Barriers to Entry

by December 7, 2005

User experience professionals (be they researchers or designers) generally want to make tasks as easy as possible for the people using their products. Social systems that build value through participation are particularly ripe for “low barriers to entry”: enabling people to contribute with minimal effort. Usually that amounts to simplified (if any) registration processes that require little commitment to engage.

But as Derek Powazek pointed in Design for Community (back in 2001), value can increase when barriers exist. Derek’s specific example was that “burying the submit button [in community Web sites] encourages fewer, but better posts.” This same principle is upheld by eBay through its listing fees:

“As a free site, TaoBao suffers […] because it costs nothing to list an item, it's a haven for spam and unrealistic starting bid prices, just as eBay's own American site becomes a clutter of noise when it rolls out the occasional free-listing day. That just proves that the quality of traffic is just as important as the quantity.” –Is eBay Dead in China?, 2005

Now Wikipedia, perhaps one of the best sources for “user-generated” content online, has erected barriers to participation in an effort to increase quality.“Wikipedia will now require users to register before they can create articles. The website hopes that the registration requirement will limit the number of stories being created. ‘What we're hopeful to see is that by slowing that down to 1,500 a day from several thousand, the people who are monitoring this will have more ability to improve the quality.’” -Wikipedia Tightens the Reins

The lesson here for interface designers is that easy for the individual isn’t always best for the collective… though many times it is.