Don’t make your web site too restrictive – someone will try to get round you

Think back to when you were a child; did you ever try to get round your parents? My seven year old son, Elliot, took us by surprise yesterday. We had been out to the annual Christmas dinner and party held by my wife’s employers. We had left the house at about 6.30pm, leaving Elliot with a woman who works as a teaching assistant in his school. Elliot was already in his pyjamas when she arrived, so we said he could just go to bed whenever he got tired. As we left them ready to share a pizza, little did my wife and I know what was in Elliot’s mind. We got home after midnight to find Elliot still wide awake and full of energy. He later told us that he had been determined to stay awake until we got home from our night out, in spite of the fact that we had suggested an earlier bed time….! But it’s not just small children who go against their parent’s advice. As a teenager did you ever try to do something simply because your parents had told you not to do it? One of the main reasons teenagers give for taking up smoking is because their parents warned them against it. Clearly there is something within us that makes us rebel against authority instructions.

So, I was not surprised to discover that for 200 Euros, a bit of free software and five minutes of your time it’s possible to clone the electronic passports which the USA have introduced as part of the “war against terrorism”. The BBC has today revealed that these “high security” passports can easily be copied and, unlike copies of traditional passports are completely identical to the original. So much for the security of these much-trailed 21st Century passports. Put some authoritarian instruction in front of people and they will try to find a way out of it. Tell people they can’t copy an electronic passport and they will do their best to do the exact opposite.

So what has this to do with online business? Well, earlier this evening I was at a local drinks party to celebrate Christmas. One of the children had a Nintendo DS with them to while Way their time while their parents chatted. One father told me that he had been trying to get one for Christmas but had found it difficult. The local shops he had tried had run out of stock. He tried several popular web sites, only to find they couldn’t deliver before Christmas. Then he found one web site who had it in stock, but wanted him to register with them first before he could even attempt to order it, or check delivery schedules. So he tried to find other web sites that did not put up such barriers. Luckily he found a supplier and his family will be delighted next week when they unwrap the Nintendo DS.

What does this tell us? Web sites that make it difficult – such as the need for prior registration – are doing the same thing to us psychologically as the Government that announces the introduction of passports that can’t be copied. They are presenting barriers to us – and we are psychologically primed to try and knock down such fences that stand in our way. Hence, if your web site presents any kind of barrier to your users, it will work against you – even if you think there is some kind of logic to it. What works best is a simple approach where your web site visitor has freedom to roam and do as they wish. If you don’t do this, they will try to get round you, just like a small child or a rebellious teenager.

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