Why Mixel Requires Facebook Login

It’s been a crazy week since we launched Mixel last Wednesday night. The feedback has been tremendously positive, but there have been some dissenters too. Particularly regarding our requirement that users login with Facebook.

We’ve heard many times that this is a challenge for some, a nonstarter for others, and downright offensive to a few. It’s been a heated discussion, and we’ve listened carefully. After finally catching my breath a bit, I managed to put together our thoughts on the subject. In the interest of making it as digestible as possible, I’ve framed it as a Q & A, and you can find it over at this link on the Mixel Web site.

Hopefully this will help clarify everything that we’ve been thinking about this topic. But to sum up quickly: the reason we use Facebook login is that it lets us build the Mixel community around real names. This is by far the most important element of Facebook for us, and the document explains why.

I’ll also add one more thing. It’s probably not much consolation to users who feel left out of Mixel to hear this, but it was a very difficult decision for us to go with Facebook, one that we didn’t take lightly. In fact, I agonized over it almost right up until we launched, and kept asking friends, colleagues, advisors and investors for their input. No one offered a strong enough counter-argument to Facebook though, and so we stuck with the decision.

I also realize that my answers will not change the minds of people who are dead-set against using Facebook. Nevertheless, we value and pay close attention to all the feedback we receive, and it pains me to know that some people have dismissed Mixel before trying it solely because of our login system. We don’t believe there’s a viable alternative today, but hopefully that will change tomorrow.



  1. Just read the FAQ, and wanted to briefly comment on your real name policy. I frequently agree with something like that, and I honestly believe that real names are a good thing for social networks, because they ensure trust and fairness. With Mixel, however, I’m not so sure (I signed-up anyway and I’m loving it). Allow me to explain why:

    This is a highly creative environment you’ve created – one that will get some really passionate people creating great art. It is brilliant, and fun. People will want to express themselves creatively. Most importantly, they’ll probably want to express all their angles creatively – possibly even “angles” they don’t frequently express. I’m not talking about creepy stuff – just open-minded art based on ideas, whatever those might be. Real names don’t help in that vein. People might want to have a pseudonym under which they express themselves creatively: this happens everywhere within the art world already, as you know.

    In short:

    You’ve created graffiti, but are keeping out Banksy.

  2. This is a reasonable explanation for the requirement. Given your preference for real names, this is probably the best solution available today.

    As for that preference, it’s not where I would’ve gone with an app like this, but that’s just air coming out of my butt. You build a great app, and it’s great because of how you envision it. This is your call to make.

    If you asked for my advice on how to proceed – why would you – I’d say that you need to communicate your reasons more clearly and directly. A note in the app description won’t do; no one reads those. They don’t’ read it not because they’re stupid, but because they just want to jump into the app. And they don’t expect that a goofy collage-making app requires membership on an unrelated social network. I think that’s a reasonable disconnect for many people to have. (Spotify gets criticized similarly – the disconnect between listening to music you pay for and having an account on a social network is large in some people’s heads.)

    A lot of people are going to criticize your decision in irrational or overemotional ways (“I HATE Facebook!”) But I believe there’s also a very rational case to be made for simply not wanting to bother opening an account with a large website known for privacy issues, all for the purpose of using a drawing app (which, in turn, does not use Facebook features in any major way.)

    I hope all this can be resolved soon. Stick to your guns, but remember that people don’t like having guns pointed at them 🙂 Good luck!

  3. ignores china, egypt, iran, many countries where real name is either not the custom/culture, or insecure

    plus, you know, facebook is facebook, linear, old-paradigm, not the future

  4. Khoi:

    Thanks for this post. I totally respect your decisions and understand/appreciate the motivation.

    I, however, will decline trying/using Mixel until a new non-Facebook option is found. As you said: downright offensive, for a few.

    Best of luck!

  5. that’s a nice explanation of a valid non-obvious reasoning (at least non-obvious to me). two thoughts:
    1) maybe you should be (have been) more upfront about this. the FAQ should have existed before you launched the app, and a small “why we require facebook” link might be a good idea on the login page.
    2) what about a credit card check, or even a small payment ($1) for those that don’t have/don’t want to use facebook?

  6. Tom: On point 1, yes, you’re right, we should have led with this reasoning rather than followed with it. But it probably comes as no surprise to you that launching an app usually takes all of one’s efforts, and this is something that just slipped through. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

    The credit card check is a good idea that we have thought about but not deeply. We’ll consider it further for sure.

