The folks on Poynter's online-news listserv once again are debating the merits (and, more importantly, demerits) of required user registration on news sites -- a topic I'm particularly passionate about. Here's a light rewrite of something I contributed to the list Thursday, in response to a defendant of user registration who wrote: "[T]here will always be an audience segment that opposes giving information about itself to read content on the Web":
It's not just the privacy issues. It's also the lack of value. Registration accounts are complete throwaways -- as very obviously evidenced by BugMeNot. Everyone I've talked to (techies and non-techies alike) sees this type of registration as an extremely annoying barrier with no redeeming value. There's no personal tie to a typical news-site registration account, no incentive to give accurate information or even care about who has access to your account.
Contrast this with community sites such as Slashdot, on which things like reputation and personalized features give people a heckuva lot of incentive to keep their account information private. Use registration where it makes sense, where the alternative (registration-lacking) product would be inferior -- and very obviously inferior, in readers' eyes.
(No, saying "Registered users get more highly-targeted ads!" isn't enough. Neither is saying "The benefit of registration is that you get the content." That's nothing short of arrogant -- and readers can and will get their regurgitated AP stories elsewhere.)
Slashdot is actually a decent example of how a news site registration system should work: Anyone can read it for free, but readers register to post comments. (Yes, anonymous comments are allowed, but they're discouraged by the brilliant social engineering of the "Anonymous Coward" label.) And, since the site has been this way for years, the community is mature enough that people actively want to register, because incentives, such as notoriety, karma, etc., are attractive.