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Login vs Log In (stackoverflow.com)
100 points by mikegirouard 1744 days ago | hide | past | web | 71 comments | favorite

we tested this heavily at mint. the verdict was

sign in/sign out is clearest to the average (nontechnical, mass consumer) user...

...but the problem is, so is "sign up." so when in conflict with a third "sign _" action, the preferred and easily recognized choices are "log in," "log out," and "sign up."

this is a generalization, but "log on" really only resonates with people who had modems.

there you go.

Sign up, sign in and sign out seems perfectly reasonable to me, and has the advantage of keeping all of these related actions consistently named.

If they were unrelated, it would be a problem to have similar naming, but in fact they are all related actions.

I usually hate when I see sign __ maybe because English is not my mother tongue. I tend to believe for us foreigners it is better to have two completely different terms.

Yes. For many non-natives, they have to get over the meanings of "up", "in", and "out" before proceeding, and the predictable questions of how one signs "up" versus signs "in".

If you're using an English language website, I think understanding the three words you mention (up, in and out) in context and as modifiers would be required before understanding any significant content. I don't believe the term 'sign in' is esoteric or difficult to grasp, as with its opposite 'sign out', and 'sign up' has a long, long, usage in English for subscribing to something, joining a group, etc.

Sign up is required to join the website, sign in is required to access the website later, and sign out is the opposite of sign in.

That said these questions are always difficult because differing cultures/usages/dialects, even within one language, can dramatically affect comprehension. So a site really has to be tailored to the particular audience it seeks - a site in the US, the UK or India might use very different terms depending on the particular content it covers. But if you're targeting native speakers of English in most idioms I'm familiar with I think the terms above are pretty clear, and made clearer by using the same verb; other choices make them sound like unrelated actions, which they are not.

Non-native here.

These composed verbs, whose meaning depend on the modifiers, are definitely confusing.

You can go a long way without mastering them, and their meaning (assuming there's only one) isn't always easy to infer from the roots. Think of getting off, for example.

Some of the combinations are still not part of my passive vocabulary[1], and most are not part of my active vocabulary, because I can usually get away with synonyms.

For this scenario, "log in" and "register" offer the best syntactic contrast, and should be favored, IMO. "Sign in" and "sign up" require more thinking. Pet peeve of mine, actually.

[1] There was a vocabulary depth study posted here on HN a while ago, I was at the 95th percentile of non-native speakers, equivalent to the median of natives of my age.

Sign in/out/up in English correspond to actions you might take in your daily life (eg signing in to a visitors' book at a meeting), whereas most people would only have come across log in within a computer related context.

Many non-native English speakers primarily get in contact with English in computer related contexts since they live in a non-English speaking country and use English language websites.

This group of customers may be larger than the group of native speakers depending on your target audience. So optimizing for non-native English speakers living in non-English speaking countries is something which should be considered.

> Sign in/out/up in English correspond to actions you might take in your daily life...

... in English-speaking countries.

> [M]ost people would only have come across log in within a computer related context.

Most of the time, non-native speakers come across English in computer-related contexts, i.e. on the Web.

What about the contrast of "sign in" and "join"?

Not saying you are wrong but I usually don't need to stop and think when I see "login" but I always do whenever I see something else. English is kinda easy to understand, even a "pull" or "push" sign on a door is easy to understand but it doesn't get easier than having the handle only on one side of the door. I'd apply the same logic to "login", using whatever everyone is using even if it's not correct or making the most sense.

That happened to me in cases like "put out the fire"...

As a non-native English speaker I have to disagree here. Was using the web long before I could get those things right. And I can assure you many Swedes would fail to get English particles and prepositions right. And they are still able to use most English websites without much if any problems.

Getting particles (eg. "in" in "sign in") and prepositions right is one of the hardest parts of learning a new language. (Word gender for languages with that feature is another hard part.) You can understand almost everything of a website just from understanding verbs and nouns.

"Sign in" is terrible.

Use: "Login" for login. "Logout" for logout. "Sign up" or "Register" for registration.

You don't want any ambiguity in your buttons. "Login" is internationally understood, "Sign in" not so much (and takes more effort to visually distinguish from "Sign up").

