Apps Like Rockmelt Ditch Social-Only Signup, Add Email So Privacy Buffs Can “Try Before You Pry”

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Rockmelt’s recently released iPad app only offered signup through Facebook and Twitter, leading 50 percent of users not to sign in at all. So today it followed Pinterest and Spotify by moving away from social-only signup and offering email as a login option. “Users don’t want to add social up front and give access to their information,” Rockmelt’s Eric Vishria tells me. “People want a little dating before marriage.”

It’s understandable why a startup wouldn’t want to offer email signup. Facebook and Twitter logins get users to give data permissions that can be used to customize a service and make it relevant and sticky right from the start. Social signup means people are already primed for sharing to their friends, which is critical to growth for a startup.

For fledgling companies, it also means you don’t have to build your own identity and login systems since the social networks let you integrate pre-made ones. That makes it cheap and easy to get a service off the ground. But these benefits come at a cost. That’s why we’ve recently seen Pinterest, Spotify, Pulse, and Turntable.fm add email login options.

Rockmelt Login WIth Email

Last month after years of working on its desktop browser, Rockmelt for iPad launched to redefine the browser for tablet and touch. Rather than starting at a blank browser screen and going hunting for content, you browse through a customized feed of updates from your favorite news sites, blogs, and friends. The only ways to sign in were through Facebook and Twitter. By getting people to join with these credentials, Rockmelt for iPad could immediately show feeds from outlets and about topics users Liked or followed.

About 37 percent of Rockmelt users were logging in with Facebook and 13 percent with Twitter, but 50 percent of users were engaging with the service without being logged in at all. That meant not only that they weren’t getting immediate personalization, but they couldn’t use the manual customization options to get an experience that evolved and adapted to their preferences.

Believe it or not, some people don’t have Facebook or Twitter accounts. Others have deleted them to live a more “real” existence. Then there are those with social accounts, but who don’t want to give their most private data to just any developer. Their biographical info, location, interests, and the ability to post things to their friends are not things they want to give away without some vetting.

So today with version 2.0.3 of Rockmelt for iPad, users can now login with email. But Rockmelt still loves social. Now emoticode reactions to Rockmelt content like “Lol” or “WTF” can be auto-shared to Facebook through Open Graph. Rockmelt is also adding more swiping gestures plus Twitter sharing and in-line video viewing in this update.

Rockmelt co-founder and CEO Vishria tells me his company learned a big lesson from a big hire — Draw Something’s head of product. She told Vishria that “because of privacy implications, people want to try an app with email and then add social later if they like it.” I call this “try before you pry,” and Vishria explains “there’s a certain level of trust that builds over time.”

Pinterest Signups Done

Startups shouldn’t worry about losing social data they could have mined by following in Rockmelt’s footsteps. Vishria tells me that in Draw Something’s experience and the research he did on whether Rockmelt should offer email sign-in, he found “it’s additive” and doesn’t cannibalize social logins. Rockmelt can’t afford to be wrong on this. It’s already raised nearly $40 million. Startups that are still worried can bury or minimize the email sign-up option like Pinterest does.

Choosing whether to go social-only for login is a question every app or service needs to answer for itself. If you’re going to be a blank page with no friends and no content without those Facebook permissions, providing an email option could be a disservice to your users. If you have manual customization options that aren’t too painful, or your app inherently offers something to do, give users a choice. Let them dip their toes in with email login, and once they know they enjoy the feeling they can add their Facebook or Twitter data and go swimming in the social stream.

Rockmelt for iPad is available in the App Store, or you can download Rockmelt’s desktop browser.