Some random thoughts about email notification

Email NotificationsWe’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about email notifications and why people do/don’t receive emails in certain situations. The email settings are a little confusing, so I thought I would try to clear things up a bit and ask for feedback at the same time.

The overall goal

What we’re trying to accomplish with the email notifications is pretty straightforward: If someone is making a change to their Obsidian Portal campaign, we assume they want others to know about it. One way is to make some edits, then open up their email and say, “Hey, I made some changes to X, Y, and Z. Go check them out!” Or, we can have the system do it for them. That’s our goal here, to make it simple and straightforward to notify the other members in your campaign that something has changed.

On the flip side, you probably don’t want to announce to the world every time you add a comma or fix a typo. Plus, some people would rather receive less email, so they can choose to indicate that they don’t want notifications. That’s what the checkboxes on your profile screen are for. But, as some have complained, their settings don’t seem to work all the time. Why? Because they were overruled by the person editing the page.

It’s all about trust

Just like our permissions system, the email notifications are centered around trust. Essentially, we trust that the person authoring the wiki page or posting to the forum or editing a character will make the right choice when determining whether or not to send an email notification. The settings you choose in your profile are an indicator not a rule. In other words, by clicking the box to receive email or not, you are indicating your preference. However, the author/editor can always override your preference. Why? Because we trust this person to make the right choice.

Some may feel, “Hey, I should be able to exactly control what emails I do and don’t receive! That’s what Facebook/Twitter/SomeForum does!” While we sympathize with this argument, it’s not really applicable in this case. With your Obsidian Portal campaigns, these aren’t anonymous people (or trolls) out there on the Internet. These are people you know in real life, and in most cases they already have your email address. If they want to troll you and spam you with emails, there’s nothing we at Obsidian Portal can do to stop them. There may be more we can do to help get the frequency of emails right, but it’s doubtful that we will ever give perfect, exact control over what emails you receive. There’s more important work to be done.

How to get what you want

If you feel that someone in the group is sending too many updates (or not enough), then that is not necessarily a problem to be solved with technology. Perhaps instead of complicated controls over when emails do or don’t get sent, maybe it would be a good idea to tell the person what you do or don’t want to be notified of. Then, trust them to make the right choice.

It could be better

All that being said, I’ll admit that the notification system could be better. One obvious improvement: You probably don’t want to send the entire wiki page every time you make an edit. Instead, you probably just want to notify people of what changed. This is on our TODO list, but will have to come after we do wiki page versioning.

Are there any other improvements that could be made? I’d love to hear your ideas on this, but before you design the ultimate Email Skynet AI, imagine this situation: Explaining to your players why their email did or did not get sent. The more complicated the setup, the more likely that emails will disappear and people will get confused. So, keep the ideas simple.

A final word about spam

Note that all this goes out the window if someone marks one of our emails as spam. If we get too many emails flagged as spam then ISPs will stop delivering our emails altogether. So, if anyone marks one of our emails as spam they will immediately stop receiving any and all emails from the site.

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