Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Globe and Mail Registration

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jul 26, 2004

Open letter to the publishers of the Globe and Mail

I am a frequent reader of the Globe and Mail online and also a frequent purchaser of the printed version of the newspaper. I receive the daily email alerts, and as has so often been the case, clicked on a link from the Daily Tech Alert. Imagine my surprise when, instead of the story about Google's IPO I expected to read, I was confronted with a registration page.

I will not be registering to read the newspaper online. I read too many sites and use too many computers in too many places to allow myself to get bogged down with this.

This means that I will not be reading the paper online, and consequently, will no longer be linking to Globe and Mail articles in any of my newsletters.

Until the demand to register is lifted, I will no longer be purchasing the print edition either. It is important that you understand that there is not only an online, but also an offline, cost to your decision.

I am also cancelling my subscription to the daily news and technology headline email list. I expect and demand that my email address and any accumulated information regarding my account be deleted from your system.

I am very disappointed that the Globe and Mail has decided to follow the herd with user registration, and in so doing, has allowed dubious research to convince you of the viability of mandatory registration.

You wrote in your three paragraph 'explanation' that "we've been together for years - through election shenanigans, market fluctuations, tragedy, triumphs and everything in between." This is quite true. I have been a loyal online reader since the service came online.

But the Globe and Mail "now requires our most frequent readers to register for continued access to the site."

Is this any way to treat an old friend, your best customer?

Were the registration voluntary - as it was in the past, to sign up for the email newsletter, and especially were it in support of some additional feature or service, such as content or even advertisement targeting, I would have been very willing to sign up.

But the making of registration mandatory removes all choice in the matter, and indicates clearly to me that you do not respect the relationship between the reader and the newspaper. You dictate, we follow, that's about it. Perhaps that's how you view my relation to the news you cover as well.

I understand why you will have taken this decision. Someone has convinced you that advertisers will pay you more for reader demographics. They may have also convinced you that most readers fill out these forms accurately.

This research is unfounded, as it was collected at a point in time when very few sites require registration. With the advent of sites such as and with an observed increased frequency of disparaging remarks about registration on discussion boards and blogs, I can say quite safely that future users will be much less amenable to mandatory registration.

There are numerous other issues with respect to registration that I could raise. One wonders, for example, how I am supposed to remember the dozens of passwords required to use various news sites (or do you expect I will foolishly use the same one for every paper). One wonders how much more spam I will receive (since the honesty of sites regarding spam is self-evidently minimal). One wonders what sort of data security there will be, if any. One wonders who will be looking at my choice of political news, and for what purpose.

Oh sure, you have a privacy policy - one that states "The Globe Privacy Code does not impose any limits on the collection, use or disclosure of the following information by a Globe Company..." and then lists most of my personal information. Even where limits were imposed, one wonders whether the retention of information inside a company like Bell Globemedia represents and sort of real limitation at all.

None of these seem to bother you. So it's over. We're done. I'll get my news about Google from elsewhere.

Now that you demand registration, I expect and request that you also stop propogating links directly to Globe and Mail stories on the open internet.

Such links constitute false advertising, as instead of taking the reader to a news story, as the link suggests, it will take the reader to a registration page (one wonders whether you will even be measuring the number of times your registration page represents the terminal URL in a site visit). They are nothing but a new sort of spam ('linkspam'), a cheap form of advertising designed to mislead and lull potential customers, while offering no value in their own right.

I also expect and request that all story titles will carry the phrase 'Registration Required' so that if links are captured by Google or Google News (or another search engine) or by an RSS aggregator that no user is lulled into believing that access to the story is actually enabled by the link in question.

I don't expect that you will comply with these requests; you should understand, though, that by propogating linkspam, you have become one of the problem users of the internet, equivalent in standing to email spammers and virus writers.

In short, I am very disappointed with the Globe and Mail (who, I might add, didn't even ask its readers whether they thought this would be a good idea). I'm done reading your coverage. Send me an email when you decide to join the open web again.

Stephen Downes
Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

p.s. here is coverage from the Globe and Mail carried as links in one of my mailing lists, sent to thousands of readers in the e-learning community around the world. I was not just a reader, I was a good-will ambassador. Click here.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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