Today I got a support email from someone asking why they needed to establish a password in order to post questions. My first thought was that they were asking about some other site since we delegate authentication to whichever OpenID service the user prefers. But then I did some poking around with an incognito window and I think I understand what happened:

Stack Exchange option is expanded in Sign up

Since the Stack Exchange OpenID option is expanded by default in this tab, it looks like you're going to need to pick a password to signup. If you pick Google or Facebook, that's not at all true. (Well, you need to log into one of those services with a password, but presumably you already have one.) Meanwhile, the "Log in" tab does not expand the Stack Exchange option by default:

No options are expanded in Log in

Finally, when you want to add a login credential, the Stack Exchange box is expanded again:

Stack Exchange OpenID is expanded here.

(This was confusing to at least one user who thought entering an email and password would have created the account for them.)

I'm not saying this is right or wrong, I just don't understand the reason for it. Why is the Stack Exchange option more prominent for people signing up? Aren't we just confusing our sign up process by making it seem like a password is required?

  • 3
    Presumably to overcome the expectation that you'd have to sign up somewhere else (like you would with the first two options) before using it, and to lower the "What the hell is Stack Exchange?" barrier. But I can definitely see how it'd be confusing, I'm not sure how to best address both concerns. (Somebody) To the UX site!
    – Tim Stone
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 19:51

2 Answers 2


After seeing more user emails from people who are confused, I'm convinced that pretending SE OpenID is not an OpenID service is too confusing.

Take, for instance, the scenario where you are already signed into your OpenID service. If you have Google or Facebook (not technically OpenID), pressing the appropriate button on either the sign up or log in page will do the right thing. Cleverly, it will figure out if you already have an account and help you create one if you don't have one.

For SE OpenID, you have to enter your email and password. If you happen to pick "sign up", you need to enter your name and the password a second time even if you already have an account. If don't have an account, "log in" just fails:

I'm not using my stackoverflow.com email for signing up.

It doesn't matter whether or not you are already signed into SE OpenID. Now most new users won't have an SE OpenID. But users on one site may if they are starting a new account on another. Treating SE OpenID like it's not an OpenID service makes signing up for a new account when you already have an SE login more confusing.

Sometimes people assume each site has separate login credentials. If they enter a different password when signing up to a new site with the same email, they get redirected to the account recovery page with this banner:

The email address you have used is already registered, however, our automatic log in attempt has failed.

This is confusing because the user assumes they are creating an entirely new account. We hide the fact that the Stack Exchange option is an OpenID service, so it isn't strange that people are confused by this.


Instead of making Stack Exchange seem like a conventional login, treat it exactly like any other OpenID service.


The "Sign up using Stack Exchange" is expanded because we found that users were confused in our old system when we had a button that said "Sign up with Stack Exchange". Since the user had clicked "sign up", they already had the intention of creating a Stack Exchange account; it wasn't obvious that on the signup page we were talking about an SE OpenID.

In the new system, the name, email, and password fields are shown so that it becomes more obvious what "sign up with Stack Exchange" means. For many users, they can just think of it as creating a username and password for the site; the fact that it's an OpenID is irrelevant to a lot of people.

(The reasoning is the same for why it's expanded on the "add login" page; "Add a log in using Stack Exchange" wasn't clear to people who didn't already have an SE OpenID.)

Whether or not the SE signup option is more prominent will differ from person to person. Yes, it's bigger because it has exposed input fields, but Google and Facebook appear higher up on the page, so many people are drawn to that. (Facebook and Google far more popular options than SE OpenID when we look at who uses which credentials.)

We assume that most of the people who choose to use Google and Facebook do so because they know what to expect; they use those services to sign in to other websites, too. They don't require explanation.

On the login page, we assume most people will remember what they used to sign up and will choose the correct option accordingly; there's no reason to expand the SE OpenID there. (And although of course not everyone does remember what they use, so we have an account recovery path to help them.)

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