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Network-wide sign in created accounts for me on all sites even though I had no accounts there beforehand

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A few day ago, @aCVn proposed that there should be a network-wide sign in to avoid signing in into each sub-site individually. I upvoted the proposal because I like the idea.

As of yesterday (19.06.2020) it's been implemented and rolled out.

Now there is something that wasn't mentioned in the initial proposal or maybe it's hidden between the lines and I didn't catch it.

To try out the new feature, I logged out and logged back in and tried out every site. Suddenly, I have registered accounts on every site even though I specifically didn't sign up for them. For example, I didn't sign up for Electrical Engineering as I neither have any knowledge of this topic nor do I have any questions related to electronics. Of course this could change but then I would have registered on this site.

Is this the intended behaviour?

If it is, I do want to raise a few concerns. If in the future, some site will skyrocket because it evolves around a highly dynamic topic, is very popular or Codidact just happens to be the #1 site for this topic, we will see a surge of new users asking questions and answering them. Now all of the sudden, we also have a lot users on all other sites even though the new users primarily signed up for the popular site.

Of course, there is the possibility that some users like to participate on other sites right from the start and will do so but I think that most users will just stay on their respective start site and sometime later they might enjoy to participate elsewhere or not.

My problem with that is that we now have large user bases everywhere even though participation hasn't changed significantly. New users coming here might see this and think: "Wow, so many users, someone will answer my question very quickly!" In the end, the hoped-for answer takes much more time as the users who participate answer it at their normal rate. Beside this point, some users might ask themselves: "Why do we have so many users and nobody's participating? Just registering and then doing nothing?"

A solution would be to only have a network-wide sign in for the sites one has actually registered beforehand. An alternative is to display a hint that one always registers for the whole network and not just this specific site as this hint is missing on the sign up page right now.

I think that this should be made apparent as it also corners privacy issues. Normally, I expect that when I register an account on any website that I only have an account on this specific website. If this isn't the case, I expect that's explained to me. (For example, Google displays a hint which tells you that you register one account for all their services.)

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3 answers

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I don't think that visiting site A while logged in on site B should automatically create an account on site A, for at least two reasons:

  • Doing it inflates the list of users, making it harder to get a sense of how many people were actually interested enough to take that first step. For sites with imported content this isn't a factor (those sites already have a ton of stub accounts), but for a brand-new site like Cooking, I'd like to be able to get a sense of how well we're doing in getting people to check us out -- not just visit, but take that next step to join us.

  • Some people might not want to have their names show up on some sites. Imagine that a site you find personally distasteful takes off, drawing lots of attention. Imagine you visited once. Imagine that someone you'd rather not have see this sees your name on the user list. Fortunately on Codidact we don't give moderators access to PII, so that concern doesn't apply1, but there's still the appearance to consider. And we don't have a way for users to delete an account on just one site, so you can't undo it if you goof (or didn't know).

We should make it easy for people who have an account (and are logged in) to join a new site. I think we do make that easy; perhaps we can add more contextual help, but I think the workflow is sound: visit, click, confirm. Auto-signin on sites where you've done that is great, but let's not take the extra step of auto-creation of the account.

  1. I deleted accounts on two SE sites for this reason and I know others have too. In one case a moderator had bullied me directly; in the other a moderator had made an antisemitic post. I was not comfortable with either being able to track my movements in physical space through IP addresses.

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+2
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It's not the network sign-in that's created accounts for you - it's visiting the sites.

When you visit a site and are signed in elsewhere, an profile is created for you on that site. So, with network sign-in, if you sign in on one site, whenever you visit a site that you haven't been to before, a profile is automatically created.

It would appear you haven't visited Photography yet, as you haven't got a profile there yet: here's the raw data:

Image alt text

That said, you're quite right that we should do more to explain that this is what's going to happen, so I'll get something added to the sign up form to point that out.

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General comments (7 comments)
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Here is another possible user presentation to this problem. Anyone can visit a site and look around. This doesn't sign them up to the site. They won't show up in the user list.

The first time you try to do something on the site, you get a popup. It explains that you need to "join" the site to perform the action. It explains that joining means you will show up in the users list. You can then click PROCEED or CANCEL.

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