We just gave a face lift to one of the most visited pages on SSRN. Our login page!
One of the fun things about working at SSRN is that there are still a handful of people involved who have been here since day 1. Since our company will soon be hitting the 25 year anniversary that involvement is becoming more impressive, and now comes with some fascinating and sometimes technology-ancient stories (like the poster paper we found which notes how the first SSRN site should look and work).
One of the decisions made in those days-gone-by holds the key to something we still hold as a value: We do not charge individuals to upload or download papers.
Since web use has changed a bit since 1994 we sometimes need make that statement loud and proud. WE. DO. NOT. CHARGE. INDIVIDUALS. TO UPLOAD. OR DOWNLOAD. PAPERS.
We were freemium before freemium existed. We’ve hit the age of premier memberships and gold status accounts, but we’ve held onto the value that SSRN needs to have a model that allows access without a credit card in the account.
Although we didn’t want finances to ever be the reason people didn’t have access to research we realized that the best experience we could offer was tied to the individual. We instituted a login so that our users would be able to personalize their use of SSRN. Over time we’ve added features so that users who setup a personal login would have be able to:
- Save papers they were interested in for later through My Library
- Subscribe to eJournals according to their interests
- Receive email updates and recommended papers
- Keep a hub of uploaded papers in their Author Profile
- Submit research ideas to promote research and collaboration
The ability to customize your SSRN experience was at the forefront of the login and that meant that we made the other extreme decision that users would never be forced to login for access to research. Researchers who did not wish to set up a profile are still, and always have been able to download papers. This is so integral to who we are, that even our shortest test at limiting downloads was called a failure.
Having free and open downloads is something of a holy grail of Open Access and there is a reason that not all sites and do it. It comes with problems. Significantly for us, we found that there will always be a chance the skew data when login isn’t required.
An SSRN download can hold a lot of weight for authors. Rankings are even more valuable. Only a few years after launching the repository, we instituted a data integrity message where authors who had an unusual download pattern or downloaded the same paper repeatedly would be given the choice to login or download anonymously so that their activity would not affect download counts or the status of rankings.
Our current login prompt still helps keep our data clean and accurate. The choice to login or download anonymously is still offered for unusual download pattern, if a paper of author has been flagged for any reason (including copyright infringement or posting non-scholarly work), and it offers more ability than ever to customize that SSRN experience authors and researchers look for.
Even 25 years later, our commitment to authors hasn’t changed. We remain open access and want researchers to feel that they can count on us to provide resources. After a few arguments among colleges, we knew that we needed to make some adjustments. We heard from our users and knew something needed to change.
That little “download anonymously” text wasn’t cutting it. So, we changed it.
We added an actionable button reading “Download Without Registration”. The page to login is more clear and concise so that all of your options are visible.
One thing we hope SSRN users realize through this change is that yes, we want users to create an account. We want to have the opportunity to create a lasting relationship, to suggest content based on your interests, and protect your data. But, we also want you to feel that that is a choice, not something you’re forced into. Downloads without registration are part of who we are, hand in hand with our mission to not charge individuals for access to papers.
What’s that old saying? “If you love something set it free”? Well SSRN loves research. Enjoy!