Yet another attempt to explain the Groups/Forums changes

Posted 22/07/2009 - 20:42 by ng

I'm getting questions, so it seems I haven't succeeded in explaining, I'll try again...

  • Email notification (subscriptions) is a very useful feature, I would go as far as to say vital to effective communication, especially for members who do not visit the site on a frequent basis.

  • So that notifications/subscriptions can be effective and not turn into a barrage of irrelevant mail, members need to be able to easily select what they get mailed and what they don't. A simple and effective option is to subscribe to one or more groups.

  • The option to receive email notifications for anything posted in All members is very useful. I want to encourage everyone to have notifications turned on for posts into All members - that way there is a simple mechanism to contact all members by email, effectively available to anyone who has the ability to post into the All members group.

  • Consider what happens when a "fight" breaks out in a thread posted in the All members group. Usually such "fights" are between a few people and the detail is categorically not relevant to all members. The subscription/system duly churns out everything by email. The whole thing rapidly degenerates into spam going out to everyone who is subscribed to the group, potentially 2500+ people, potentially one mail for every comment. 100 comments = 250,000 emails, that could be daily volume, or perhaps even hourly volume in an extreme case.

  • Abusing the option to post into all members is effectively spam too. By "abuse" I mean posting something which really is not relevant to all members but the poster can't be bothered to be more selective about a target audience (group).

  • Even without the issue of notifications email it is still a type of spam if you post unnecessarily into all members. For example, posting a notice asking people to come to a meeting in London, because most people are too far away and there is no way they would attend, yet they see the post listed in their unread and similar views. So it's spam - irrelevant information - it should be posted into the London or UK geographic groups instead.

Possible alternative solutions considered

  • Disable the subscriptions/notifications feature. That would be a great loss IMO.
  • Moderation of posts - wouldn't work, because the emails go out automatically. Editing the post would result in a further email going out with the new edited version, so actually makes things worse!
  • Prevent comments to anything posted into all members. Doesn't make much sense - it would then effectively be the same as a blog post.
  • Proper behaviour, no fights, etc. Would be a great solution but is apparently not viable.

In any case, the problem is not unique to the all members group. Any group with a large number of members could suffer the same problems. However, I am especially concerned about the all members group, because it is just that. If people turn off subscription options for that group (as they will do if they receive too much crap via email) then we lose a very important communication channel. There is an alternative - I can force email to all members (whether or not they are subscribed to the group) but that in turn is spam (they have no way of opting out.)

In practice, the changes you need to make are minimal

  • Simply post into suitable groups instead of all members.
  • Reserve all members for short posts of general interest, perhaps primarily links to posts elsewhere,so that any resulting discussion takes place there rather than in all members.
  • Please accept that other members have the right to choose whether to see your post or not (by being a member of the same group) and that you do not have the automatic right to spam all members, no matter how important you may think your post is. It's the same issue for me - in general I try to minimise my use of any bulk email.

All that said, of course I realise that many members are quiet happy to read absolutely everything that gets posted on the site, and receive it by email. But that needs to be their decision.


We can of course create a new group called anything goes or almost all members or whatever, that people could optionally join, and those that wanted to post or indeed fight there could do so. Then at least it would not threaten the real all members group.

Hope this makes sense now. Please follow my blog link for various related posts of mine on the same topic.

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