Don't forget your logged out users

Illustration by @wilg

There is a fairly accepted rule that 1% of a site’s users will create content, 10% will interact with it while 100% consumes the content. That means that 90% of your users will probably be logged out. Consuming users can’t upgrade to Interacting users without having to create a profile. Registering has become far easier with the introduction of OpenID and OAuth connections offered by Twitter and Facebook, but it still is a big step.

At Mobypicture we are experimenting with ways where people leave a comment first and are then guided through the login or registration process, placing the comment afterwards. This way Consuming users can say what they want to say, before getting distracted by login screens.

Fred Wilson, VC and principal of Union Square Ventures, goes a step further and proposes more interaction for logged out users by giving them “phantom profiles“, storing activity against their cookies and building user profiles on logged out users.

This does two things. First, if those logged out users eventually register and become logged in users, this “phantom profile” can help the user get a lot of value from the service right away.

If you visit the profiles of Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Robert Scoble and Lord Voldemort on Twitter a lot and you finally decide to register your account with Twitter, Twitter could show you the profiles of @Boris@Scobleizer and @Lord_Voldemort7 with a follow button next to it. This might be a far more effective way of turning new users into regular users than showing random profiles based on follower counts and the fact those profiles are currently ‘trending’.

And second, this “phantom registration” might allow the service to permit lightweight engagement without logging in. Lightweight engagement might be favoriting an item on Etsy, hearting something on Tumblr, or starring something on Twitter.

The great thing about Instapaper, a simple tool to save web pages for reading later, is that you can start using it without a password, without real registration, just by claiming a username. You are storing articles you want to read later, not your bank account details, so why should you worry too much about your account? Only if you become a regular user and you would like to make sure no one else can add articles to your reading list you can add a password, an email address and other personal details. If Instapaper was a browser only application mostly used from one computer, claiming a username wouldn’t even be necessary. A “phantom profile” should suffice. Twitter could add favoriting of tweets for logged out users and Facebook could allow you to like content so you can start with a partially filled profile when you register.

There is a lot to gain from the 90% of your users that are logged out, do not forget about them.

Illustration courtesy of Esther Gons.

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