Want to see my content? It'll cost you your anonymity.
June 29, 2002 5:25 AM   Subscribe

Want to see my content? It'll cost you your anonymity. Mandatory registration is making the rounds at major online news sites, as media companies try to peel away the Internet's cloak of anonymity and build closer relationships with their customers. But it's a tricky dance, and one that risks alienating news junkies when they bump into registration walls as they surf from site to site. Registration also throws up roadblocks for weblogs, community news sites, discussion boards and e-mail newsletters that point to news articles.
posted by srboisvert (24 comments total)
One surprisingly honest quote in the article: "We want a way to monetize that database information, and we plan to be pretty aggressive about it."

I already knew this in my gut. Thanks for providing proof!

Really, this trend seems like an unintentional balancing factor to help offset the pull of the major news sites. It's perfectly reasonable to want to make a buck off your work, but "monetizing" people's email addresses smells like greed. I think a lot of people get that, even without having it spelled out as above. Thus driving traffic away to more open (smaller) sites.
posted by Gregoire at 6:22 AM on June 29, 2002

Whether it's paying with cash, a la Salon.com, or paying with my demographic profile for marketing purposes, a la the NYT, as far as I'm concerned I'm paying for the content either way.

With Salon, in exchange for paying they kill all the pop ups and banner ads.

With the NYT, what do I really get? I can get raw news coverage from countless other places, online and off--like the AP wire bar on Salon or my local paper, for instance. The only thing I seem to miss, at least judging by what is usually linked to, by not registering at the NYT and similar sites are the editorials.

So, let's see if I understand. Basically, I am "paying" the New York Times with my demographic data and e-mail address so that I can read someone elses opinion and viewpoint on a news item I've already read about somewhere else? And, while reading this oh-so-important opinion, I can additionally be bombarded with "targeted" pop-ups and pop-unders and the latest ad for whatever the hell stupid thing they've decided to paint red white and blue and try to hawk this time?

No thanks, I'll pass.
posted by Swifty at 6:39 AM on June 29, 2002

I constantly see people refusing to read articles at nytimes.com, latimes.com or chicagotribune.com because they have to register. Do these people not realize that they can give fake information in the free registration forms? That if they say their e-mail address is johndoe@acme.com they're not going to get spam from the sites' monetization projects? It's not that hard to figure out, seriously.
posted by aaronetc at 6:40 AM on June 29, 2002

Aaron, enough people do that and the sites will switch to a method where they email you your password in order to login. Then what happens? You can still provide false demographic info, but you are still going to get spam. That is, if you want to register. Giving false information will only get you so far.
posted by Apoch at 6:44 AM on June 29, 2002

It's not that hard to figure out, seriously.

Yeah, and it's not that hard for the newspaper sites to figure out a lot of people are doing this, either. Enough folks start doing this and it won't be long before they move to an e-mail verification system as part of registration.

And, yeah, I can get around those too with throw away e-mail addresses. But, my point is, the system--as it is now--is already too much trouble considering the content.
posted by Swifty at 6:49 AM on June 29, 2002

Historically, I have always given "fuckyou@fuckoff.com" as my email address whenever required for registration at a place I really don't care to have my info. I realized that perhaps somebody actually owned fuckoff.com, and might be receiving all my thwarted spam. So I formatted a nice letter to fuckoff/web/hostmaster@fuckoff.com asking if they actually existed and were receiving any unwanted mail. All I got were bounces, so I've continued with the fuckyou registration. It is my hope that people glean the databases periodically and see my registration, or spam is sent out to the invalid address, bounces, and shows up in their "B2B ROI SUPPLY CHAIN METRICS" results records. Not that they'd care or anything, but I'm trying to "damn the man" on a small level regardless.
posted by Hankins at 6:55 AM on June 29, 2002

I see it as a small price to pay. Any reputable site will let you opt out of mailings. I think the NYTimes.com news tracker is pretty nifty also.
posted by McBain at 6:59 AM on June 29, 2002

There's a cadre of email addresses that you can use to have lots of fun with free registrations... bgates@microsoft.com, steve@apple.com, ari.fleischer@whitehouse.gov....

Be creative!
posted by TuffAustin at 7:00 AM on June 29, 2002

Aaron, enough people do that and the sites will switch to a method where they email you your password in order to login. Then what happens?

Then I give them my free Hotmail address, which already gets 300 spams a day and therefore is nearly useless for real communication. I'll maintain that as long as it's free, and login just to get the registration codes I need. No way in hell these guys are gonna get my *real* e-mail address. I just don't trust them. I'm pretty sure others would do the same - set up a "dummy" email account just to catch the residue.
posted by Fofer at 7:02 AM on June 29, 2002

Oh yeah, Apple's iTools offers a very easy and nifty way to get as many free e-mail addresses as you'd like. Set up one as "junkmailsucker@aol.com" and use that if you really want to sift through potential junk mail for registration info. Use your real e-mail address for everything else.
posted by Fofer at 7:06 AM on June 29, 2002

Then I give them my free Hotmail address...

There is an even better way, a Spam Gourmet disposable email address.

