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I have a website where a user can post something they are looking for and the ad gets distributed out to a public board (technically multiple) anyone can see. Up to this point (99% of the site) my users don't need accounts. However, when the user finds the item they are looking for I need them to be able to mark it as "found".

A major selling point of this site is ease of use, making people sign up before they can participate will greatly hinder that, especially for a feature people don't really want (they already found their item, marking as found only helps others/me).

So I am trying to find a way to let users use this one single feature without complicating the whole site, so far I thought:

  • ask for email when adding the item, I can send verification email when they click "found". This has less overhead setting up for the user (no need to think of a password) and way less overhead for me as a dev. But less likely for them to verify through the email and still some overhead.

  • I could give them a token when they create the item and tell them to remember it. Then they could enter the token when they mark it as found to verify its them. No overhead for the user to enter email or validate through email but users are unlikely to remember the token.

Any other, hopefully better, ideas?

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  • Why do you need ANY kind of connection to them (token, email, etc) for this found feature? Why not just let them mark it as found?
    – Confused
    Nov 11 '16 at 6:07
  • @Confused because anyone could mark anything as found if I couldn't tell who created it
    – DasBeasto
    Nov 11 '16 at 12:41
  • You don't have their IP address and cookies?
    – Confused
    Nov 11 '16 at 12:50
  • @Confused cookies/IP is an option but seems fragile since both can easily be deleted and only work from one device
    – DasBeasto
    Nov 11 '16 at 12:53
  • everything is a compromise. You have to balance up the user's desire to use your facilities against their desire for privacy, the friction of signup, the portability of signing in, etc etc etc. But look at the most popular and productive commercial sites for inspiration. THEY never harass about joining or signing in. I can use most accomodation and booking sites all the way through to payment without joining. Joining gives me a few discount options, and storage of card details etc, but it's not necessary. I can book a hotel, airflight and car rental without joining. Similarly, online stores...
    – Confused
    Nov 11 '16 at 12:57
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I ended up using a bit of a mix between the two options.

I ask the user for an email when they add the item. Then when they go to mark an item as found they simply have to provide the email they gave when creating the item. This works as a sort of rudimentary verification, not very secure but for the purpose of the feature security is not necessary.

Then instead of sending a user a verification email to approve marking it as found I simply mark it as found immediately and send a verification email allowing the email holder to reverse the action if it wasn't done by them. This alleviates all overhead of checking the email for a vast majority of users and will encourage more people to follow through with the act instead of ignoring it out of laziness.

Note: I'm aware this solution will not work for all applications as emails can be easily guessed, forgotten, or faked. But for the purpose of this specific issue none of those issues will provide more than an annoyance.

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