Why should I register just to fix your site?

This is something of an open letter to companies like Yahoo!, Facebook, Meebo, MSN, anybody that requires a new registration before people can play with their products.

Why won’t you give us techies a public, testing-only login that doesn’t require we tell you our life stories?

At each of the three companies I’ve worked for as a software engineer, I’ve worked on browser bugs relating to third-party websites. The QA team finds a bug on a website that I don’t normally visit. I go to the site, and discover I need to create a whole new account on their site. That means going through the terms of service, the privacy policy, yadda-yadda-yadda, and giving up a bunch of information that I would really rather not spend the time giving just to reproduce one stinking little bug. Either that, or outright lie (which believe it or not, I hate even more, and I won’t do for this).

But of course, I have to. That’s how these sites get probably three percent of their new members, including me.

I’m not trying to hack your websites – just the opposite. I’m trying to make them work with our products. I’m a technical customer – technical both as an engineer, and as a person who isn’t really going to buy anything from you or click on your banner ads. I’m on your site for two minutes.

Honestly, can’t you just put out a few “developer-test” logins that operate in a sandbox, away from your production environment and real customers? Disable any commands that send e-mails (except between the dev-test logins), restrict the number of accounts in the sandbox, let a company grab accounts on these isolated boxes for short periods of time (a week or two) for testing purposes only.

Or license a second class of logins altogether, just for user-testing. If anything, it might give your potential customers a chance to experience what you’re doing without committing all the way. If they like it, they’re more likely to become real customers… and more likely to use your product and make you money. (That applies to me, too – if I can “test-drive” it without signing up, I’m far more likely to play with it and actually sign up if I like it.)

You can’t give me this “we want to protect our customers from hackers” line, though. You make it so simple for people to sign up for your services that the bad guys can get an account just by filling in a few form fields, and they have far less ethics about this than I do. How does that protect your real customers?

Look, if your website doesn’t work in my product, then the customers we share are unhappy. They don’t get what they want, which means we don’t get what we want and you don’t get what you want. Nobody wins then. All I’m asking is that you don’t make me jump through hoops to complete that agreement between web site and web browser that says “We’re going to work for the customer and make their day a great one.”

(Note: I am specifically not speaking for my employers, past or present. This is my personal opinion only.)

UPDATE: I received three replies directing me to BugMeNot.com. To me, that’s a non-starter. As I said earlier, I don’t think lying is appropriate, nor do I think borrowing someone else’s account is appropriate either.

In this business of software development, I do not have a college degree. In fact, I have not been to college. These days, that’s a rarity among programmers (do we still use that word?). I plan on going… someday. But the point is that I don’t have a degree to fall back on. All I have are my works and my word. I cannot compromise on either of those if I have any future in this business.

4 thoughts on “Why should I register just to fix your site?”

  1. Two options:
    1) Have you asked these sites directly?
    2) Have you asked on this blog for a log-in for you to check? I would be happy to hand over my facebook or linked in account information for a weekend and trust that you were all set. Feel free to email me if you ever need it.

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