I had the pleasure of being interviewed by BusinessWeek reporter Olga Kharif for a piece on news-site user-registration. With her permission, I'm publishing the full e-mail interview here.
What kinds of problems do sites like BugMeNot create for the papers you work for?
BugMeNot doesn't create any problems for the newspaper sites I work for, because our sites do not require registration to access content.
We use registration only where it makes sense to do so from a reader's perspective. The classic example is on message boards and comment forms, where readers want to register so they can "own" the rights to their usernames -- and, thus, their online reputations. It's also beneficial for the community because without registration, online discussion tends to turn into anonymous name-calling.
For several months, we had an open discussion forum on our main site, LJWorld.com, and it allowed anyone to post comments without having to register. The anonymity -- and, hence, complete lack of credibility -- encouraged people to post insulting comments, pose as other readers, and otherwise partake in shenaniganism. We implemented a registration requirement to post comments (but not to read comments) after we got a number of e-mails from readers requesting the feature.
That's the kind of registration we do: When it makes the site better, and when NOT doing so makes the site worse.
Have the newspapers you work for taken any steps to counter BugMeNot, shared registrations? What were they?
I just checked, and none of our sites are in the BugMeNot database -- which I see as an incredibly positive thing. That means that we haven't annoyed anyone with registration requirements and that readers of our sites value their accounts.
What can news Web sites do, theoretically, to reduce the impact of sites like that?
They can, and should, drop their registration requirements for viewing content. Registration should only be used when, from a user perspective, it makes sense to do so and it doesn't make sense NOT to do so.
On the typical registration-blocked news site, there is ZERO incentive for me to keep my account information private. That's why BugMeNot works! I don't care if the whole world knows my New York Times username and password (register_this, register_this), because I haven't invested anything in it. I don't have a personal profile tied to it; I don't care if people go into my account and change my password, because then I'll just create another one -- or, better yet, just go to BugMeNot.
Question on a slightly different topic: What do you think of sites like Mirrordot.com? Are they legal? And, if one of your newspapers' stories got onto Mirrordot, would you be upset? What would you do about it?
I'm not a lawyer, so I can't say anything about whether it is or isn't legal. That will be, or already has been, decided by someone who is probably far-removed from the realities and culture of the Internet.
As for my opinion, I think these sorts of things should depend on the intent. Clearly the intent of Mirrordot.com is to help solve the Slashdot effect. Clearly the intent of Google's cache is to help users get to the information they need if the source sites are unavailable. I think these two cases are fine, because they serve as backups.
If, on the other hand, a site copied our content with no attribution and put its own advertising around it, or put it behind some sort of pay wall, I would see a reason to get upset.
Finally, if a story from one of the sites I work for got onto Mirrordot, I would very much welcome the load-balancing help.