A complex system that does not work is invariably found to have evolved from a simpler system that worked just fine.

Reinventing A Headache

Filed under: Misc, News

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.

Published: October 31st 2007


  1. Stevie D

    For a lot of sites, there’s a big advantage in logging into an existing account rather than creating a new one from scratch every time. It’s worth going through the rigmarole of retrieving my old password on Amazon as against having to type in my address and details again. Moreover, some sites – eg those requiring credit card payment – won’t let you register two accounts on the same card, so you have no choice but to re-register.

    Sometimes, I have gone to register on a site, only to be told that I’d already done that several years ago!

  2. Black Widow

    I think that the login details of any account that involves payment will have a higher likelihood of being remembered. It’s logins that aren’t that can be easily discarded. MySpace, Bebo and Facebook are obvious examples and they’re also probably where this particular behaviour is most evident.

    That said, my business credit cards tend to be issued with a short expiry (the current one only has an 8 month life span for unknown reasons). So, in theory, I could quite easily (and innocently) create a second account with Amazon. Not that I’ve tried thus far. Frankly, I’d hope that Amazon also carry out checks on names and addresses to reduce the risk of duplicate accounts. That’s the route I took recently when setting up a membership system and it did reduce the number of obvious duplicates.