  7. Interesting. This is not the reason that I was expecting. I was expecting that you used Facebook as the solitary auth system for three reasons (in descending order of importance):

    1. The ability for Mixel to grow virally is greater if you make sure the greatest percentage of your users are connected via Facebook.

    2. Writing an FB-only auth system without things like Forgot Password functionality and email verifications is much much quicker than writing a full-fledged reg system.

    3. By forcing Facebook auth, you eliminate a lot of spammers, trollers, and other miscreants hiding behind anonymity.

    The real-name thing is arguably a derivative of number three, but again, I would think this was more of an ancillary benefit than a primary reason. This is interesting to me.

    As a thought experiment then, which of the following two scenarios would you have picked if you had to pick one:

    a) A native, full-fledged registration system that could magically tell what your real name was but had no connection to other social networks like FB and Twitter.

    b) A Facebook-only registration system like you currently have now but which allowed you to use a pseudonym (like Canv.as does, for instance).

    (Bearing in mind that either choice would just represent your “launch” system and you could develop whatever you wanted 6-12 months later.)

    Incidentally, I agree with how you’ve launched… we just have different reasons I think.

  8. Oh noes – I can’t create stupid hipster collages for my fake nerd friends on my $600 tablet device because I don’t want to sell-out to the facebooks! what am I going to do?

  9. Mike: between those two options, I probably would have picked option A, which would have given us real names. Option B was actually a reasonable path for us to take — once you’re authenticated with Facebook, your account is created and asking you to choose a handle/pseudonym is pretty straightforward — but we chose not to do it.

  10. Cool, well that would back up your reasoning then. Very interesting.

    Also, can I just say that I love fredo’s comment? One more reason that anonymity can enable entertainment!

  11. Fredo’s comment annoyed me! Mostly because he used a fake email address (I saw that in the admin). Generally I take down comments that are both anonymous and snarky, but in this case I left it in because you referred to it.

  12. sidebar: i’ve been seeing some really good counter-arguments to legal names as “actual” identity, some quite old in internet terms. this has been argued since the days of BBSes.

    a “trusted pseudonym” is just as good an identifier as a legal name. here’s a nice overview from 2007 when bloggers were wrestling with ideas of public representation of themselves:


    (i think the argument is largely subjective, but just thought it was interesting that it would pop up again.)

  13. Oh, how sad. If someone told me this I’d say “Nope, of course Khoi would never do such a thing!”
    The internet is always dangerous, so is art and and self expression.
    Protecting children is important, I agree. Will loggin into facebook accomplish that? One day they’ll let you know.

  14. I guess I am a bit biased because I live in a world where snark is currency, if it’s entertaining. Just the term “hipster collage” alone makes me laugh.

  15. Are you planning on at least allowing people to view existing Mixels before requiring Facebook login? I know for some people the Facebook requirement is purely a deal-breaker, but finding an app and putting in your Apple ID to download it is a commitment, so the Facebook requirement to get any use of out of the app is pretty aggressive (even for people that will ultimately login). The Twitter app presents a public timeline when you first open it, which they don’t do on their website.

    Having a public timeline might actually be #1 on my wishlist. When I post something, I wish there was a chance of my pieces getting picked up by more people than my followers.

  16. Bart: Letting users explore the app before they login with Facebook is an idea we like a lot and we’re looking into making it happen. There’s no time frame for it yet though.

    Your idea of a public timeline is also a good one. The biggest UX problem for us right now is findability and discoverability. We hope to improve that very soon, and a public timeline would be great for that.

  17. Thanks for the explanation. I disagree that nonartistic people will magically feel empowered to come out in public under their own real name and publish what they feel is not-so-great art, but it will be interesting to see what happens. As for kids and Facebook, letting your child use Facebook is really not “a personal choice.” Legally they can’t use it until they are 13. If you want to sit with your kid and help him/her fake their age to create an account, I’d wonder about what messages you’re giving your kid. But again, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Best of luck.

  18. Tom’s idea is great. Given the alternative, I would have paid a dollar rather than register via Facebook. Still, the app is so excellent that I’m glad I signed up right away.

  19. It was only because Khoi was behind the app that I was prepared to sign up using Facebook. I suspect there would be only a dozen or so people whom I don’t count as a close friend who would fall into the same category.

