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We highlight commercial websites that are unreasonably hard to use, don't work properly, or don't actually offer what they promise. It's a way for web developers everywhere to learn what kind of mistakes they should avoid -- and of course, an opportunity for the companies listed here to fix the problems we document.

Broken Registration Process

Vegan Passions

reviewed Nov., 2007

Sometimes I have not just one problem with a website, but problem after problem after problem. That was the case when trying to register an account on the site Vegan Passions.

The first problem was that the signup form warned me that if I entered a false city/state, my account would be deleted. What this really meant was that if I entered in the correct city/state my account would be deleted, since I was traveling and connecting to the Internet in a different place from where I live. So to please the signup form, I entered the city/state where I was connecting (hoping I'd be able to change my city/state in my profile later).

Second, the password field inexplicably limited me to eight characters. I use a mnemonic system so that I can have a unique password on every site I visit, and to be able to recall it on the fly without looking it up. But since VP won't accept passwords longer than eight characters, I was forced to make a special exception for this site and use a different password (and meticulously record it).

Third, when I clicked Submit, I got absolutely no message about what happened to my submission. I should have gotten either "Thanks for signing up" or "There was a problem signing up", but I didn't get either. All I got was a login page.

Fourth and fifth, I would come to find out that my account was automatically deleted, but VP didn't alert me to that, and certainly didn't tell me why. In fact, I received a Welcome email thanking me for registering, but when I tried to log in, I got a "bad login" error. I tried to retrieve my "forgotten" username by typing in my email address, but a got a message saying my email address wasn't on file. That was the only way I knew that my account had been deleted. VP didn't notify me by email of the deletion, like they did of the creation.

I tried the whole process again, with identical results.

Sixth, I got no meaningful help from customer service. After I wrote to the CS address, the CS staff blamed the problem on "your computer". They also said that their system might have figured out that I had entered a "false" city/state, though how they think that was possible I have no idea. Finally, they said it was hard for them to help me without my reporting a specific error message. (What I originally told them was, "I got an error saying the login was bad." The actual text was ""ERROR - You entered an incorrect username or password." I'll let the reader judge if that was really too disssimilar.)

In fact, the failure to provide the exact error text was simply an excuse, as CS eventually admitted to me, incredibly saying, "Basically, right from the start, we couldn't care less that you were having trouble accessing the site." They eventually told me that they were uninterested in helping me because I admitted to entering false info into the form (not seeming concerned that their system required I do so because I wasn't connecting from where I live), and because no one else had reported the problem. (They also said they didn't like the tone of my inquiry. I reprint my original message below in its entirety for the reader to judge.)

They invited me to try to register again. I questioned what the point was, since I had already tried twice and failed, and between the two of us, they were the ones able to figure out why my registration was failing.

But I decided to try. First I looked up the geolocation of the IP I was connecting from to see where there system expected me to live, and I found that querying three different databases, each said I was in a different location: Las Vegas, NV; Nacogdoches, TX, and Atlanta, GA. I pointed out to the VP CS that I could not possibly know which database they were using, and where they concluded I was connecting from. They never acknowledged this.

Nevertheless, I tried to register three more times, listing a different location each time, trying to match their geo database. As I expected, I had the exact same problems as before.


How Vegan Passions can fix these problems

  • Remove the gratuitious limitation on password length.
  • Show visitors a "Thanks for signing up" or a "Problem with signing up" page after the user fills out and Submits the registration form.
  • If the account is deleted automatically, inform the member of that via email.
  • If an account is deleted automatically, either inform the user why via email, or, if VP feels that would divulge too much info to those trying to game the system, it should at least send the user some sort of tracking code that they can share with customer service, so CS can know why the account was deleted and can be better equipped to help the customer (or deny help if they believe fraud is involved).
  • I won't say that VP must toss its faulty geolocation system, because they've obviously determined that they really need its benefit of automatically preventing large-scale fraud. However, VP should simply be prepared to help those who were thwarted by their system, like me.


Can you register and log in successfully at Vegan Passions?

VP insisted to me repeatedly that I'm the only one having problems. Frankly, I find that hard to believe. Perhaps if no one else is contacting them, it's because they correctly suspected they'd get the same kind of non-helpful replies I got and so they didn't bother to try. In any event, I'm curious to see how many others are having problems signing up. If you have the time, please try to register an account at VP and then let me know whether it worked.

Yes, I know that I'm helping VP by driving more members to their site, (VP said as much when I told them I was adding them to ProblemWebsites), but my goal with this article isn't to hurt VP. People often think these articles are "punishment" for a company with a bad website, but it's actually something quite different: I'm trying to encourage web developers to make their sites work properly. If VP does so, it won't just be their users who benefit, it will be VP itself. It won't trouble me for VP to enjoy more success (yes, even though they told me they "couldn't care less" that I was having trouble accessing the site). If things go better for them because they become more visitor-focused, then more power to them.

My original message to VP


I have been trying to register at without success.

The first problem was that your system forced me to enter a false state. I am traveling and so the ISP I'm connecting with is in a different state from my home.

The next problem was that when I clicked Submit, I just got a generic Login page. There was absolutely no message about registration being successful or unsuccessful. I checked my email and there was nothing there.

I tried to submit the form again, and had the same problem: Just a login page, zero indication of whether I'd successfully signed up or not.

I tried to log in using the username and password I'd selected, but I got an error saying the login was bad.

I checked my email and found two confirmation messages welcoming me. I tried logging in again, using the exact same login in the welcome messages (identical in each message), but I still got the bad login error.

I clicked "Forgot my username", although I hadn't forgotten it at all, and when I typed in my email address, it said it couldn't find my email address in the system.

After this disappointing experience I'm not expecting to get a helpful reply, but I thought I'd try anyway.

Ed. note: In hindsight, that last line was a mistake, and one that I won't repeat. On the other hand, it sure seems prescient, huh?