Something is wrong with new user registrations.
Site Trajectory 2 charts arguably the most significant barometer of E2's progress: "New users (contributing)". The decline here is shocking. Up until 2009 this number was comfortably into the dozens per month. Now it is single figures and still dropping. So far in May 2013 only one new user* has contributed nodes.
This drop is not consistent with a natural ebb and flow of users arriving and leaving - something is wrong.
To see how bad this is, take a look at the "Sign up" page. Here is what it says at the time of writing:
Enter new account details
Please fill in your user name, real name (optional), email address and password:
- Real name:
- Email address:
- Confirm email:
- Confirm password:
- I am an evil robot spammer
Oh my goodness. When did E2 start asking for both an email address and a real name at signup time**?
Here's what this thing should look like, in its entirety:
I'm deadly serious. The signup form should be two fields. No additional text is necessary.
What's wrong with the way things are?
There's no need to say "Enter new account details". The user has clicked the "Sign up" button. The page says "Sign up" at the top of it in big bold letters. It's extremely obvious what you're supposed to do with this form.
There's no need to say "Please fill in your user name, real name (optional), email address and password". All of that is already covered either by the "Sign up" title to the page, or by the labels next to each form field. Nobody is reading this part. Nobody needs instructions to fill out a web form.
Saying "real name (optional)" in the opening instructions but NOT next to the "Real name" field itself is stupid because, as I said, nobody is reading the opening instructions. This is a very important piece of information which everybody needs to know - put it where it'll be seen.
Do not, do not, DO NOT ask for the user's real name. The need for a real name is a huge, huge turn-off for the vast majority of potential new users. This is especially true for the kind of intelligent contributor which E2 presumably wishes to attract. Anonymity is incredibly important right now. Give it to people by default, and let them surrender it voluntarily later if they want to take that extra step.
Look at how many of E2's greatest contributors are anonymous.
It doesn't matter that it's optional; it wouldn't matter even if the fact that it was optional was actually obvious. Simply being asked is a problem. Look at the uproar that Google Plus had. Fix this now. This is maximum priority.
Being asked for an email address is a turn-off as well. It doesn't matter that there's a section explaining what E2 will or will not do with that email address. An email address is only required for one step: the account activation email. E2 should dispense with that step if at all possible.
Even if the email address field is still needed, there is absolutely no purpose for the "Confirm email" field. Why is this here? Who thought that this was a good thing to have?
A "Confirm password" field is sometimes a good idea because password fields hide what you have typed, so the site needs some way to make sure that you didn't make a typographical error. But an email address field does not have this issue. Users can see what they typed! All this field does is make the form even longer and more tedious to fill in. At six text fields and one check box, it's a tax return.
As mentioned, a "confirm password" field is sometimes a good idea. But if you rely on your users to be able to type confidently, you could omit this. If you're looking at streamlining the signing-up process, as we are here, it can definitely be removed with prejudice.
The "I am an evil robot spammer" check-box, which I assume that new users must uncheck before they can sign up, is actually kind of cute and worthwhile, if it actually works. Does it? Is there evidence that it does? How about removing it and seeing.
What about the essays?
The essays need work too:
We will not send you junk email "member updates", sell your address to spammers, or show other people your email address. We use it to send you an account activation email and for any other email services that you request.
As I mentioned, the need for an email address can/should be dispensed with, but even if it's kept, this essay should be boiled down to one sentence (no title):
Your email address will be used solely for account activation and password recovery.
We neither perpetrate nor tolerate spam.
If you plan to use our site to promote your web site, business, or what-have-you free of charge, please don't. It's not worth your time and it wastes ours, too. All it does is annoy the few people who see your post during the five minutes that it takes our staff to notice it and delete it. We will also not hesitate to ban you for plugging your goods on our site. New accounts advertizing any product, service or web site (including "personal" sites and blogs) in their profile are subject to immediate deletion. Their details will be submitted to public blacklists for the use of other web sites.
This entire section can be cut. Everybody knows what spam is, including spammers. A stern written warning isn't likely to cause a spammer to think twice, particularly if (as in the case of 100% of spammers) the spammer is a robot. The fact that E2 doesn't tolerate spam can, and will be, assumed.
Everything2 may include member-created content designed for an adult audience. Viewing this content does not require an account. For logged-in account holders, Everything2 may display text conversations conducted by adults and intended for an adult audience. On-site communications are not censored or restricted by default. Users under the age of 18 are advised that they should expect to be interacting primarily with adults and that the site may not be considered appropriate by their parents, guardians, or other powers-that-be. Everything2 is not intended for use by children under the age of 13 and does not include any features or content designed to appeal to children of that age.
Firstly, yawn! Secondly, users don't need to register to read E2, so while the warning itself might be worthwhile, placing it on the registration page is very puzzling. And what's all this about age ratings?
Who even needed this warning to be put here? Don't give me hypotheticals about what people might want. Which of you, reading this writeup, is in the intended audience for this warning? Who read it and found it useful?
If this was actually necessary, which it isn't, one could do like The Onion and simply put this statement in the E2 footer:
Everything2 is suggested for mature readers.
In conclusion, a user who reads all of these essays is bored stiff by the end of it. They get the impression that E2 is stuffy and waffly and humourless. Yikes.
This is everything I noticed after looking at the sign up page for five seconds. This is first-hurdle stuff, before even trying to enter information and actually register. I don't know what the account activation process is like.
The real name field must go. No arguments. I'm willing to believe that June 2009, when the number of contributing new users visibly cratered for the first time, was also the month when the real name field was introduced.**
But but but what if we get thousands of new users?
But but but what if we get spammers?
Then any or all of these changes can be reverted immediately. Immediately! It's called website administration, baby.
It's infinitely easier to raise barriers to entry than it is to tear them down.
* Actually the figure is zero. The sole new contributor, invicta, is an alternate account belonging to established user arcanamundi.
** Several people are reporting that the "Real name" field has been there forever. Okay, but it's still a problem.