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Date Sent:      August 03, 2011
Subject:           People Don't Read ... except maybe FaceBook
From:               John Bondon
People don't read anymore.  That's my firm belief now.  I say this for a couple of reasons.  Yesterday I was driving back from San Francisco and as I approched the Caldecott Tunnel I noticed one of those big overhead CalTrans signs had a message warning of a stalled vehicle in the right tunnel.  The sign advised, Use the left tunnel.   But as I made my final approach toward the left tunnel, it was down right shocking how many drivers were lined up waiting in line for the right tunnel (which was hardly moving), while traffic into the left tunnel was flowing nicely.  I lost count how many dozens of motorists I witnessed make a mad last minute dash into the left lanes to get around the obvious blockage affecting the right tunnel.  The sad part of all this, however, was all of these drivers waited until the very last minute to move over, as if acting like they were shocked to suddenly find the right side blocked and the left side flowing so nicely.  As if they had never been warned!  In reality that electronic sign was at least 2 miles back! 

Yet I would not be surprised if the hundreds of motorists I witnessed adding to the right tunnel congestion simply didn't perform the simple act of paying attention to the large letters glaring in front of them.  They failed to actually read the message.

This is not unlike my experience with the hiking website.  Over the past few years, I can't tell you how many times I encounter questions where the answer can easily be found from within the very email the person is replying to!   He or she simply hasn't bothered to read far enough down the page. 

Sadly I suspect the same story goes for the bulk of our unsubscribe requests to the Member's Only email list, and even this main email list.   Yes, there are a few cases where someone will follow all the proper procedures, and still I need to get involved to remove them manually.  But 99.9% of the time, the self-service methods work properly, and removal from our mailing lists is immediate.  Most of the time when I receive a request to unsubscribe someone, I find they are still subscribed to all mailing lists.   This tells me they either didn't make an attempt to remove themselves from the list or didn't understand the process.  Simply filling out the removal form is not enough.  One also has to click the link in the email or go to their Modify My Settings page in order to uncheck each list he or she wishes to be unsubscribed from.  Here again, I suspect, most people fill out that form thinking they are removing themselves when it reality that is only the first step.  And I even give warnings about this on the web page!  But just like the blatant warnings from an overhead electronic road sign, people simply don't read, and warnings are ignored. 

Last week someone got nasty with me with this unsubscribe matter so I got nasty back.   I know that most of our members try to do the right thing and appreciate what the website offers, even if you wish it offered more.  But when someone clearly isn't appreciative and the conversation turns rude, I turn rude right back. 

I write this email not so much to vent or complain or make yet another plea for those wishing to unsubscribe to not email the member's only list, because I know no matter how many such pleas and reminders I make, history does tend to repeat itself.  And there will always be the select few who could care less about those of you who are courteous and play by the rules.    Instead, the reason I wanted to share all this with you, is to help (those of you who are curious) to understand the BIG picture of what is going on behind the scenes.  And why some people are obviously able to unsubscribe themselves easily, with others complain that they have tried countless times but are STILL receiving emails. 

There are actually two different member databases in play here.  One system controls membership of the website and tracks what email lists you wish to be part of and which you don't.  This is the system you control when you click that Modify My Settings link in these Weekly (Wednesday) RSVP emails.   The system that actually controls the Member's Only Email List is actually a completely different system, on a completely seperate computer server, and even resides in a completely different location!  (Actually the opposite coast than the web site server!).   So whenever you tell the web site system that you wish to modify your subscription settings, you are actually causing a signal to be sent across from one system to the other.

Most of the time this works fine.  But once it awhile the mail system doesn't seem to process these requests, even though it receives them just fine.  And it's not my web code or anything that I control that is failing.  The problem is obviously with the mail system side of things.  But it's not something the mail software people seem to be in a big hurry to fix so it's something I've just lived with.  But this is the reason some people really do have trouble (after reading and following all my directions) with the unsubscribe process.  It is these cases that only I can resolve.   But again, this occurs infrequently, and it's obvious when I check the web system's database for subscription status to see who has removed themselves via the web system side, and who hasn't completed those self-removal steps.  

This is just yet another reason why I am eager to shut off the Member's Only email list.  A few years ago I almost rolled out a web based replacement for it.  But I held back because I wanted one central database where all subscription settings would be controlled, rather than forcing you, the member, to have to log in to 2 seperate websites to participate in hiking related discussions.  My goal was to make things easier for the user, and my technical knowledge ( or in this case, my lack of) didn't allow me to solve the problem of how to integrate the two sites together.  In reality I'm sure it wouldn't have been hard to do, but I just didn't have the time or drive to make it happen. 

Today we are experimenting with FaceBook as one such alternative to our current email based discussion system, and though it doesn't offer my initial goal of not having to maintain a seperate set of login credentials, it IS proving to be an Administrator's dream, compared with our email based approach.  Far less unsubscribe headaches, no programming code or server hardware to maintain.  Instead all the technical stuff is handled for me by FaceBook staff!   And with the FaceBook page, I can even designate others to share the administrator role with me.  So far it's looking very promising as one such alternative to the Member's Only Email List.  

I realize there are some members that will never set foot on FaceBook ground, and I respect that.  I am still looking for an alternative to FaceBook.  But I bet whatever that alternative will be, will probably be very similar to FaceBook.  Maybe it will be Google Plus.  Maybe it will be some other yet unknown solution.   But I have a sneaking suspicion it will NOT be something I create and maintain.  And it probably won't be integrated nicely into the current hiking website, as was my original goal.  Instead, it will be a completely seperate website that you will have to remember yet another set of credentials to log into.  BUT it will mean I can hand off all the administrative hassles and burdons that go on behind the scenes. 

This is the direction technology is taking us, the idea of outsourcing all of your technology needs to the Cloud, and one I am truly starting to appreciate.

:)   John



Happy Trails,

John




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