It's too late for me, since my email address has been on the web, usenet, and DNS records since 1995 (I get 80 or so a day, thank god for my filters) -- but for the rest of you a disposable email address is a great way to manage these things without having to check a separate account.
posted by malphigian at 7:22 AM on June 29, 2002

Login: Metafilter
Password: Metafilter

I'm amazed at how many places that works.
posted by joemaller at 7:26 AM on June 29, 2002

listen to malphigian - disposable email addy's or a specific account for signing up for stuff is a good idea.
all i require at my site, is that if you want to comment on anything, you need to signup witha username of choice, and a real functioning email where you will receive your password [and if you ever forget it, this addy is where the password retrival will send a new one to].
you guys wouldn't belive how many sign up with fuckyou@fuckoff.com and the likes - maybe they are Hankin's mates? the result - my inbox is flooded by bounced mails and my database with bogus users (i delete these on a regular basis to free up names).

uhoh, threadhijacking. sorry. what I came to say is that long winded forms that ask for my annual income i never fill in truthfully - but I do use a real email, even if it is disposable (a mail.com one).

ps joemaller cypherpunk cypherpunk is still working on a lot of sites too.
posted by dabitch at 7:39 AM on June 29, 2002

I found two paragraphs in the section about the Dallas paper especially concerning:

"If your audience from 8 to 10 a.m. is made up of high-income at-work users consuming a high amount of local news and sports, and nighttime has a younger demographic spending more time with entertainment content, that may suggest you program your site differently."


"Instead, says a person who was involved in the internal debate last year, "The marketing department won all arguments, and made the registration a ridiculously long hurdle for users."

Is anyone else reading into this the same way I am? I know advertising ends up playing a role in content at many small papers, but, dammit, large papers are supposed to be immune to that shit. Sounds like we're headed for a cable-television advertising model, and there's no way that can be good.
posted by mrbula at 7:53 AM on June 29, 2002

Hankins, and others, do try to avoid asdf@asdf.com. They get enough, already.
posted by whatnotever at 8:17 AM on June 29, 2002

Another password combo that's appearing (thanks to warbloggers) is "blogosphere/blogosphere". I haven't actually used it anywhere since I already have registrations. There are some weblogs who give out specific combos for their readers, but I don't consider it kosher to spread those so widely.

One useful technique (not mentioned here yet) with a domain you control (e.g. example.com) is doing signups as nytimes@example.com, latimes@example.com. That way if you get spam you know who burned you. Another technique that sometimes works is yourname+nytimes@yourisp.com -- but unfortunately, a lot of web forms reject the perfectly valid + character. I think RISKS had a few posts about this recently: the standard for valid characters in mail addresses is pretty much all low ASCII, with certain reserved characters -- but many mail clients and web forms that check for address validity reject almost everything outside of [a-z][A-Z][0-9], which is wrong.

They also (understandably) don't mention the most insanely wrong registration there is, the Times (or is it just the Sunday Times?), which requires a subscription fee but only for overseas readers.
posted by dhartung at 8:30 AM on June 29, 2002

I'm amazed at how many places that works. (metafilter/metafilter)

I keep hearing this but have yet to get it to work for me anywhere. Just bad luck, I guess.
posted by rushmc at 8:47 AM on June 29, 2002

latimes.com does seem to be forcing a valid e-mail address to create a user on their site now. Yes, I could use a disposable e-mail address, but I won't. The fact that they want to put up those silly hurdles doen't mean I have to jump over them. I'll just go to a different track. There are plenty of news sources out there.

The ultimate f-you e-mail address has got to be webmaster@domain.com (where domian is the site you're registering for). Let them spam themselves for a while.
posted by willnot at 9:11 AM on June 29, 2002

I like that idea, willnot. I'll start using that instead of jimbeam@hotmail.com.
posted by password at 9:34 AM on June 29, 2002

i also recommend spamgourmet. however, i also suggest that people who use this service and don't actually want to keep getting emails from the place they subscribe to, should UNSUBSCRIBE that address.

yes, i know that the mail beyond the # of letters you specify is dumped anyway (not bounced), but at the same time why put the burden on the bandwidth or on their server? i have maybe 15 spamgourmet people subscribed to my site. how many of them now recieve my stuff to a legit email address, i have no clue. but not a one of them has unsubscribed. it somehow just seems rude to me, though i guess i can't really explain it. :)
posted by dobbs at 10:33 AM on June 29, 2002

When I'm forced to register, I take willnot's suggestions a step farther. I often use the name and address of the contact person listed in the about, contact or legal section. Not just the email address, but the postal address and phone number for the site as well.
posted by ahughey at 10:52 AM on June 29, 2002

With the NYT, what do I really get? I can get raw news coverage from countless other places, online and off--like the AP wire bar on Salon or my local paper, for instance.

Swifty, you're not really saying that AP stories are just as informative as NYTimes articles are you? The reason why I read the Times is because the journalism is actually somewhat realiable, accurate, intelligent and insightful. AP, Reuters, CNN etc are often none of these things.

As long as I can get the Times for free simply by giving them some information about me, I consider it one of the best bargains on the web.
posted by boltman at 11:19 AM on June 29, 2002

all the spate of registration sites have done is drive me back to the paper newspaper. in a cynical way, that might have been the point. at any rate, i've never felt the urge to do everything now-now-now or prefer my news of the day to be found electronically, so i don't mind the inconvenience of buying a paper and reading it.
posted by moz at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2002

this little baby is my current favorite.

every time I read an nyt article, it puts a load of total gibberish into their user reg records.

the guy thoughtfully provides the source code and encourages you to host your own copy.

I really wish metafilter and other places would start using it...there could even be a special tag to put around nyt links, which would insert the nyt link onto the local copy of nytview.
posted by dorian at 8:42 PM on June 29, 2002

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