Keeping track of Microsoft’s developments is a tricky task. They are a massive company, with fingers in many pies, and their codenames make it even more difficult to know event *what* they are talking about, let alone any intricacies of the technology.
But someone is here with a regularly-updated list of MS codenames: the journalist Mary-Jo Foley has written something called CodeTracker. Good on you, Mary.
However I have one bone to pick, and this is a MASSIVE problem on the modern web. Mary says:
Here’s Version 1.0 of the CodeTracker, hot off the presses. The best part? It’s free.
I’ve highlighted the word ‘free’ because, guess what, it isn’t. Clicking ‘download’ on the download page asks me to sign-in with ZDNet. I don’t have an account so I have to sign up. And when I look at the signup form they want me to provide my:
- E-mail address
- Full name
- Company name
- Postal address
- Phone number
- Job category
- Job role
- Job industry
- Company size
The form says ‘All fields required unless noted’, and the only field marked as optional is ‘Address 2’.
All that personal information to download a ‘free’ PDF.
Now, I can understand why that information is required if you want to subscribe to ZDNet and perhaps receive customised content or be able to modify their site to my tastes. But when all I want to do as an irregular reader of ZDNet is download a document which is marked as free, why should I give all that information?
I find it misleading when people mark something as free when it requires somebody to pay something in the form of their personal data. Free means free, as in free. No hindrance to access. No information required to participate. After all, it’s easy to track downloads of a document like this using a cookie or IP log so setting up a full account for a visitor is overkill.
Google have talked about similar information blocking, and recommended unfettered access to information they call First Click Free.
But here’s a better way for non-sensitive, ‘free’, information. Don’t ask someone to log in when they want to access something on your site, just give them what they want. Then save a cookie on their computer so your site knows they’ve visited. (Yes, some people won’t accept cookies, but most will.)
Each time they come to your site increment a count in the cookie, and once someone has visited X or more times, offer them an unobtrusive reminder that they can get more content, more features, or a better interface by creating an account. Heck, why not just ask them for their email address and name – you can automatically create a username and password and email it to them, and log them in automatically.
Don’t, I repeat don’t, ask for loads of personal information for people responding to something advertised as ‘free’. A signup form isn’t free.