What are we talking about when we talk about subscriptions

Lots of active discussion in the previous post, and apologies upfront for thin skinned replies from me. We are talking about a creation I’ve worked on for 7 years and I’m definitely emotional about the whole thing. And I appreciate that you are too. I’m also trying to be upfront in having this conversation – it’s no fun sharing our thought process and getting some pretty negative replies. But that is what we signed up for. So I’ll try and brush off my shoulders and be a better host in the comments.

Obviously, it would be easier to make our decisions at the office and tell you what they are on the blog, but we are trying to be more open, expose more of the background thinking, and hopefully incorporate some of your input into any eventual changes. What we aren’t doing is having a vote. Comments that give input on specific numbered elements below are going to help us more than “Don’t change anything”.

When I started to unpack all the parts of subscriptions we are discussing they resolve into some distinct areas/topics. I came up with 5 so far. I tried to list them and tell you a bit about how/when they might change. Also, some swag at a timeline.

  1. Revealing who subscribes to you. You won’t have to look at your subscribers if you don’t want to. Opt in. August/September.
  2. Getting rid of secret subscribers. You won’t be anonymous when you subscribe to someone. No opt out. August/September.
  3. Blocking/Confirming. Blocking would work just as it does today – blocking prevents mutual subscription. There would be no “confirmation or acceptance” to subscribe to someone. No change.
  4. Making subscribers “transparent” like when you cheer someone or comment on their content. If we did this, it would likely be a “profile page widget” that users could opt out of if they don’t want to have it on their page. Opt out. No schedule – Late Fall at the earliest if ever.
  5. Subscriber notifications. We probably wouldn’t have any sort of notice of new or departed subscriber, unless it somehow was clearly a good idea. Right now, it doesn’t seem like a good one. Would only be opt in. Not scheduled.

Not sure if that helps to see the component parts. Maybe that list can produce some more fine grained insights into the potential change.

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19 responses to “What are we talking about when we talk about subscriptions

  1. Thanks Josh for continuing to make this an open conversation where the users of 43Things can give input and suggestions. Other websites don’t give us this forum, so it’s important that we take advantage of it in a positive manner.

    As you know I support the top two items discussed here. Ever since subscriptions started there have been a large number of us who have been hounding the Robots to share this information even more than the cheer algorithm. As I stated in the other post, to me this is an opportunity to find new people to interact with that I may not already be interacting with. The value of this website is the positive encouragement that you give and get when documenting your goals and progress. Knowing that there may be people who have subbed to me but may never have cheered nor commented on my entries makes me want to know who they are so I can cheer and comment on them.

    I know a lot of people have been expressing fear about hurt feelings regarding when someone unsubscribes or if someone isn’t subbed at all. People use subscriptions here in many different ways. I know some people keep their subscriptions to a set number so when they sub to someone they unsub from someone else. Other people use their subscriptions to help track the entries by people they are subscribed to and that when someone is prolific it fills up their feed and so those people get unsubbed for a period of time so that the subscriber can see other people’s entries.

    I actually went public a few years ago with my subscriptions by creating a List of Bests list identifying them. I haven’t updated it since 43People went away so it has changed since then.

    I agree that there shouldn’t be a confirmation needed when someone chooses to subscribe to you. I also agree that there is no need for a notification of subscriptions and unsubscriptions. Until this conversation started it had been probably six months since I last clicked the link that took me to where my subscriber count is located. That number doesn’t mean anything to me personally because that’s not why I’m on the site (unlike over on Twitter where I do want to have a large follower base and have had competitions with others to see who would get to x number of followers first).

    The purpose of this site as I understand it is to document your goals and progress on them, and provide advice and encouragement to others. Having the ability to click a link to take you to a list of people who are subscribed to you does not change that. If someone is too focused on that number and who is and who isn’t subbed to them, then they are not focusing on what is truly important which is accomplishing their own goals.