Both data and extensive personal experience have shown that your recommendations here are incorrect.

"Login" is terrible (and you should feel bad for suggesting bad UX as though it was right).

Users want to provide their identity credentials to access your site and verify who they are. They do that via an electronic signature which is their username and password.

Therefore they want to "Sign In" with their signature.

The fact that you're 'logging' their signature is secondary to their needs. And as far as making a compound word out of "log" and "in"... well that's stupid (and wow... "Logout" is a new verb created just so you can leave a website securely? Try explaining what that is to someone who has never used the internet... 'no it's not street slang for going to the toilet').

As for your 'more effort to visually distinguish' between "Sign In" and "Sign up", you already solved that problem. "Sign in" and "Register" are the winners.

And we don't have to involve any lumps of wood (or new verbs that suggest bowel movements).

Once you've registered your signature with the site, the next time you arrive, you merely provide your signature. Register and then Sign In.

> "Login" is terrible (and you should feel bad for suggesting bad UX as though it was right).


I also agree that "register" is a great alternate to "sign up."

My original intent in responding to this thread is to help educate HN readers between data and opinion when it comes to "good UX." As a designer I've had opinions about these things for years, as we all have. But not all of us have had the opportunity to test our ui lexicon in front of millions of users. So while we might think "oh, register makes more sense," I am simply offering that no, in fact, it did not. "Sign up" was the most commonly-expected term for participating in the system as a non-user. "Register" was viewed as more committal, technical, involved.

Did you A/B test the conversion rate or is that from a poll?

passive: tested conversion/success rate

active: tested lexicon on focus groups, asked what users expected actions to do, testing hypothetical affordances, etc.

That's interesting. We did an extensive series of A/B tests a while back between "Registrieren", "Anmelden" and a specific call to action (this was a german top100 site). There was no significant difference between the former two but, as expected, a much better conversion with the specific call.

However, none of this is relevant to the "Login" vs "Sign in" debate. If that button influences anything then it would be in the retention, and I doubt the impact can be measured in insulation either way. It's merely one of the tiny details that make a difference in aggregate.

this is a generalization, but "log on" really only resonates with people who had modems.

And with Old Media, who routinely use it to mean "visit a Web site." As in, "Log-on to msnbc.com to get all the details"

Stackoverflow sometimes annoy me in how aggressive some people can be at closing questions. So this is a question that's 3 years old, where Jeff Atwood himself weighed in. But somehow, just because it got a surge of popularity recently it was closed 40 minutes ago.

Typically questions linked from a news aggregate site are closed because the question is now a stage for people to shout "me too" without reading the other posts. We end up with dozens of comments that haven't added any value to the discussion. If one of my questions are linked, I request a mod lock it, because it's damn annoying to have my inbox flooded with that kind of feedback. Protected locks are removed after a short time, if you feel strongly that you had a meaningful contribution to the post.

This explains the "protected by Charles 6 hours ago", not the "closed as off topic by agf, Charles, marcog, leppie, MartinHN 1 hour ago".

Yeah, protecting questions linked from news aggregators is fine and a sensible thing to do. Closing the questions is not.

Jeff didn't weight in, he just edited one of the posts to apply formatting.

This clearly isn't a programming question, it's a UX or language question. Appropriately enough, a very similar question was previously posted on UX.StackExchange.com: http://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/1080/using-sign-in-vs-...

When the site was younger there were lots of questions that were only relevant to programmers, not actually about programming. In small numbers these weren't bad, but they became increasingly popular compared with actual programming questions. That was not a healthy trend -- communities needs to keep their focus -- and the stricter moderation that Stack Overflow has now was partially a response so that.

If somebody wants to contribute an answer, they should post it on the on-topic UX.SE question. Closing the Stack Overflow post shouldn't affect anyone. (Deleting is another matter, and I'll oppose deleting this question if it's suggested.)

You'd have at least thought they'd just move the question.

Needs just one more vote to reopen - I can't even figure the logic as to how this question is off topic in any way, shape, or form.

The title is wrong. The debate is about Login/Logon not Login vs Log in. Could someone change it?

