Excluding the 3%

It’s not difficult as a web developer to see the appeal of Facebook integration. It removes a whole bunch of problems around storing passwords and account creation and makes them someone else’s problem. Because, let’s face it, good developers are lazy; a good type of lazy where we trust that someone else has thought about the problem more than we have the time to or that their code has been used so often that a lot of the edge-case problems have already been discovered.

I’m not going to start a rant about how facebook is a terrible, sinister corporation and we shouldn’t trust them with our information. (We shouldn’t, by the way.) But I do think it’s interesting that more and more websites ask you to join up via a Facebook account and that that is their only method of account creation.

Aside from the mechanics of passwords and account details, there are benefits to hooking into a system which already has a well-established network of users. If you can convince someone to post to Facebook about your website (only a click away now) all their friends will see it and their friends friends and so on. I imagine this is why Spotify were so eager to give Facebook the keys to the front door. Again I’m not going to go into why it might be a bad idea to do that. That’s a different conversation.

But here’s the thing: if you only allow sign-up to your service through Facebook, you’re excluding everyone who doesn’t have a Facebook account and doesn’t want to make one. You may think these people are tinfoil hat wearing paranoid crazies, but they are crazies who will never be your customer.

You might have already thought of this and that’s great. You might have decided you want to exclude these people and you understand what that means, but it’s strange how people forget that a small percentage doesn’t equal a small amount. Well maybe it’s not strange. The human brain is hopeless when it comes to dealing with anything numerical that can’t be done by counting on your fingers. I remember once working on a website that had a fatal bug that only manifested in Safari, the client told us just to forget about it because that browser only accounted for 3% of the traffic according to their analytics. But that 3% might have equated to hundreds or thousands of visitors. Visitors that were now in some way excluded from the experience.

I’m not saying that you should chase 100% of your potential audience, you can exclude people if you like, but you need to know who you are excluding and why. To use the browser example above, what if Safari users were more likely to be paying customers? What if that 3% of visitors were 50% of your sales? What if rather than ignoring them you should be optimising for them?

In the example of Facebook integration, I imagine that those without an account are people who are more thoughtful about choices they make on the web, about who they share their information with and about privacy and security in general. So what if those are the very people that your website is trying to reach?

Integration with a third-party service is a good example of where the decision might be great for the developers because of the problems it solves for them but may create a subtle friction for people that you are trying to attract to your site.

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