In the last year, we’ve dedicated some pretty extensive resources to making the SSRN web and mobile experience better. We’re flattered if you noticed but hope some of the transitions have been pretty seamless. Overall, we’ve had positive feedback to the redesigned web pages and more intuitive nature of the site.
We admire the users on our site; they’re the hardworking researchers that continually add to layers of knowledge. It should come as no surprise that we want to give them the most customized experience possible. This led to weeks of testing the possibility of asking users to log in before making a download. What we found was that it disrupted our ability to provide rapid research. Since that is at the core of our objective, we dropped the idea and didn’t look back. Here’s what we learned from the failed test and how we arrived at our conclusions.
Our Hopeful Mission and What We Thought We Would Achieve
We started out with the hypothesis that if users logged in before making a download we would be able to deliver more customized research to them in the future. It would ensure that each SSRN user had the ability to store papers with the My Library feature, submit papers, and more easily collaborate with other researchers. We’ve struggled before with the question “how do we best help the researcher if we don’t know who the researcher is?” We answered that question by saying “If the user logs in then we’ll know who she/he is and be able to discern future needs.”
The future needs we anticipated were as small as the possibility of moving the download button on the abstract page and as great as the potential for delivering research customized to your interests. Right now we do that through the wide variety of eJournals we offer, but as technology changes the nature of research, we hope to stay on the edge of our user’s needs. We like to dream big, even if it’s sometimes bigger than technology makes plausible.
How Practicality Got The Best of Us
In general, we like change. Part of SSRN culture naturally embraces change as the only way to improve. Through all the changes we’ve made, including those we’ve made in the last year, we’ve been especially hesitant to touch aspects of how the author makes a download. We reached the conclusion that we were losing more by doing nothing than by testing our hypothesis, so we planned an experiment to ask users to log in when making a download.
We removed the option to make an anonymous download. SSRN users had always been notified that if they did not want to log in or create a free account, they could forgo counting toward the author’s download count by opening the paper anonymously. Without this option, they would need that account to continue past the abstract page. By the end of the test, 70% of users were asked to log in before making a download.
While this may have been a relatively simple adjustment to our site functionality, we found that the consequences impacted SSRN users more than anticipated. Some downloaders found that logging in slowed down their research process, and interfered with practiced efficiency. Others simply preferred not create an account they did not intend to maintain. We get it. For years we’ve looked at our site users as our most valuable asset. While other companies go by the rule of thumb that “the customer is always right” our model is more along the lines of “the researcher should always be happy”. When we saw that our test was prohibiting researchers from working at the pace and functionality that they were used to we aborted the mission.
SSRN exists to serve the researcher. In this case, we thought we could provide more value in the long-run by asking users to log in and found that it wasn’t worth sacrificing the researchers’ short-term needs. We value a long term relationship with our users and want to continue to provide quality papers for them. We also recognize that our service should not be self-serving. Our mission is to help researchers create better research faster. The removal of anonymous downloads interfered with that.
We’re far from done running tests on SSRN. Whether you see small changes in design or new features catching your eye you can bet that we’ll be looking for ways to improve your research experience. Compromising on integrity is simply not an option.
We’re very receptive to new ideas and chances for improvement. If you have your own feedback to contribute, we’d love to hear it. We also hope you’ll still consider creating an account on SSRN so you can take advantage of all the free features we have to offer.