The Squirrels Are Watching

Google Groups is (A Little) Evil

Posted in Code and Tech by andrewfong on January 11, 2010

When I create a new Google Group, I can directly add the e-mail addresses of people who don’t have Google Accounts. They’re automatically subscribed and start receiving e-mails from the group right away.

If that person later wants to unsubscribe, there’s no way of doing so without first creating a Google account associated with that e-mail address. You can go to the group’s homepage, but it requires that you log in with a Google account (which you don’t have yet) before you can do anything. You can try e-mailing groupname+unsubscribe@googlegroups.com, but all this does is get a link sent back to you. If you click on the link, surprise surprise, you need to log in with a Google account.

To make it worse, this information really isn’t clear anywhere on Google Groups itself. The “How do I unsubscribe from a group?” page doesn’t mention that you need a Google account to unsubscribe. Neither does the “Do I need a Google Account to use Google Groups” page.

Furthermore, when you create a new group, by default, there’s no footer attached to your e-mails. Why does this matter? Because that footer is usually what has the information on how to unsubscribe.

This is extremely annoying for non-Google-account members of Google Groups, and before folks start bashing people who don’t have Google accounts, keep in mind that this is not some tiny insignificant minority. I moderate the Google Group used by supporters of my high school speech and debate (forensics) team. Its membership consists largely of parents over 40 years old. Many of these folks barely know how to use e-mail. It’s simply unreasonable to expect them to go through the hassle of creating a new account and linking it to their primary e-mail address just to unsubscribe. Most of them probably won’t get past the thoroughly not-friendly-to-older-folks process of filling out a CAPTCHA.

It’s also annoying for me as a moderator, because these group members who are unable to unsubscribe hit reply-all and decide to fill up a thread with “UNSUBSCRIBE PLEASE” messages — that, or they mark the group as spam just to block it. Neither is good for the group and forces me to manually unsubscribe many of the people on the list. Given that the group now has several hundred members and as a high school – centric group, sees roughly a quarter of its membership turn over each year, this means a lot of work for the moderator.

It’s not as if unsubscribing without a Google account is a difficult technical feature to implement. Most newsletters let you unsubscribe without having to first sign up for something. They do so largely because they’re afraid of being marked as spam by companies like Google itself.

Given that you can sign someone without a Google account up for e-mails from a Google Group, Google probably already has some way of dealing with non-Google-account users internally. All they to do is set up a way for these users to remove themselves from a mailing list without having to first log in — e.g. (1) click the unsubscribe link automatically appended to the end of every e-mail, (2) enter your e-mail address in on the form that appears, and (3) click the link in the confirmation e-mail you get.

The fact that Google hasn’t implemented something so simple may be because they want to get people to sign up for a Google account (and thereby possibly turn over valuable personal information) who otherwise would not have. That sounds a bit like extortion, and it makes Google Groups look evil.

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One Response

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  1. Geoffrey White said, on January 14, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I find that a lot of spam in Chinese is coming via GoogleGroups. I can’t imagine what the senders think they can get out of this, as I can’t read Chinese. Hotmail allows me to block most domains if I wish, but I don’t want to block potentially useful domains like googlegroups, or the other biggest culprits, aol.com .


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