Collecting the Internet So You Don't Have To

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Bad Email Subscription Forms

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Wil Alambre
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In response to the recent CRCT UBB issue, I filled out the OpenMedia petition like many Canadians, in an effort to tell our government representatives that we were unhappy with what was happening to our internet access. Yesterday, I got a response email back from Michael Ignatieff, as did many Winnipeg-ers. It looked like a mass-reply form email. I don't really have a problem that because it would be unrealistic for him to personally send out letters everyone. I would prefer that he put all the email addresses he had in a newsletter system's mailing list and sent out a well-thought-out response efficiently so he can get on with the work of government-ing, rather than waste pointless hours of copy-pasting.

Having said that, I was not interested in being on the Liberal Party of Canada's mailing list. In compliance with the CAN-SPAM laws, the footer supplied a link to unsubscribe to the mailing list.

Liberal Email Footer

Clicking on the provided link took me to the email preferences form on the Liberty Party of Canada website. Unfortunately, this is where what should have been a simple process suddenly became confusing. It looked like this...

Liberal Subscription Form

This is a perfect example on how not to set up an unsubscribe option for your email list. What I don't understand is how anyone can look at that single "to unsubscribe completely" sentence and believe that the form beside it would actually accomplish anything of the sort. If I want to unsubscribe, I need to click a button labelled "subscribe"? That makes no sense. 

I know what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to uncheck all the boxes to indicate I do not want to receive any sort of emails and update my preferences. But why don't the instructions on the left actually say that? There's more than enough room there. Why doesn't the button say something like "update my subscription"? That would at least indicate that the form can do both. Or better yet, where is the single link or button that simply says "click here to completely unsubscribe"?

Instead, I get a generic thank you message that doesn't exactly convince me that I've made any sort of change whatsoever. Worse, if I click that email's footer link, I get the same form with the same fields filled and options checked... as if my previous attempt did absolutely nothing. Have I successfully unsubscribed? I have no idea.

This is not a knock against Mr. Ignatieff, the Liberal Party of Canada, or even newsletter campaigns in general. This is me being frustrated at a single, very badly put together web form. Whenever a designer or developer doesn't put enough thought into user interface, or worse puts too much thought into it, we get nonsense like this. It's like so much went into the code, into the layout, into the individual elements that the actual point, a simple "Would you like to unsubscribe?" process, was completely lost.

I started writing this article after receiving Michael Ignatieff's email. I took the above screenshots, posted them to Flickr, and put some initial thoughts down. Also, Mr. Ignatieff's Twitter account started following me shortly after I got that email. Not surprising, as several Winnipeg-ers were discussing the mass-reply and it would have been easy enough to see the resulting hashtags. In fact, it's a smart idea.

Saving my article in draft mode to finish later, I took the opportunity to tweet to Mr. Ignatieff to tell him about my disappointment about the unsubscribe form. I suspect I wasn't the only one to say so, and I suspect Mr. Ignatieff wasn't the only one to hear about it. But when I came back to writing and started playing with the form to reconfirm some facts, I see it's changed a bit...

Liberal Subscription Form, Updated

Well, that's better, though that instructional message could still be worked on a bit. But there's the unsubscribe button that I was expecting to find. Clicking did what I thought it would. Huzzah! Did someone update the form since the afternoon? Hm, no, I don't think so...

Clicking on the original email's footer link again, I got the form as it originally looked. I'm guessing this is what the form looks like to add my profile and preferences to the mailing list? And the other form is what it looks like when I'm already in the system and therefore have to option to be removed? The new "unsubscribe" button's resulting URL does imply that I have been removed.

Though I still believe the form is just too complicated and certainly makes the situation worse, I now think the real culprit here is the overly-generic instructions. If clear copy had been written for adding your profile to the system and then different copy had been written for updating/unsubscribing, it would have gone a long way to clarifying what I was looking at. And saved me a long, ranting blog post :P

TL;DR - Got a form email (aka spam). Clicked unsubscribe. Got confused by a useless form. Hate bad user interfaces, so I wrote about how to make it better. They listened. Hurray internet.