Saturday, December 3, 2011

The problems with signing up for a service by e-mail address

There are a number of services that want you to sign up for them. But how should you identify yourself to the service?

There are still a few services that want U.S. citizens to sign up with their Social Security Number. Because of privacy concerns, this is not advisable.

Some services allow you to sign up with your name. However, if your name is John Smith or Pedro Gomez, this may be problematic.

Some services allow you to create a handle. This is a pretty good solution, as long as you remember the handle that you used.

Some services came up with a pretty good idea, on the face of it - sign up with your e-mail address. Your e-mail address is (unless something goes horribly wrong) a unique identifier which you will presumably remember.

But what if your e-mail address changes?

Usually this isn't a problem. Just tell the service what your new e-mail address is, allow the service to verify that the e-mail address actually exists, and then you're good to go.

Sometimes, however, the one field in your profile that you CAN'T edit happens to be your e-mail address.

Why would you want to edit your e-mail address? Let me give you one example. Back in September 2008 I was an employee of Motorola. Then it was announced that our division would be sold, pending government approvals. While awaiting government approvals (in which the sale could be ratified or rejected), we had to identify the entity under a temporary name. After the sale was approved, we were merged into the IT apparatus of the new owner - a process that took some time. Because of this sale and some other events, I have had four work e-mail addresses over the last three years.

You can imagine how much fun it is to go to an account, find out that there is no way to change your e-mail address, and then have to manually request a change to your e-mail address.

Sometimes it's easier to just forget about updating the e-mail address and letting the account lapse.

So why do service providers make it so difficult to change the e-mail address associated with an account? There are a few cases in which the e-mail address is a critical component of the service itself. Yammer is an example here - since Yammer connects you with people based upon a verified corporate e-mail address, I can understand why Yammer doesn't allow me to change my e-mail address willy-nilly.

But in other cases, the restrictions on changing an e-mail address don't make sense at all. Take a certain information service provider that provides me with information every week, whether I want it or not. Even if the people who sign up with this service provider don't go through all of the reorgs that I've been through, the people in this industry - the computing industry - have been known to change jobs from time to time. If qualification for the service was 100% dependent upon the company that employs you, I could understand why it would be hard to change your e-mail address at will. But somehow, I suspect that the service would continue to provide me with information no matter where I was employed.

So if you are a service provider and are wondering why you have so many dead accounts, perhaps it's because you wouldn't allow your subscribers to update their e-mail addresses.
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