A lot of the websites on the internet are publicly accessible, but not all of them. An increasing number of sites are requiring users to sign up for an account. Then you have to log in with your username and password.
Common Types of Membership websites
In general, you can divide membership websites into two major categories:
- Sites that must have user accounts, because of the type of service they provide
- Sites that don’t need user accounts, but choose to have them for one reason or another.
Some types of websites simply require user accounts and logins because all interactions with the website are inherently tied to a specific user. This includes many of the sites you use on a regular basis:
- Web-based email services such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail.
- Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Shopping websites including Amazon and Ebay.
- Finance and banking services such as your bank’s website and Paypal.
- Discussion Forums and Bulletin Board Systems
- Productivity Applications
- Personal Calendars
- Data Backup
These types of sites require you to register for an account, and log in with a username and password, because the application wouldn’t make any sense without that. User cannot be anonymous, because the website’s system has to know what information to show you. And if you are able to post content or actions, the system needs to be able to know who did it.
Many websites — often thought of as “content” websites — provide some type of content (news, stories, pictures) which a user might be able to get value from without having a user account.
Sites like this include:
- News sites
- Most corporate websites
- Sites for non-profit and community organizations
- Video sites such as YouTube.
- Online reference websites such as Wikipedia.
Many of these types of sites simply don’t have any mechanism for membership or user accounts at all. Others do, and they provide user accounts in order to enhance the user experience in one way or another. Additional benefits from adding user accounts might include:
- Access to special “members only content”
- The ability to subscribe for updates
- Submitting content
- Stored history
- Delivery of personalized content
- Improved user experience, for example:
- Ad-free viewing
- Higher-quality video
Almost every website has expenses — it cost money to setup, run, and maintain a good website, especially one that a lot of people will want to use and sign up for.
Membership sites usually use the user-account system as a way to help them make money, in one (or more) of the following ways:
- Paid membership: Some or all content or features are restricted to those who have paid for a membership.
- “Freemium” membership: Some content and features are provided for free, but some set of content and features are reserved for paying members.
- Third-Party Advertising: Many sites on the web make money by displaying ads. Membership sites are able to make more relatively more money doing this because they know who they are showing advertisements to. An ad for cat food is worth a little bit to a general audience, but is worth a lot if you know it is being shown only to cat owners.
- Permission marketing: This happens when the site owners reach out to their members to specifically attempt to sell them things based on their relationship. This works well with membership sites because if you are a member, you must be getting some value from the site already.
- Selling data: A website that requires you to log in is able to identify a lot of information about you, especially if you interact with it a lot. That data they collect is valuable to marketers and advertisers. Many people think this is immoral or unethical, and it is subject to a lot of regulation — but it does happen, a lot.
Most membership sites do a combination of these different things. In most cases, it is quite harmless, and even good for you (you should be able to buy something that you want, when you want to buy it). But sometimes sites can be a little deceptive about how they are making money.
If you are logging into a website, and providing it with information (your name, your email address, your age), it is a good idea to know how that site makes money, and what it is likely to do with the information you are providing to it.
A WARNING About Usernames and Passwords
You should not use the same password on multiple sites. While lots of people do this, it is a very bad idea.
No site is perfect. Websites do occasionally get hacked or otherwise compromised.
Also, it is possible for passwords to be discovered by hackers even when the site has not been compromised. This might happen through brute-force guessing, or by obtaining the password through some other means.
Another potential problem is “honey pot” scams. A website that is actually run by a hacker might require you to sign up with a password, and then the scammer will try that same password on other popular sites like Facebook or Gmail.
If you use the same password over and over, and it is compromised even once, it will put all of your other accounts in jeopardy.
Use a different password for every user account. And make sure it is a strong password.