If the web is said to have a super power, that would be the power of zero distance. Any public place on the internet can be reached instantly from any other place. All points of public net geography are essentially equidistant and have identical travel costs. This unique geography gives rise to the environment of pure competition that we see online. The ocean of free choices creates the need for search engines, ranking sites, and countless other ways to reduce the most common cost – the users – time (to find what they want).
The users’ time is the primary cost they pay for using the net. As a function of their patience and attention span, it is also their currency. In such an environment, one must exercise care and consideration when placing any kind of barrier or cost before the public. Forced registration, payment gateways, long flash introductions, personal information gathering, page load times, and so on, are all forms of barriers to public users. These are things that raise the inherent cost of using the website.
Supply and demand economics apply in full force here. As the price of something rises, demand decreases. Force people to register unnecessarily and demand will drop. Bad load times and people go elsewhere. Pay site? Better have a product that creates demand. Is your site unique? Odds are, there?s an inferior good on the same Google search results page just waiting to pick up some impatient users. Simple economics once one realizes that time really is money in the sea of free.
Not all pages on a given site are equal however. Different areas have different demand levels. The homepage is arguably the lowest demand page on any site. It’s just the store front to get people in. Deeply buried pages for advanced site-use features are the opposite. You can treat such pages as having high-demand. Not because a lot of people are going to them, but because those users who do go to them have more determination and will to trouble themselves.
So, before locking away portions of your site behind complicated flash, gorgeous (but massive) images, user identification systems, information gathering forms, or payment gateways, take into consideration how much demand those sections of the site generate. When designing the flow and use, make the low demand pages as easy to reach and use as possible, otherwise they will cause the most attrition to the user-base and its growth. Respect you users’ time, they’ll appreciate it, it’s like saving them money.