Well, the question is about login/logon, but the poster misuses them, since login/logon are not verbs.

That's what I noticed as well. Another misuse I see all the time is 'setup' (noun) being used as a verb instead of 'set up'. For example, 'I need to setup this computer today'

Is this honestly something "hackers" care about? German separable verbs, maybe, but that's probably more of a signifier of the kind of education you had than business viability or hacking anything even remotely useful.

Please downvote me if I missed the meat of what this was really supposed to be about. I think maybe I just don't understand the HN community most of the time.

Also "sign" vs "log" and "in" vs "on" are A/B testable.

Is making otherwise innocuous changes which have a substantial impact on user behavior important to the startup culture?

No, no at all.

What it made me think of is how silly the whole convention is.

From a back end, sure, log your access in or on and out of off. But from a user perspective, why are we logging anything. Why do we need to sign a metaphorical log sheet every time we come and go?

Is there no better way to do it? Are we destined to spend our lives and future signing the log sheet at the metaphorical security desk for the rest of human existence?

I've thought about this for a considerable amount of time last month and decided the simplest way to do it was to use Enter and Exit in our upcoming sports app, because they have real world connotations and also have meanings and symbols that are easy to get, even by utterly non tech savvy people. Hope that doesn't end up introducing even more confusion.

Interesting idea.

To play devil's advocate: to me, "logging out" and "exiting" are not the same thing. Particularly, the first is just a change of state--I'm still in your app, but now I'm no longer signed in. On the other hand, "exiting" is more like a motion; I expect to actually leave your app and not just be logged out. In UI terms, I see "exit" as a synonym of "quit".

Now, perhaps this makes sense for your app. However, if it makes sense to interact with it without being logged in, I think that is the wrong terminology. So I would definitely not use it for something like HN because browsing stories works regardless of whether I'm logged in or not.

I'm sure you thought about this far more when you were making your decision, so this is just my impression. You can always try to test the alternative empirically once you have a bunch of active users :).

Thanks for your thoughts. I agree one would indeed expect to not be signed out by chosing exit. We happen to use google auth and are in this uncommon situation where the sign out action, actually signs the user out of their google account, which so far has annoyed every sigle one of our testers.

We are looking into a few other alternatives including the most obvious where we convey that they are indeed leaving the app but in the next screen let the user know that their google account is still signed in and provide an option if they still want to sign out. Thankfully we have quite a while to launch, so I have time to run a couple other iterations and pick the one which seems most clear.

My thoughts exactly. But since so many websites nowadays expect the user to be logged in all the time, I wonder if the distinction will remain much longer. On many websites, it's virtually impossible to get anything done without logging in. For someone like me who prefers to stay logged out for as long as possible (for reasons of privacy and security: you can steal my session all day long and it'll be useless if I'm not logged in), this trend is infuriating. Thank God for HN, Stack Overflow, Reddit, and a few other sites that continue to welcome anonymous users.

How about Connect/Disconnect?

Sort of off-topic but only partly because the original article asked for origins of terms, exit has a fascinating etymology. Unlike most words, "exit" is a loan word in a conjugated form. It comes from the third person singular indicative of a Latin verb, exire ("to go out"). In other words, it means, in Latin "He or she leaves." Most loan words come from some sort of base form, which tells you there is an interesting backstory here.

From what I understand it entered into English as a stage direction, but by the 16th century it had become a noun referring to a doorway for leaving.

This fact is highlighted by the contrasting use of "exeunt" ("they leave") in stage directions.

hmm .. "enter", "exit", "join" (as opposed to log/sign-in/out/on/off / sign-up/register) ?

I use my Login to Log In.

I want you to know Im exercising so much restraint to hold back my reddit impulse to quip,"Yo Dawg". Its amazing how easily we have come to change behavior, attitudes and expectations from other members as we move from one online place to another.

The most annoying thing to me is seeing that popularity is mislead for authority or correctness. Why would the options chosen by the majority of people be the most correct one? Pitfalls of democracy...

It's not democracy, it's just how non-formal language evolves.

People agree on the meaning of symbols/conventions, and then dictionaries draw targets around the arrows.

