I’ve been thinking about log-in a lot lately. Yesterday it occurred to me to see what sites across the web were doing about it. Do they require log-in? Sure, almost all of these have user accounts, but can you use the core functionality of the site without one? The results were overwhelming, 87 of the top 100 US sites by traffic are useful without a log-in.

Let’s talk about the outliers. What can be so valuable that they can put a locked door in front of the users?

Banking is not a surprise. They don’t hand off their log-in to a third party like Facebook Connect because security and privacy are the paramount concern. Banks already have a brick-and-mortar relationship with the customer that they extend in the online space.

All of the site below started as online-only concerns, so they didn’t have that advantage.

Facebook, Twitter and a pair of dating sites make up the next category. These things are inextricably tied to your identity. It makes sense that you can’t participate in these sites without logging in, as it would destroy the whole fabric of what they are.

In the media category we have Netflix and Pandora. I should note that Hulu is in the no log-in required club, and they are challenging Netflix’s business model. All of Pandora’s direct competitors seem to require log-in. All I can surmise is, people really want this content and DRM is a bitch.

Let’s back up and talk about Twitter for one more second. I put Twitter in the category of log-in required, but it’s not that black and white. The majority of users reading Twitter do have an account, but you actually can get started with the site by following celebrities. They increased their sign-ups by 29% when they redesigned their sign-up forms with principles of gradual engagement.

Lastly, the sole appearance in the product category is Groupon. Whoa. People loves dem deals. Their disruptive idea (requiring log-in) plus an engagement model that used emails as the primary interaction created a whole new business model. You can debate whether their $12 billion valuation is correct to the nearest order of magnitude, but it’s surely a signal that they did something interesting.

Twitter flipped the paradigm on Facebook’s walled garden by replacing the private friend relationship with a public follow one. Hulu upset Netflix by dropping required login. Despite what the title of this post may imply, I don’t think the future of the web is for everyone to go log-in free. If your competitors are doing it one way, see what’s possible by reversing it. Don’t take log-in for granted. It’s crucial that you get it right.

Further reading: Luke Williams on Disruptive Thinking

Login REQUIRED

identity banking media product
Facebook PayPal Netflix Groupon
Twitter Bank of America Pandora
Match.com Chase Bank
pof.com Wells Fargo
American Express
Capital One

Login NOT required

portal ecommerce media product glue
Google Craigslist.org YouTube Wikipedia t.co
Yahoo! Apple Inc. Blogspot.com IMDB www.ZEDO.com
Windows Live Amazon.com WordPress.com The Weather Channel Imgur
MSN eBay CNN Interactive About.com Askoptmd.com
Go Wal-Mart Online ESPN Yelp googleusercontent.com
Bing Best Buy Washington Post LinkedIn outbrain.com
Comcast Target The Huffington Post Pinterest AWeber Systems
AOL etsy.com Blogger.com Flickr Constant Contact
Road Runner NewEgg.com CNET.com Hulu StumbleUpon
AVG | Antivirus Go Daddy New York Times Reddit amazonaws.com
AT&T Publishers Clearing House BBC Online eHow  
Verizon FedEx FoxNews.com Dictionary.com  
  Adobe USA Today Allrecipes  
  Microsoft Drudge Report The Warrior Forum  
  USPS The Daily Mail The Pirate Bay  
  UPS Wall Street Journal Photobucket  
    Los Angeles Times Indeed.com  
    FOX Sports 1-Click Answers  
    ABCNews.com Swagbucks.com  
    Tumblr LiveJasmin.com  
    NFL.COM xhamster.com  
    WordPress pornhub.com  
      xvideos.com  
      Youporn