Thursday, 25 October 2007

Blogger: subscribe to comments by email - but not quite there yet?

You can now choose to get all comments on a particular Blogger blog post emailed to you as and when new comments are published, if you want to follow the discussion on a particular post - but you only get this option when you post a comment, and you can only get comments sent to a Gmail /Google account (your own comment will be emailed to you too).

You can unsubscribe anytime via a link in the email, and - a nice touch this - there's even a link in the email to click to post another comment directly on the post you've been following, if you want to.

This new feature was announced yesterday on the official Blogger blog Blogger Buzz, and there's a Blogger help page on how to subscribe to comments by email.

It's a great development, thank you Team Blogger, and not before time too - but in my view improvements are always possible, and I have a few constructive suggestions to make.

No email link next to subscribe link?

First, the help page (here's a screenshot) seems a bit misleading:

You'll see it says "You can subscribe to a post's comments by clicking the "Email" link next to "Subscribe to comments" on the post page."

That sentence suggests that, in order to subscribe to comments by email, you are meant to go to the post page, and then you should see a new "Email" link next to "Subscribe to comments", and you should then click that.

But there's no such "Email" link. I've tried going to a few Blogger blogs including test new ones that should have all the Blogger defaults, or the example blogs mentioned in the Buzz post, and it's just not there. There's just no "Email" link next to the "Subscribe to comments" link at all on the post page - see? Nada:

Well, I then thought, could it be that the normal "Email this post" link now has an extra use? Is that what the Help page means?

Nope. I tried those too, and there's no way to subscribe to comments through that route.

So, as far as I can see, the only way you can get an email subscription to a post's comments is through clicking the comments (or "Post a comment" link) - whether on the main page or the post page.

If you click to view comments or post a comment on any page, then - and only then - can you see a "Email follow-up comments to" link (if you were signed in to your Google Account at the time you clicked the comments link)

- or "", with boxes for you to login to your Google Account (if you're not logged in yet):

The downside of that is obvious. If someone's interested in a post, they won't know that they can subscribe to comments by email until they actually click a link to post or view comments. Yes, if they're that interested they'll probably click the comments link anyway - but they won't do that if it says 0 or if they don't want to add a comment, only follow them. So again they may not know that this possibility now exists.

I'd like a visible link for the option to subscribe, that you can see on the main page or post page itself. Or am I missing something? What I'm seeing when I test the subscription for comments feature is so at odds with the Help that I do wonder.

(Before anyone asks, I even tried changing my Blogger Dashboard to "US English", or rather "English - English" as US English is of course the definitive English according to Google, as that has been the solution for missing features in other things Google - but that still didn't bring up any "Email" link for me.)

You can only subscribe when you post a comment

Another downside - if you're the shy silent non-participatory type and just want to follow comments on a post without actually posting any comment yourself, well, again, as far as I can see, Blogger just won't let you do it - you have to post a comment before you can subscribe. Shrinking violets are banned from being able to follow a discussion.

I've tried doing this on several blogs, even when logged in, and there's no way to subscribe without actually putting something in the comment box.

I think this should be changed so that people can follow a conversation or thread without having to post a comment themselves, if that's what they want to do.

In the meantime, one workaround of course is to enter a comment saying "Only doing this to subscribe". But if you want to subscribe anonymously, as in not letting people know that you're subscribing (other than those in Google, who will know of course cos you gave them your email address), well that workaround wouldn't work for you would it.

Only Google Account holders can subscribe for comments by email

Finally, I can understand why Blogger want to limit it to Google Account holders only (obviously they're trying to make more people join the fold), but that to me just excludes many people even though anyone can now sign up for Gmail for free and also get a Google Account for free (which comes with Gmail etc).

Eric said in the Buzz post that "We only send comments to your verified Google Account so that someone else can’t use this feature to send you email you didn’t sign up for."

But if they want to ensure it's the genuine email address of the person concerned, why not just send an automatic email to the email address entered (Gmail or not), with a confirmation link that has to be clicked to activate the email subscription? In fact they do that, i.e. require confirmations, for unverified Google Accounts - so why not allow non-Google Accounts too, subject to email verification?

It's much nicer (and a lot more non-evil) to gently lure people into the fold with goodies, instead of trying to force their hand and putting an extra barrier in the way of both readers who want to be able to subscribe to comments by email and bloggers who want to enable their visitors to do that, surely? More accessible and more usable is always better. But that's just my opinion...

Wishlist for Blogger email subscriptions to comments

So, my wishlist is pretty obvious from what I've said. Please, pretty please, could we have:
  1. A clear "Subscribe to comments by email" link, perhaps next to the Comments link, on both main and post pages - with of course the ability to position it where the Blogger user wishes, on whichever pages (or not) we wish, with the text that we want? (moon, ask for, why not.)

  2. The ability to subscribe to comments by email even if the subscriber doesn't post a comment themselves (a.k.a. let's be nice to the shy folk)? Or at least an option to turn that on or off, i.e. to let the shy subscribe, or only let commenters subscribe.

  3. The ability for non-Gmail users to subscribe for comments by email, even if they're on (boo! hiss!) Hotmail or AOL etc? (a.k.a. let's not exclude our readers, whatever service they use).


kirk said...

I'm glad someone else noticed the difference in what the help page says and what is really there. I kept wondering if I was misreading it. ;-)

Still, not a bad start anyways.

Improbulus said...

Well, Kirk, perhaps we share a common insanity??

Karla said...

A good critique. I like the feature but agree with your comments. Also, maybe it's just me, but when I saw the new email comments bit on my blog, I completely misunderstood what it was and went looking for a setting to turn off having my email address show to the world.

Improbulus said...

Very belated thanks Karla.

You're absolutely right, it's very misleading. And it still is.

Such a shame Blogger haven't at least fixed their display text.