I agree in principle, but where do schools fit in your picture? Schools should teach you the meaning of things and then, only if the available meanings don't fit your reality, then people should recur to "agreement". I like to think that Shakespeare (or Dante, in my language) words weight more than FB posts to define the meaning of things ;-)

It all depends for whom... Schools are inherently conservative, and slow down the evolution, as did the paper medium for written communications (and iPhone auto-correct).

But now, forget Facebook, think SMS and IM. In 50 years, everyone under 75 will be familiar with its vocabulary, and will have used more for personal communication than the "correct" language. I predict that, school be damned, it will replace the current spelling in everyday life for most people.

Note that I love beautiful language and its historical roots. At the gut level, I find it painful to watch it being torn down. But I'm too young to be a curmudgeon...

I agree with your prediction, but it scares me that a medium that should make communications easier will actually put more barriers between ages.

I already do not understand SMS spelling: in 50 years, probably a 30 years old person will not understand things written by a 15 years old person.

Conservatism in schools has the advantage that we can still read Shakespeare (or Dante) without translation. Languages that change too quickly defy their own purpose (i.e. being a common ground for people to communicate).

I wholeheartedly agree.

Conservatism isn't inherently bad, and innovation for its own sake is idiotic.

Note that, for Shakespeare at least, even though one can still understand the main meaning of the text, a lot of puns and cultural references are lost to the modern reader (lest he's a specialized literature scholar)...

Because that is how languages work. The usage that is most popular becomes the correct usage over time.

But doesn't familiarity supplant or outweigh almost every other facet of UI design?

I think it really boils down to whom you are addressing: people who ignore things are happy to do as others (even if they are wrong -- they don't know!), whereas people who know things care about correctness (and are annoyed by incorrectness or sloppiness).

I don't recall ever hearing a viewer / user complain about what the developer called the thing. I also don't remember ever reading a blog where a start-up founder obsessed over it, although I'm sure there's been one or two that we never heard of.

Therefore, I simply don't think about it and typically just use "login". It's recognizable, it simple, and users know what to do with it. Everything else is simply keeping you away from the more important parts of your project. Just one man's opinion.

Just survey the top sites on the web and use whatever terminology they use. It may not be grammatically correct but their users understand what it means.

Also not a good approach. Many of the "top sites" on the web are not such because they follow best practices at all, they are top sites because of their content. The stakes are a lot higher for us here in startupland. Clear language and predictable affordances make %s of difference in conversion.

They forgot connect / disconnect which is easier to translate than anything with 'log' or even 'sign'.

That is only a good choice if you are actually connecting to something. In most websites you are connected to the same server no matter what you do, and all the login does is to give you special permissions.

I always write "login/on" to be cheeky :-)

When coding, I also have to stop and think about:

- website vs web site - setup vs set up

That is just two examples that come to mind in as many seconds.

Don't use any, there is no such action as a {log,sign}{in,off,on} what there is is a session between the client and server so call it what it is a session.

I could also further argue that there is no session, there is only a HTTP cookie representing state. And then argue that there are no cookies, just a piece of data sent by a website and stored by the browser, and so on..

The point is that the actions do not cease to exist simply because they are abstractions over a lower level of operation. Users don't need to know what sessions are and it detracts from the user experience, so its not a good idea to expose them to the details of that level of abstraction.

I don't believe a user is by default ignorant and I don't treat them as such it also doesn't detract from user experience as now we have session/{create,new,destroy] instead of what this very question presents.

I see no reason to assume that a user understands what HTTP sessions are on a site where the userbase is non-technical like gmail or Facebook or the vast majority of sites online. Mentioning sessions to them will detract from their experience. Furthermore, I don't think a technical user would be offended by use of a non technical term like login/signin if there's no need for a technical one.

Finally, I don't see any clear distinction between session/create and session/new. I'm confused about which one corresponds to creating an account vs logging in. I'd say confusing terminology like that is far worse for user experience than any of the log/sign options.

So can we take it that you are plumping for "authorize session" / "deauthorize session"?

session/new, session/create, session/destroy

Even logging in is orthogonal to session.

How about "authenticate"?

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