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In computing, an anonymous user is an individual who is allowed access to certain resources found on a network or on a web page, but does not have the full benefits associated with someone who is considered a registered or authorized user. The range of activities that the anonymous user can engage in will vary based on the design of the network or web page, but will often include the ability to read selected data or make use of some program for a limited number of tasks.
There are a few characteristics that distinguish an anonymous user from a registered user. One has to do with the creation of login credentials to the network or site. The anonymous person or group does not have to create any type of login information or store any information in a user database in order to have access to a select number of program or data. The key here is that the user does not have full access to the tools made available to registered users, and can only perform a small number of the activities that are readily available to any person or group who is willing to register.
One of the easiest ways to understand the concept of an anonymous user is to consider an online forum or message board. With many boards of this type, it is not necessary to register with the forum in order to read the messages posted by group members. In some cases, the forum may be divided into categories, with some designated for public viewing and others restricted to registered users only. It is not unusual for many forums and message boards to reserve the right to start new topics or respond to existing thread topics to users who are registered.
There are also chat services that that an anonymous user may choose to utilize. With this application, the user creates a user name that is viewed in the chat room, but does not have to provide any other type of information in order to participate. This particular approach to chat rooms is less popular than in times past, but is still sometimes used in situations such as with substance recovery programs in which anonymity of people asking questions and seeking information is considered paramount. Typically, both message boards and chat rooms that operate with an anonymous user option are heavily moderated, making it possible to remove inappropriate posts or remove an abusive user from the chat when and as necessary.