  2. To me, this situation is different than “Buttongate” (as it is called) because you ARE trying to be responsive to user requests. You are responding to a significant number of goals and emails expressing a desire to know who subscribers are. Some people, on the other hand, cv learly do NOT want this. So it seems you are stuck between a rock and a hard place right now.

    Whatever happens, I appreciate that you’re attempting to be more responsive in both your initial decision to add the feature and in the follow-up communications.

  3. Ack! Typing on a phone stinks. That was supposed to be “clearly.”

  4. Thank you for this, Josh. It must be very hard not to take it personally when people react badly to something you’ve worked hard on.

    I for one can certainly live with the plan you outline. Here’s my take:
    1 – I’ll probably take a look once out of idle curiosity, and then largely ignore it.
    2 – makes a lot of sense; to me it would be much more unsettling to see a few anonymous subscribers and wonder who they are and why they’re hiding, than it is not to know who any of them are.
    3 – very strongly not in favour of having to confirm subscriptions, so I’m glad to see this isn’t planned.
    4 – I don’t like the idea of others being able to see my subscriber list – that’s far too Facebook-like – and will definitely opt out of that function if it is offered.
    5 – I can’t see how notifications would be of any benefit, and they could do harm – imagine you’re having a horrible day and then you get an email basically saying “so-and-so isn’t interested in you anymore”.

    Out of curiosity, can I ask why you’re so opposed to the idea of voting? You’ve dismissed it a couple times now. Seems to me it would be easy to put a poll on the front page for a week or so, however long you think is enough to capture regular visitors. Or better yet, put a link on the front page to a poll here on your blog, to capture members who care enough to come and see what it’s all about. (That’s not meant to be cliquish, just that I think the opinions of involved and invested members would be more valuable than casual drop-ins.) Obviously the vote wouldn’t be binding – it is your site after all – but it might be a good way to get input from a broader spectrum of members.

    Once again, thank you for the opportunity to give feedback. It really is appreciated.

  5. I’d suggest that the subscriber counter continue to work the way it does now, going up when someone subscribes, dropping when some leaves. I agree that “notifications” could be tiresome and unproductive.

    Agree that subscription lists should remain “private” in that only the member can see who is subscribed to them, not everyone in general. I like that no one can tell how many people I’m subscribed to, or are subscribed to me.

    Just because it is on Facebook or Twitter does not automatically make it a bad idea, either. They are experiencing success because they do some things right. While nobody wants this site to be a clone of FB, I think the model of public community websites has evolved as have the expectations of members and transparent subscriptions is a part of that change.

  6. By the way… I actually like the randomness and unpredicatabilty of the “cheers” format. It’s nice to earn cheers by posting or responding or voting, but there is an element of both chance and sport in never knowing when the cheer fairy is going to bestow or rob. I curse her when I sit down to 10 cheers, or 0 cheers, or when I have 5 to give and it suddenly drops to 3. But it is good natured frustration at fun at heart.

  7. My knee-jerk reaction to the subscriber reveal was “Nooooooooo!” (I see I’m not alone in this.) But after thinking about it for a few minutes, I can’t tell you *why* that was my reaction. Probably just a built-in adversity to change.

    I’ve wondered from time to time who my subscribers are, but I’ve never asked because
    a) many of them let me know anyway;
    b) even if they don’t tell me, I can tell by the cheer patterns; and
    c) it’s really not my business.

    The stalker thing aside (and there’s no protection against that – this is the internet, not a private club), what does it matter if the subscriber lists are transparent or not? Say someone subscribes to me, then realizes that most of my posts don’t interest them (or I post too much, or not enough, or don’t respond to comments as quickly as they’d like…) and unsubs. Why should I take this personally? I’m not here to win any popularity contests; I’m here to meet people I have things in common with.

    Likewise, I mean no harm when I unsub from someone. It’s not that I find them uninteresting, or that I violently disagree with what they have to say. Usually, it’s a matter of available time: They have more time to post than I have time to read. I’ll follow them when I get a moment, but can’t clutter up my sub feed with them if I’m to keep up with anyone.

