I just joined Windows Live to try its blogging software. During sign up, I was so impressed by the contract acceptance page, I thought I’d share it. But, first – a law note.
Law Note: Online contracts are enforceable as long as they have the three contract elements: offer, acceptance and consideration. In the case of an online contract, the offer and consideration are sort of the same thing –access to the site and its services. But, acceptance is the harder element. Why? Because acceptance requires some rough understanding of the terms being accepted. The problem is that most people don’t read these contracts, so they really don’t know the terms. To get around this problem, the law assumes you read any contract you sign. Since we know most people don’t actually read contracts, businesses that pose these contracts have to pretend that they don’t know that you know that they know that you aren’t going to read the contract.
As a result, contract acceptance pages have to (1) propel the fiction that the user will read the contract, (2) shoehorn in as many documents and big picture terms as possible; and (3) evidence acceptance as many ways as possible, all without angering the marketing staff. Whoever made this at Microsoft did a particularly good job with each of these elements.
This is the acceptance screen for the contracts governing use of msn.com and Windows Live.