people who participate?

  • http://www.lectroid.net Marc

    I must admit that my views regarding anonymous or semi-anonymous commenting have changed. I used to believe as Howard mentions that forcing a persona was “anti-net.”

    Then I got a new job and took a good, long look at the comments on the new paper’s website. Utter crap. Reactionary, flame-baiting hatred. No conversational value at all, no community, no nothing.

    Now I firmly believe that we are partially at fault for “fire and forgetting” our comments, but I can’t help but think that a modicum of decency would have been brought on by requiring better identification.

    I wonder though, if the “registration is anti-net” sentiment doesn’t come from long-time netizens whose own online communities have had 12-15 years to evolve into something more cordial while newspapers have yet to go through that growth. Just a thought.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    @elainhelm: You get people to participate by posting content that they want to respond to … there are varying techniques for that.

    @Marc: Much of what I’ve learned about community comes from running online communities that just naturally gravitated toward people using their real identities … and primarily because the communities revolved around e-mail and grew up at at time when most people had one e-mail account, so it was established under their real name. That transparency made the communities much easier to manage.

  • http://www.randompiercings.com/blog piercepresley

    I’ll register when I’m ready to make a comment, and not a moment before! Wait a minute …

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Users are unpredictable.

    Personally, I don’t register unless I want to comment.

    And on blogs, I’ve bypassed leaving comments many times because I didn’t feel like registering.

    But fortunately, not all users are me.