I was complaining yesterday about the login process that Contenture uses on its member sites to gain visitors. Rather than just complain, I thought I would give some constructive response to their request for feedback, which is coincidentally one of the topic areas that I like to study on this site.

Doing It Right vs. What We Actually Do

We developers talk a lot about how a project should be done "right", and hardly ever are they done that way. There is a very wide gap between what we should do (the stuff they make you take classes on in college, but you never do in real life) and what we actually do (the stuff we end up doing to make things happen in time and budget, but nobody ever bothers to teach in a class). I think that every developer cuts corners on either end, some more on one side than another, but there is someplace in the middle that makes it work. I like to think of this area as the back of the napkin.

Attached to this post is a flash applet showing something I drew depicting my impression of the Contenture login process. We've basically got two types of site, and three types of visitor. The first type of site is the content producer, someone who uses Contenture to remove ads and potentially display premium content to Contenture members. The other type of site is the affectionately named, "Affiliate Whore", whose only current business with Contenture is to make a quick buck from a new user signup.

There are three types of visitors to either of these sites:

  1. Visitors who are not Contenture members
  2. Visitors who are Contenture members but are not logged in
  3. Visitors who are Contenture members that are signed in

Of the three, the last is the easiest to figure out. The affiliate site doesn't really need to care who you are - it can display an affiliate link whether you're a member or not. The content producer will probably need to know that the visitor is a member and then display appropriate content for that user. That part is actually pretty easy with the way things are now.

User Stories

For visitors that are not Contenture members, both sites need a way to tell these visitors that they should sign up. When they choose to do so, they would be taken to a page that allows them to register for the program. Optionally, when the sign-up process is complete, they could be returned to the originating page. The affiliate-only site isn't going to care too much about the return, but the content producer is. An instant return visit from an new registered user guarantees at least one content-based hit on the site for the purposes of tracking payment to network members, of which that site will be one.

For visitors that are Contenture members but are not logged in - which happens in the case of users who roam between computers, use multiple browsers, or are developers that dump cookies every few hours - things are a little trickier. A site can't know that the user is a member if they're not logged in. They'd probably need to see a standard-looking "this site uses Contenture" banner/button/logo somewhere that they could click to get the standard login.

My premise is that the same link that you use the same affiliate sign-up link to go to a page that is both the new user sign-up form and the existing user login form. Even if the "join our program" link on the content publisher's site doesn't say "Contenture" in it (even though it should, for reasons I'll mention in a minute), they'll still arrive at the Contenture login page and will respond accordingly.

The Affiliate Link

The "join our program" link should definitely say "Contenture" somewhere in it. The reason is that if a visitor encounters a site that has a program described only as "Pay $X to avoid ads and obtain premium content", then he's already considering the money he has paid to Contenture and wondering if it's worth it to join a new site. Whereas if the banner/button says "Contenture" on it somewhere, the choice to continue with the login for an existing user is not an issue.

contenture_banner.pngAlso, my thoughts on what the button should say lean more toward providing an advantage to the visitor. So unless it's the only benefit, it shouldn't say "Support This Site". Supporting a site monetarily is an obvious benefit of paying for premuim content. What it should say is what the visitor gets from the site in exchange for signing up. My thoughts resulted in something to the effect of "Fewer ads and more premium content -- support this site with Contenture".