Data, users, agile.

Everyone seems to be talking about data. User data. Understanding users. Good, it’s important.

The catch is that users don’t care about giving you data.

Some companies equate data with user registration but users don’t like registration (even via social login). It’s easy to forget that there are other approaches to user data – especially if it’s not clear exactly what the purpose of the data is… market research? … aiding client pitches? … internal metrics? … cross-media promotions?

Different approaches may be better suited to different needs.

Meaningful data

There is another catch. Obtaining representative data is hard.

Some media companies think that age/postcode gathered from competition entries is useful. It’s not. It doesn’t tell you (for example) if your users are young. It just tells you if you had a competition that appealed to young people. More generally, competitions are skewed towards time-rich, cash-poor users.

The cost of registration

And of course, building and maintaining a registration system isn’t trivial. There are security and browser issues. Automated testing (how do you create/delete test accounts?). Asynchronous flows (such as confirmation emails).

It has to work with within other flows such as posting a comment. There are edge cases.

There are the alternate flows: unsubscribe, forgotten password. Do you need an “edit profile” page?

What about mobile? What about an API? And how do you actually do something useful with the data? If you use Janrain Capture, for example, you have to develop a custom system to export data as CSV.

The real cost of registration is the complexity it adds. Complexity reduces agility.

User first + agile

Despite all this, some companies place registration way ahead of delivering a top-rate product for end-users.

Some companies don’t bother to try simple solutions before embarking on a grand data cathedral.

One option is a prominent but unobtrusive one-click poll. The result can be stored in a cookie and tracked in Omniture. It is more representative than most other options. Like any approach, it’s not perfect. But it’s a good start.

Other options include

  • Facebook insights combined with Facebook comments
  • Traditional market research. (Some people claim that real conversations with users are more informative than demographic/psychographic data).
  • Personalisation can be done client-side. (At least as a first step).

What’s your approach? Leave a comment below.

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