Easy To Unsubscribe

Easy to Unsubscribe --- ?RonGoldman 6 Feb 2002

. . . in the course of GroupDiscussions the participants will come and go. Just as it must be easy for someone to join a conversation, it must also be easy for them to later leave it.

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A conversation starts by people getting together and ends when we separate. This works fine when we get together in a physical location---leaving the room ends the conversation---or use a medium like a telephone---hanging up disconnects. When instead the conversation comes to us, as does email on a mailing list, then we cannot end the conversation by ourselves, instead to leave the conversation requires action by someone (or something) else.

A computer mailing list is like a subscription to a periodical. Indeed we talk of subscribing to a mailing list, a daily collection of messages is a Digest (MorningPaper), and to leave we "unsubscribe". However each mailing list has its own unique way of ending a person's subscription. When we joined the mailing list we probably did it by interacting with a web page, or maybe someone else signed us up---SmallWorkGroupsComeAndGo. When we want to leave it may be many months or years later and most folks will not remember the process they used to subscribe, and besides the subscription method often is unrelated to the process to unsubscribe.

For most mailing lists there is some email address that one can send a special message to---usually with the word "unsubscribe" as the text---that will remove one from the mailing list. A simple procedure, but one that is anything but simple to a vast number of people as witnessed by the huge number of such unsubscribe messages that get sent to the mailing list by mistake. This happens even on mailing lists where each message sent to the list includes, appended to the end, instructions on how to unsubscribe. It is somewhat comic to receive a message from someone clearly trying to unsubscribe that includes directions on what they should have done.

The typical computer-oriented response is to somehow provide better instructions---put them at the start of every message on the list in blinking, bold text! The errant user must be taught to adapt to the world of the computer. Maybe it is time to try another approach.


Design systems for electronic conversation keeping in mind the entire lifecycle of a conversation. Make it easy for someone to join a conversation and make it easy for them to leave it. Don't require users to know the details of the way the electronic medium (program) works.

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Having the information about how to unsubscribe included in MetaInformation can enable the receiver's email client to take care of the details of unsubscribing---an example of PeopleTalkToPeopleMachinesTalkToMachines.


Last edited December 24, 2002
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