About a week ago, I mentioned a problem with WordPress now subscribing people to blog comments by default, instead of having the checkbox unmarked by default, as it always had been previously. A week later, after people have been yelling about it in the support forums for quite a while, WordPress.com has finally said something about it, and it’s not good news.
Apparently this isn’t going to be going away. It’s a deliberate decision by WordPress.com, under the theory that it encourages discussion. Well, it might, but it also ticks off people who don’t want their email inboxes flooded. Plus, just my professional opinion as a software engineer, but if you’re trying to dictate human behavior through your design choices, you’re going about it exactly wrong. Just as form should follow function, function follows the will of the user. What you think people “should” be doing is irrelevant; people use software to do what they want, not what the programmer wants them to do.
So that’s the bad news: It’s deliberate, it’s not going away, and unless you completely disable the “follow comments” feature on your blog there is not (currently) a way to restore it to having “off” as the default state, as it should be. Personally, I hope most blogs don’t disable it — I like having the option there for certain posts — but I can’t really blame any that do.
There is some good news, though, in the updated help page. If you’re a WordPress user, you can change the default state for yourself (not your blog, but your personal browsing preferences) by unchecking the relevant box in your Email Delivery Settings. From then on (if the function works as promised) the checkbox on each blog post you visit will be checked or unchecked the same way as that setting — and you can change it for each individual blog post if you decide that yes, you do want comment emails for that post. For people who aren’t WordPress users, the setting is controlled by a cookie, and if they uncheck the box for a particular post, it defaults to being off for that entire blog (though not for other blogs).
So it’s not inescapable now that they’ve finally (after a week) decided to get around to addressing just how it works. It’s still a bit irritating, but at least with the information, it’s back to being a more manageable single-click issue than before.