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Specifically, I'm inquiring about music streaming websites. Sites such as Songza, 8tracks, etc. all allow a user to play music right away with no login restrictions.

While I understand that the reciprocity principle is crucial in this case, can one argue that the ability to see what songs you could potentially listen to is enough value added to enforce login before playing a song?

Additionally, it would be great if you could provide examples of when login works and when it doesn't.

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It's not only music sites, but also video streaming sites (Youtube, vimeo, wimp, etc..), blogs(tumblr, medium, etc), news sites (The New York Times, Washington Post, etc).

Think of the user flow for a second.

People go to those sites for mainly one purpose: to view/listen to content. Creating a login system for that will steer people away from what they want people to do in the first place. Same thing happens with blogs and article sites. Now imagine if The New York Times, Medium, and so many other online news sources forced you to login before doing anything, including viewing content. People would simply stop using them and go someplace else.

This would be a classic example of creating barriers.

Heck, even SE allows people to partake in everything without logins.

Logins are great for making processes that are usually complex, more simple, which ultimately gives credit to a user. Whether it is Youtube, Soundcloud, SE, blog sites and so on and so forth.

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For a simple reason that instead of giving your user and idea of what your site provides and what kind of content he can expect on your site, you are forcing him to login/register to view any content at all.

Personally, if a site has some kind of a demo or trial section for me to explore (no doubt with partial content) then I will be keen on exploring it further and then deciding whether I should login or not.But, if a site advertises awesome features but is forcing me to register to view any kind of content or use the application then I will tend look move on and elsewhere.

That being said securing all your content behind a login wall is not always a bad idea. For example, intra-company CMS, CRM applications, etc.

On the contrary, if you intend to keep user on your site, you need to offer some kind of content to entice the user to engage with your application. Think about it: even Facebook, Google+ have partial views that can be viewed without logging in.

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People come to your service (web site, software etc) to reach a goal (listen to music in your case). To log in is not a part of their "to do" list.

Ask them to log in only if necessary, and if it's not clear to them why they need to log in - tell them the reason!

Many sites require login if you are a paying customer and wants to access what you paid for, and if you want to comment on stuff (to be able to moderate the posts, ban users etc).

My general principle when designing is: The reason why users use software is to reach a goal - the reason is not to use the very software itself!

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