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Subject:

Why it is not so easy to Unsubscribe from lists!

From:

"J.Newman" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

J.Newman

Date:

Sun, 6 Jun 1999 10:36:54 +0100 (BST)

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (80 lines)


Eli Allen wrote (to the Netmeeting Discussion list, in response to a
plea from Margaret Comninel about how to unsubscribe):
> 
> For anyone trying to get off the list try reading the header of the e-mail.
> This also applies to any other mailing list you may be on and want to get
> off.
It is not very apparent though, that this is what to do.  Here are some
reasons:-
(1) Most mail clients default to showing only a reduced range of
headers.  In the case of Netscape I find it defaults to showing only
Subject; Date; From; To; and also Reply-To if present.  In order to see
other headers you have to take the option View ... Headers ... All.
(2) Once you *have* chosen to display all headers, then
(a) you get a large amount of NOISE in the form of 
Return-path; Envelope-to; Delivery-date; several Received headers each
several lines long; From; To; Subject; Date again; Message-ID;      
MIME-Version; Content-Type; Content-Transfer-Encoding etc and then come
the optional headers (the ones beginning with X-) such as X-Priority;
X-MSMail-Priority; X-Mailer; X-MimeOLE; X-Mozilla, etc etc  
In the case of messages from the Netmeeting discussion list at
meetingbywire, one of these X-headers is X-Web, and the content is a
URL.  
(b) The number of headers, if you view All, makes looking for a
particular one like finding a needle in a haystack.  Moreover, in
general there does not seem to be any consistency in the ordering of
headers from one email message to the next.
(c) It is *not* very obvious that the URL in the X-Web header will
contain an affordance to unsubscribe, even though when you do go there
in the case of the Netmeeting site, the method of unsubscribing is nice
and clear.
(d) The fact that you can unsubscribe by going to a URL which is listed
in the X-Web header of every message, is not mentioned in the
introductory post sent out by Majordomo to new members of the Netmeeting
discussion, so they will hardly think of looking for it.   
(e) Conventions apparently differ amongst lists. For example Mailbase
lists such as cscw-sig do not use an X-Web header (even though there IS
a Mailbase web site!).  But, if you display all headers of a Mailbase
message, you may actually find it slightly more helpful: although there
is no X-Web header, there *is* an X-List-Unsubscribe header, 
in the form of a "mailto" hyperlink, which, if you click it, generates a
mail message to Mailbase containing the appropriate unsubscribe
instruction (of course, this assumes your mail client recognises
hyperlinks!).  Despite this degree of user-friendliness, many users who
want to unsubscribe fail to find this method.  
(3) Certainly the problem of finding how to unsubscribe is not
intirnsically difficult to solve, given you have a little time. 
HOWEVER, the need to unsubscribe occurs very typically when the user is
suffering from Information Overload (like Margaret Comninel" with her 56
hour week) and that is exactly when (s)he will NOT have time to find the
solution.  All the headers in a full display would be noise to someone
in Margaret's position, obscuring the little item of information
contained (in rather implicit form!) in the X-Web header. 
(4) It would help a bit if mail clients were able to distinguish mail
from listservers from ordinary mail, and to display the X-Web or
X-List-Unsubscribe header as part of the Normal header display.  But I
guess the bottom line is that we should all stop using listservers and
go over to a more structured basis for discussions such as one of the
many Web-based discussion programs.  These would ensure that we could
still share information and ideas, without getting 15+ messages a day
dumped in our mailbox along with urgent messages that require immediate
action. An alternative would be to greatly improve (and to some extent
standardise) the support for message filtering given by mail clients,
and this of course would include a much better and information-rich use
of headers.  By information-rich I mean that the headers would be more
related to message content and to the tasks to which the messsages
relate; I suppose we would need something equivalent to the DNS to
manage this.  I think that we would all have to leave Windows and go
back to Unix to make this a realistic possibility. Perhaps the growing
success of Linux will offer us a real solution to this some day soon.

Julian Newman
CSCW and Distributed Applications Group
Department of Computing
Glasgow Caledonian University



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