    So I don’t see having a transparent subscriber list affecting my site use one way or the other. Heck, it might even help me meet some new people! At some point, I went from having roughly the same amount of subscribers as subscribees (I’m betting the lists were almost identical) to having nearly twice as many subscribers as subscribees. Knowing who they are might lead me to making new friends. Which is why we’re here, isn’t it? Otherwise, we’d just write all of this in a journal.

    Not that you asked, but my two cents for site upgrades:
    * I would *love* it if the store came back. I have one of the old 43t shirts, but would buy more if I had the opportunity. Particularly if you sold baby shirts. :D
    * The only thing I can think of that I really hope you *don’t* do is incorporate an “online now” icon. (Or if you do, please let us opt out of it!) I hate to be rude, but there are just times I don’t have time/don’t feel like chatting.
    * Along those same lines, if you do at any point implement notifications of subscriber list changes or other admin details, please let us opt out of them. I like getting notices when someone comments on a post, but anything more would drive me crazy – I’m drowning in email as it is!
    * Be patient with us! We like that you’re listening to us, but we’re only human. Sometimes we blow things out of proportion.

  8. Wow, after reading your responses in that last post, calling out people as vicious and cliques and uninvested and sexist and whatnot, I hardly think a fauxpology with a justification (“I abuse because I care”) is really sufficient. You ought to go back and apologize individually and publicly to each of the users you insulted so childishly.

    As for the topic at hand – I believe that subscriptions should stay secret, and I think you should stick with your original philosophy, which was entirely correct. However, a change in this will not make me abandon 43T (although further evidence of abusive owners might).

  9. Hi Josh! I’m just catching up with all this. It’s really hard not to be hurt or defensive when people jump all over you and you’re doing the best you can. It’s also easy for users to think of 43T and the Bots as an entity without feelings, instead of the creative individuals with good intentions that you are.

    As a very long-time, heavy user, I love having the subscriptions become transparent. Right now I have about 25 more subscribers than subscribees, and it makes me feel like a jackass. When someone is invested or even curious about my goals and posts, I want to return the favor. We’ve worked around it sometimes with “find out who is subscribed to me” goals, but one doesn’t want to be asking constantly.

    For new users, I think transparent subscriptions will help them feel engaged more quickly. When they subscribe, someone is likely to subscribe back. When someone subscribes to them, they can check out that person’s goals and make a better connection. It’s *very* hard for newbies to feel a part of the community here, and it’s not because we don’t want to welcome them…it’s just the structure.

    Of course everyone is going to have different opinions on changes and features, but personally, I’m really looking forward to this change.

  10. Hi Josh, it’s tangerine_now. (I know the name says differently but I am sure I do not have multiple personalities. My other me agrees with me on this.)

    Thanks for making the effort. It can be pretty harsh to have such (let’s say) direct responses to something you intend as an improvement of the site so I am sorry if you felt it as an attack on you as a person. The personal involvement of your user base shows the commitment of people to your site (even if they threaten to delete – they always come back in a different shape) and that is quite special. It might be good to realise that we are all real people here: you, us, everyone. Not just ‘robots’ or ‘users’.

    My 2 eurocents on the current issue:
    I don’t mind having insight into who is subbed to me, and I don’t mind if others can see if I am subbed to them. Anyone resenting my subs policy is unlikely to like me enough (or be liked by me enough) to be or get subbed by/to me anyway. It is really like that. As long as you don’t make notifications out of it because then it is too much In Your Face (same issue as Buttongate) and I wouldn’t like that. You know, in case someone takes things personally.
    I would mind if we had got a number to our names of how many subscriptions we have. That is rather rude, I think, and very unnecessary. This is a website about goals and how to reach them, not a popularity contest.

