Imagine if, every Thursday, your shoes exploded if you tied them the usual way. This happens to us all the time with computers, and nobody thinks of complaining.
Reinventing A Headache
How do people cope when they forget a login password or username? Well, hopefully they use the “Forgot password” or “Forgot username” links that you so thoughtfully provided.
Or do they?
Research by social network watcher, Danah Boyd, suggests that your teenage visitors may simply re-register or create a new profile instead. Unlike us “oldies” who may view an online profile as an integral part of our personal identity, teenagers view it more as a temporary vehicle whose main use is to talk to friends “right now”. In comparison, the post-teens may use the same, or similar, login names for every service they sign up for as a way of presenting a unified virtual identity.
Of course, this could just be part of normal teenage experimentation with online profiles being just as transient as clothes or hairstyles. But, on the other hand, this is the first generation that was born into a commercially web-connected world.
Could it be an indication of that online profiles will be seen, in future, simply as a way to re-invent yourself for the moment?
If it does, it’s going to impact directly on anyone who is building web services and/or trying to make money from them. You will no longer be able to determine the number of real users of a given service simply by tallying up the accounts created. It may also become harder to extract any meaningful data about real people from online account activity. Accounts that viewed as “temporary” may also contain only the bare minimum in the way of details and may be difficult to identify as “duplicates”.
Whilst some projects, like OpenId, do offer tools for managing online identities, there’s no doubt that there is a significant attraction in the concept of throw-away accounts – whether for innocent use or otherwise. And that kind of casual approach is going to create a big headache for anyone who is trying to number-crunch figures from account-based web services.