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We're building a dating site application. In popular dating sites, such as Match.com, users must first sign in or sign up before being able to use the site at all. We see thinking of the site operators behind this approach, though: it'll force users to sign up and increase their membership base.

We have the same goal, of course. We want to maximize our membership. Is such an approach a good idea to implement?

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The fact that you are asking this question suggests that you already know the answer. If you have to force a User to sign up to your service, then your service is not worth signing up for. –  Arrow Oct 17 '12 at 2:47
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possible duplicate of Should registration be optional on an e-commerce site? –  Benny Skogberg Oct 17 '12 at 7:38
    
@Benny: I do not consider this a duplicate. The concerns with a dating site are legitimately different than for a traditional e-commerce site, due to the nature of the collection and usage of the private data. –  Brian Oct 17 '12 at 13:21
    
Related: ux.stackexchange.com/q/18936/5400 –  Monica Cellio Oct 17 '12 at 15:33
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2 Answers

Signing up before being able to use the site at all is a bad idea. What you should do instead is allow them to browse through the existing profiles and when they find someone they wish to contact, then show them a modal form to fill their profile and connect with the other user right after filling the form.

Of course, this only works well when you actually have a pretty decent user database. If it's a new website without any users yet, then you will simply have to force users to sign up, but at least show them a site tour, what are your best features and how is your website different from the other ones of the same sort. Good luck!

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+1 Bootstrap mode –  Oskar Duveborn Oct 17 '12 at 13:55
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Typically forcing a user to sign up / in before seeing anything would be a poor idea, but there is more to it in this case.

Dating sites can deal with a significant amounts of personal and perhaps sensitive information. Thus appearing "too open" with user data, allowing non-registered browsing or even search engine indexing, could scare off potential visitors. Requiring sign up creates a more "private" experience, which may make unsure visitors more comfortable to join.

On the other hand, dating sites get a bad reputation for faking large or unrealistic userbases to drive sign ups or payments (think of several Facebook adverts). Allowing a user to see actual profiles can promote trust in the legitimacy of the site. This is particularly important if the site takes payments and there is "something to lose", in which case trust is paramount.

So, this is a tradeoff, and strongly depends on what kind of site and community you are building.

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I agree. Sometimes exclusivity is a selling point for users. It's probably the wrong decision to lock out users, but not necessarily. You will need to make the benefits of registering abundantly clear before doing so, though, or else you're going to end up on BugMeNot. –  Kit Grose Oct 17 '12 at 12:48
    
To avoid privacy issues, there is no need to lock up the entire website. You could still show other member profiles, but hide all sensitive info, like name, e-mail etc. For example, you could show age, gender, interests, 1 profile photo (but hide the other ones and show a signup form if a user wants to see more photos), etc. Or even better, allow every user to choose what he/she wants to be publicly visible. –  Anderson Oct 17 '12 at 13:22
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