    And of those dozen there’s probably only two or three that I’d sufficiently trust to basically ignore the scary (and quite unexpected) extent of the authorisation I was required to grant.

    I wonder how many other early adopters took a similar (educated) “leap of faith”? And whether this will hurt Mixel’s reach as the potential userbase extends beyond Khoi’s friends and fans to people who won’t know – nor be the least bit interested in – who the developers are?

    There’s little doubt in my mind that the tone in sites like Quora benefit from a real names policy (although Metafilter still seems to do just fine without it). And whilst my immediate reaction was that Mixel is a different kettle of fish, upon reflection perhaps in order maintain an appropriate tone the need is even greater.

    There aren’t a whole lot of anonymous social collage apps out there, so I guess nobody really knows. But there’s enough great stuff appearing already to suggest you’re doing lots of things right.

  20. Thanks for the follow-up, Khoi. There’s no doubt that Facebook is the only major social network with a culture of authenticity, so it makes perfect sense for you to use it, given that authenticity is something you value.

    Following up on Mike’s thought experiment: what if Apple released an auth system, using iTunes/iCloud credentials, and (with the user’s permission, of course), included access to their real name? If Apple did this, you’d have verifiable real names (even more authentic than Facebook’s), but none of Facebook’s social features. Curious which you’d choose in this scenario (just because it’s fun to discuss these things, not to challenge you at all!).

  21. Khoi, thanks for explaining this. I’m one of those people who is hoping for an alternative soon, but am fully supportive of your reasoning.

    With Tom, I do wonder about his “option A”. I’m not familiar enough with the flexibility of the respective databases, but the idea that you might allow a user to sign up with a Twitter account, then somehow alter their pseudonym within Mixel to a “real name” is my first thought. Curious how this might play out.

    Looking forward to future developments.

  22. Jeff: Anil Dash reminded me yesterday that Apple actually has something like that: Game Center. No one uses it, though, and it doesn’t really give you real names. But if Apple overhauled it so that it did provide real names, I would choose that over Facebook, in an instant.

  23. Watch out for the pseudonym gangs, the folks who made life on google plus annoying for its first couple months, complaining bitterly that they were not allowed to use their old fashioned internet handles.

  24. Khoi, why not allow Google+ too? I don’t see this mentioned, and they *DO* have the “real names” policy, they took a lot of negative publicity for it but kept the policy.
    (btw, for sites that require facebook I do have a dummy facebook login. I don’t use facebook, but it’s a convenient authentication system. Completely anonymous too, as far as I am concerned 😀 ).

  25. There’s my point of (minority) view. The real name requirement does not bother me at all. What bothers is Facebooks all or nothing stance with apps. See, I have turned off ALL apps and so I feel free by NOT seeing all my friends faces, recomendations etc at EVERY webpage I ever visit. I don’t like stalking like that. This paradise is taken away by the first app I allow for signing in. It’s all apps off or zero privacy. So I just cannot use Mixel although I fully trust Mixel.

  26. Virgil: While Google+ has a “real names” policy, I don’t believe Google’s auth system for third party apps requires or allows access to full names. Google+ requires real names, but they don’t make it easy for third party apps like Mixel to take advantage of that requirement.

  27. Concerning real names: When I look at my Facebook contacts I see quite a lot people not using their real names! I also see that more and more people use two or more Facebook accounts, especially young people (for different parts of their life with different variations of their name or different names). And I see a tendency that people use “spam Facebook” accounts (like span email accounts) to login to sites and to use apps.

    I personally trust Mixel, but I don’t trust Facebook and would prefer native login, OpenID or Twitter.

  28. I’m torn over this. On the one hand, I’ve been a fan (and evangelist) of your web design principles for years. On the other hand, I’m one those who won’t get to play with Mixel any time soon, because I don’t have a Facebook account.

    In my opinion, the explanation you’ve now given us is reasonable. And I know from my own experience that we have to make this kind of trade-off all the time to make our businesses work.

    The one thing that stuck in my memory with regard to Mixel’s launch, however, was one of your retweets from last week — you said: “What he said! @bsirach: Having a lot of fun with @mixelapp from @khoi. People hating on the fb auth need to chill. Not a big deal.”

    A developer telling his potential customers what they should consider a big deal is roughly as good an idea as a customer telling a developer which features would be easy to add — we don’t get to define what others should deem important to them, be it privacy issues or other aspects of life.

