Last post on this, thankfully. I already mentioned this on Twitter, but it was o-dark-thirty so it’s possible even the people who follow me on there missed it, let alone those of my readers who don’t follow my Twitter account. As you might expect, WordPress received no small number of complaints from people who were upset that the “Follow comments by email” checkbox was now on by default. They’ve posted an update on their blog article about it, and have reversed their decision. The checkbox is now off by default once more, as it should be. So now you’ll only be subscribed to receive emails for every comment on a thread if you check the box yourself — which is to say, if you say you want to, instead of someone else deciding for you.
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.
If you’ve posted any comments to my blog (or other WordPress-hosted blogs) recently, you may have started receiving emails about other peoples’ comments unexpectedly. This is because the checkbox under the reply box which reads “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” is now checked by default. It was previously unchecked by default, and that’s the way it should be under proper site design. WordPress staff have been alerted to this — there’s a thread about it in the support forum — but have stated it’s not a bug. Well, I disagree, at least with the spirit of the term if not the letter. It may not be an unintentional move on their part, but it’s very much a bad design decision. This is a behavior that should be opt-in, not opt-out, and that’s how people have had it and how people expect it to be. Changing that is just going to lead to people getting email they don’t want.
Hopefully after enough bloggers have thrown their 2 cents in, WordPress will realize this is a screw-up and revert it. In the meantime, I apologize if you’re getting any email from here you didn’t want; it’s not my doing, and I’d change it if I could. (Unfortunately, WordPress.com hosted sites cannot alter their own code, at least without a hefty fee for the privilege, or I’d just change it. It’s a one-word fix unless they’re practicing spectacularly bad code writing.)
When you leave a comment, be sure to take a look at the checkbox and make sure to uncheck it if you don’t want to be emailed about follow-up comments. Hopefully this won’t last long.