A frequent conversation around the office involves how much information to gather from customers and when. On our search product there is a constant discussion over whether our clients should force users to register in order to search (sometimes there are regulations around this). And then there’s the contact form that asks for every possible detail about a potential customer’s life. I counted 38 fields in one recently. Imagine meeting someone for the first time and then they ask you 38 questions about yourself.
Just because we can ask for information doesn’t mean we should. When putting together forms we should really only ask for information that we need in order to help the person who fills it out. If we aren’t sending them something in the mail do we really need to know their street address? Small things like this make a big difference.
In a conversation about the proposed privacy features of IE8, Jim Sterne devised a tiered set of access and features to give to site visitors based on the information they allow us to gather. Notice how each level of information sharing relates directly to the kinds of features the customer gets. There should be a one-to-one mapping between the data we gather and the benefit we provide.