    Thanks, and cheers (however many I happen to have at this moment),
    Tangerine_now

  11. Hi Josh,

    As I’ve said before, I like the ideas of transparent subscriptions. I’d like it if it stayed the same. What I AM here for, today, is to cheer the weekly cheer notification email I received this morning. Too kewl! I know I’ve missed some on the page list and this allows me to reciprocate. Thanks.

  12. Aloha Josh
    This is change that makes sense to me.
    As for getting feelings hurt, people can get over whatever they happen to think about subscribing to someone who doesn’t subscribe to them. I imagine this will lead to a lot of random questions.
    Sorry this process has been so upsetting for you.
    I love this site.
    mahalo! mahalo!

  13. I second Foole – the cheer notification email is awesome! I don’t always have time to check my cheer count on the site; now I’ll be better able to keep up with it.

  14. buffalosnowangel

    I was going to write and suggest something, then I reread your post and saw that it was #1. (Being able to opt in/out of seeing the people subscribed to you)…sorry about that, I read it as “no opt in”- silly me.

    If you’re going ahead with this change, I completely support no notifications of subscriber add/drop, and the ability to opt in/out of showing others who your subscriptions are. I’m undecided on the whole idea at the moment, but I know I definitely wouldn’t want to show everyone else out there who’s subscribed to me or how many people I subscribe to. It’s not really their business. Plus, I wouldn’t want to cause any bad blood for someone who’s subscribed to me by posting it for the community to see and potentially hurting someone else who they aren’t subscribed to.
    (Or hurting someone I’m not subscribed to by showing them all the people I am subscribed to…making them wonder “why are they good enough but not me?” Yes, yes people should be here for goals only but there is a social aspect to it and I wouldn’t want to intentionally inflict pain on anyone)

    So, for now I’ll just say thank you for the update!
    (And the attempt to be thicker skinned with us…we really are just trying to help :) not just beat you all down!)

  15. I am fine, perhaps even pleased, with 1, 2, and 3. I am happy to get a timetable, and know that these aren’t immediate changes… that in itself says something about the new level of communication, and I appreciate it.

    Item 4 is the only one that I’m feeling a definite “dislike” about, for a couple of reasons. The first is what Todd mentioned in the earlier post– that people who are subscribed to NSWF individuals might be uncomfortable with having their subscription to that person be “public knowledge”. It’s one thing if that person knows who is subscribed to them… it’s a little different that they would have a widget to share that information with others.

    The second reason I’m iffy on item 4 is because of possible drama. Already we’ve had situations where personal disagreements between certain individuals has turned into “if you cheer that person, we’re not friends anymore” popularity contests. It’s petty and ridiculous, and part of me says “well, if you’re not going to like me because of the other people I choose to talk to, that’s not MY problem”. But… showing the subscriptions to everyone (even if only some people opt in) is just another opportunity for more of that same drama. And unlike the plus sides that Todd has brought up about items 1-2, I really don’t see what making the subscription information available to people other than the person subscribed to really adds to our interactions.

    Item 5, I have no opinion, other than I wouldn’t use it if it was an option. I would dislike it if it were mandatory, simply because it would be email about 43 I didn’t care about. And right now every email that I get from 43 I care about, and I’m all about keeping that spam ratio low! ;)

    Thank you for working to be a better host. I know it isn’t easy.

  16. Quick clarification on no. 4 – would this widget display on your page the people you’re subscribed to, or the people subscribed to you? If someone wants to reveal who they follow, fair enough (though as I said I’d opt out of it), but I don’t think it would be right at all to have the ability to display who’s subscribed to you.

  17. Hello, I have never been on this site before, which is a problem. Someone on here named Coolottie, has been mistaken for me. There was even a Facebook link on that page. When I clicked it, took me to my homepage. I am not the Coolottie on this site. I never even used Coolottie until 2009. I do not want other people using my Facebook on this site or any other link to me that is not me. This has caused me a lot of grief, Whoever is using the same name as Me Coolottie be informed. Thank you.

  18. Definitely_NOT_Joey

    Sounds good to me.

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