    Anyway, it’s been a week, and you seem to have changed your mind on how to deal with the criticism for whatever reasons. That obviously makes your explanation slighly less convincing than it would have been at the time when Mixel was released. So yea, like others said, you probably missed an opportunity to enhance goodwill there.

    But you know all of that already. The bigger point I’m trying to make is a different one, and it’s not specific to Mixel and/or Facebook:

    Going forward, please take feedback seriously, instead of mocking potential customers in public when their criticism seem petty to you. People do remember these things. And as a long-time fan, I’d hate to see you turn into another one of those condescending startup guys. Whose blog would I link to then, when discussing web design?

  29. It’s not the fact that I would have to sign up through Facebook that turned me away. I do have a Facebook account and other apps that I’ve signed up with through Facebook. It’s the level of permissions for my account that I was not going to let you have. Specifically the “post on your account as you” part I found to be the biggest deterrent. If it was just a way to sign in and not such a handing over my account to you I would gladly sign up.

  30. Thank you for your thoughtful explanation. I was among those who balked at the idea of needing to login to Facebook to use the app. Now, at least, I understand your reasons, and I’m definitely reconsidering.

  31. Khoi – thanks for explaining this. I’m glad I went right through it and joined in. Normally a Facebook sign up does give me some pause and the thing I most worry about is an app posting anything for me to my wall or spamming people I know. I don’t really trust Facebook too much in general..

    Since I’m here, can I give a little feedback?

    I love Mixel. For me, the thing I’ve enjoyed on iPad the most thus far.

    A few thoughts:
    Could there be a way to search for users by name?
    The potential to delete a published mixel?
    Have others noticed a few Mixels re-add deleted elements on publish?

    The app is great from springing out pieces when you’re looking at a Mixel, to ‘view uses’ to the google image search and the community. Love it.

  32. Thanks to everyone for the great feedback. Special thanks to those who are at least reconsidering their aversion to Mixel having now read my reasoning as to why we think Facebook login is necessary for us. That’s giving Mixel more than a fair shake, which is very generous and appreciated.

    Peter, some quick answers for you: making it easier to search for and discover people is one of our top priorities. Allowing you to delete a posted mixel is tricky, but we’re going to see if we can make that happen. And finally, yes, there’s a nasty bug that can produce posted mixels that don’t look as intended. We’re working on a fix for that. Thanks for being patient!

  33. I did sign up after your clarification, thank you for that by the way. Just a suggestion, you might put a link to the FAQ on the sign up page so users with confusion about the Facebook sign up can access it right there on their iPad.

    Bravo with the app, it is a lot of fun.

  34. Why not have the option of using the app without the social aspect (and without the Facebook log-in)? Nothing worse than getting an app and then realizing that you cannot use it.

  35. Mark: How exactly would you use Mixel without the social aspect? It’s social to its core. Using Mixel without social would be like using Facebook without social.

  36. As a neutral observer (long time reader, but don’t have an iPad/Mixel), I’m amazed that people can be so irate/rude about something you are giving away for free. I guess it means they like it. Nice one, Khoi.

    Is making a social collage app that is instantly useable by 500 million people a bad design decision?

  37. Looks like a great app, hopefully you’ll allow other forms of signup at some point so I can check it out. I don’t use Facebook because of privacy concerns.

    I think the fact that you had to write this blog post based on all the uproar is an indication that it wasn’t the best choice. Had you allowed even Twitter auth in addition to Facebook, I don’t think there would have been as much hullabaloo.

    But ultimately if you’re seeing the number of signups that you need to consider the app successful, I guess it doesn’t matter.

  38. I was another would-be early user who balked at the Facebook login screen, due to the fact that I’d recently put my account in a deep-freeze.

    Maybe you could talk more about what real names offer Mixel. I get that real names help make users responsible for our own content. Perhaps in legal terms, they also help your service avoid getting punished for any dumb decisions made by one user.

    Right now, a user can’t delete, must share, and can’t give attribution. If the source material uploaded is never destroyed and infinitely distributed, what are the fair-use implications? I can defend my own artistic decisions, but not those of other users.

  39. That must have been a pretty difficult decision. I can understand the reasons behind it but as an end user I’m sometimes hesitating with Facebook logins because of my lack of trust in the owners of the service (are they going to post on my wall etc)…

  40. I don’t have anything against Facebook login per se, but don’t like when an App says it has my permission to post things to Facebook as me. That’s just wrong.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.