I have just written a comment on an article about user signup in a list apart, and thought I should share it with you.
Most of the posts were from users saying that they thought the user should be engaged first, so I wrote a post from the perspective of the company.
“I notice that you are giving opinions from the user perspective only and thought I could give a company perspective on this.
A web application I created a couple of years ago (www.ausrackid.com) went through this thought process. Ausrack ID allows IT pros to configure 19″ racking systems in a visual way, save print out the results, and get quotes from the company I work for.
I chose having no sign up until the user decides they want to save, at which point you are asked for username and email address, if they want a quote for items they get asked for more details. This is quite a way through the process. I was advised to put in a signup process at the front end to allow us to collect information on the users which we could potential use for emailing info. I resisted this at the time, and still do today. However, for the first year, the site was getting significant traffic, and significant usage, but very few people were saving their design, or asking for a quote. As the site needs to fund itself, it was very difficult to justify it’s existence at this stage, and the whole project was almost pulled.
I think the moral of the story is that your user details have a value, and giving those to a website you use may be the only way they can stay afloat. Think of youtube, they can justify their existence by the data provided by the number of users. That is why Google bought them. At the smaller scale my advice would be if they ask for it, and you want to use the service, give them your details, it might just help them survive in a competitive world.”