How NOT to implement a community
Just right now I had to download a kind-of-printable picture of the new Ducati Monster 696 for a Christmas-card we’re doing for our main client Mazda Lietz (no, except for the split page I didn’t have anything to do with the websites). However, since there’s no good material out there yet I decided to try on their website. Whilest there’s no printable material available, there are at least some wallpapers which do the job for the ~2-in by 2-in thumbnail we’re going to print. So I try to download one of those.
Nope, registered users only. Let’s just stop here for a moment. Imagine you’re a bike manufacturer. You bring out a brand new model and do all kinds of marketing, an own mini-site and all that stuff. You really go out heavy. And then you don’t allow people to even download a photo in reasonable quality. Great idea, eh? That for the basic weirdness of that, but now for the more DocBlog-related thing.
We need that pic, so I decided to sign up. I’m used to signing up, why the hell not? It’s just my office mail anyways, so I don’t really care about more newsletters as our spamfilter will take care of that nicely. But the ducati sign-up-process feels more like a murder-trial. There’s 4 pages of forms and they ask you all kind of stuff. They want your address, your full name, information about your currently owned bike, your previously owned bike(s), bla bla bla – basically it seems as they’d prefer you sending in your autobiography.
If you’re through the whole mess, just to top it off, they show you another form, containing the data you already submitted, labelled “billing & shipping address”. All I want is one damn wallpaper and those guys have the guts to ask my biker’s life-story and set up a shopping account for me.
Let’s get more technical here, to keep the documentation-thing going, looking at a few basic principles of (online) communication and comparing them to what Ducati’s doing there.
First rule when trying to publish content: Make it accessible
If you don’t want to publish, don’t put it on the internet. Easy enough. If you want to, make it easy to retrieve. If you really need to get something in return, at least make it as painless as possible.
Golden rule for signup-processes: Keep it short & simple
We’re all used to signing up by now. Everyone signs up for something every other day. Why did we get used to it? Because it got easier. I can get a fully-working Blog on wordpress.com by filling in three form fields. I can get an Amazon-account all of a sudden. I can sign up for ebay in a few simple steps. There’s a limit of the relation between what I’m willing to give and what I get in return. I do enter my credentials at amazon, because I want to buy things. I do enter my shipping-address because I expect to get deliveries. I’d not enter my address on wordpress.com, because there’s just no reason for them to know it.
Another golden rule for signup-processes: Guide the user
We probably don’t recognize it anymore, but most signup-forms are more outlined as guidelines. You see the form and instantly know what you gotta do: There’s the username, there’s the password. Stars indicate a required field and somewhere down there is the submit button. Been there, done that. To make the whole guiding easier forms usually are designed nicely (sounds obvious, but obviously isn’t) and short. If there are more than 3-4 fields at a time one easily already get’s that “uh-oh, that’s gonna take ages” feeling. Not the best start of a user-interaction to make him feel like we’re making him waste precious time, is it?
A rule of signup-etiquette: Don’t annoy the sh*t out of your users
Look at what you want to know, sum it up, make it compact and pack it into one form. If you gotta split it on multiple pages you probably want to add a “page 1 of x” (and try to keep x low, by the way), just to be polite. It’s about creating a predictable dialogue with your visitor and potential-soon-to-be customer. People prefer predictable things, especially if it comes to crucial things like private information.
I guess that’s the most important stuff already. Now for a short glance at the Ducati-way of new user interaction.
Making it Ducati-accessible: Find the content you want. Click download. Find out that you’re not permitted to do so. Click the signup-button. Wait for the page to load (due the server seems not to take this as an important request – at least all the other pages did not take 20+ seconds to load). Form-torture (more details soon). Wait for your activation mail.
More Ducati-like preview: Work yourself through form 1. Form 1 being the form asking for your home address, your birthday, gender and for your approval of the Information pursuant to Article 10 of Act 675/96 under Italian Law. It requires you to scroll down a whole page (on my 22-in widescreen, that is) and read 9px/9px black-on-grey type (black on dark grey with scrollbar for the law-stuff, that is). All fields are required. After choosing your country the page reloads for the State/County/Province, taking another 20+ seconds. Note that by clicking submit you agree to the terms and conditions. Those are linked to. Have fun reading. Find out your username is already taken. Find out your username can be a maximum of 8 characters in length. Page 2. Tell us everything about your motorbike. Please note: If you check you ever owned, or own, a bike this information is mandatory.
Enough details, if you want to experience the whole thing and have a nice example for bad implementation enjoy the party at the Ducati.com Registration Form.
Oh, and by the way I’m still waiting for that confirmation mail. I guess I’ll have to use an ugly low-res version, then.