‘Tis the season to remove yourself from mailing lists if you’re subscribed from your work address. And there’s only so much good will to go round, until it’s completely soaked up by people asking lists with automated (un)subscription procedures to “unsubscibe” them, please, right now. It’s even harder to deal with those who ask thousands of people if they can be unsubscribed, but then re-subscribed
One big problem is vacation programs, aspects of your email provision that permit automated emails on your behalf to say “I’m not here right now.” They’re horrible, all of them. Outlook Express’ system only runs when your desktop is switched on: imagine the cheery post-seasonal look on your face as you return to work after two weeks away, power up your computer and then watch everyone who’s sent you an email for the past two weeks suddenly get an email each, per email they sent, before you can hit “cancel, for the sake of the newborn baby Jesus!” Outlook’s and Exchange’s equivalents merrily reply to any old bulk mailing list, leading to incredibly annoyed readers of the same address until someone takes matters into their own hands and either unsubscribes the offender or hunts them down, ties them to a post and shoots them in the head. Even the *nix
.vacation is pretty grim, and you have to be careful not to set up some sort of nightmarish positive-feedback loop and bring down a server.
It occurred to me that it would be nice for subscription management systems to let you unsubscribe for a bit. The idea is that you’d let them tick a box at the point of unsubscription, and it would set a scheduled task to run in, say, two or three weeks’ time and resubscribe them. That would in a sense trump all the current user experiences when it comes to making sure you’re absent from all your mailing lists for the vacation duration. It would be fairly easy to do, because after a prompt from cron on the right date it could pretty much run off all the existing subscription code by calling a URL internally (and hence not requiring CAPTCHA or validation).
And then I realised: the people who would best benefit from the functionality wouldn’t even think to look for it. They’d just keep on telling all their fellow readers that they want to unsubscibe.