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Important News for All Subscribers: Mailing List Migration

I hate to introduce an article in such a blatant way, but please read everything that follows, since it explains some sweeping changes we’re making that will affect your subscription to TidBITS.

Over the holiday break, if everything goes well, we plan to take the next major step in the migration of our server infrastructure to Web Crossing: the transition of the four primary TidBITS mailing lists from our increasingly creaky Power Mac 7100, with its obsolete 1997 version of ListSTAR running under Mac OS 8.6. The system has served us well and provided some unique capabilities, but we’re spending too much time propping it up. Also retiring in the transition will be our FileMaker-based subscription database that has tracked subscribers behind the scenes since 1996; although it, too, offered useful and unique features, it doesn’t integrate with the functionality that Web Crossing provides.

TidBITS Accounts — The most significant aspect of the move to Web Crossing is that every subscriber will receive a TidBITS account in Web Crossing, complete with a user name and password that you can use to log in and change your email address, manage your subscriptions to all of our mailing lists, and set a variety of preferences. In the past, if you wanted to change your email address, you had to unsubscribe from the old address (a often-impossible task for people who had already switched to the new address) and resubscribe from the new address. Worse, since it’s entirely common for people to subscribe to several of our lists (TidBITS, TidBITS Talk, Take Control Announcements, etc.), that process had to be repeated separately for each list.

In the future, I anticipate creating additional services that revolve around your TidBITS account. For instance, to enter a DealBITS drawing now requires that you enter your real name and email address. It would be simple for me to have that form automatically pre-fill itself if you loaded the page while logged in. (By default, Web Crossing remembers that you’re logged in via a cookie; if you delete your cookies or turn off cookies entirely, you’ll have to log in anew the next time you want to access a non-public page.)

In fact, that’s one of the truly neat things about Web Crossing – every object has an access list that determines who can do what to the object. So, for instance, I could set up a commenting feature that was readable by everyone, but only accepted submissions from those subscribed to the list. TidBITS Talk was set this way until recently as a way of keeping spam and worms out of the moderation queue; Postini has eliminated enough of the spam and worms such that I’ve recently been able to allow submissions from email addresses that aren’t subscribed to the list.

When I actually add your address to the Web Crossing-based TidBITS list (and this will be true whether you subscribe to the full issue in text or HTML, or if you get the text or HTML announcement), you will receive an email message from me, generated automatically by Web Crossing. It’s a standard welcome message, with one important difference. If you have never subscribed to one of our lists in Web Crossing before, the server will create a TidBITS account for you and include your user name and a temporary password at the top of that welcome message. In cases where no one else already has that user name, your user name will match your email user name; in duplicate situations, Web Crossing will append a random number to your email user name. Don’t worry if the user name isn’t what you’d like; you can change it to anything you like, even your real name with a space between the first and last names. Also, Web Crossing should accept your full email address in lieu of your user name in most places.

The temporary password that you’ll receive is generated randomly, and the first time you log in, Web Crossing asks you to change it to something reasonable that you’ll remember. If you ever forget your user name or password, there’s a Problems Logging In link on every Web Crossing login screen that you can use to request a new temporary password, sent to the email address currently stored with your TidBITS account. For a brief set of instructions for the basic tasks I anticipate, visit the TidBITS Account Help page linked below. I’ll add to it with any additional help we develop.


What if you are currently subscribed to TidBITS Talk or Take Control Announcements? Then you already have a TidBITS account, and you should have already received your user name and password in a list welcome message. If, as is easily imaginable, that welcome message was eaten by an errant spam filter, lost, or accidentally deleted, follow the instructions on our TidBITS Account Help page above to retrieve your information.

An account can have only one email address associated with it, so please do not create additional accounts unless you know that you want to subscribe to our various mailing lists using different email addresses. If you do end up with multiple accounts accidentally, it would be most elegant and efficient to subscribe the desired one to the lists you want and delete the unwanted account. At the moment, I’m the only one who can delete an account, but I hope to provide an option in the preferences so people can delete their own unwanted accounts.

What to Expect, What to Do — So, if all goes well, at some point before we publish the next issue of TidBITS (which will be the 10-Jan-05 issue), you can expect to receive a welcome message from <[email protected]>, sent to the address at which you currently receive your TidBITS subscription. Make sure that message can avoid your spam filters.

I also encourage you to log in to our server using your user name and temporary password; you’ll have to change the password on that first login, and it’s a good way to make sure you can remember the password for the future. Feel free to explore the available preferences, accessible at the link below; I’ll also make the preferences link available in our standard navigation bar. However, you do not need to log in to continue receiving TidBITS; although a good idea for the future, it is optional for now.

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One minor change you can expect revolves around the headers in TidBITS issues. Although they will remain the same for the most part, you’ll see a few new ones and a few others may change or disappear. Overall, I expect few people to notice or care about the header changes, although it’s possible some spam filters may be confused briefly; be sure to check your Junk folder or quarantine if issues don’t appear on schedule.

Also changing will be our email addresses for subscription management. The classic -on and -off addresses will be deprecated (which doesn’t make me at all sad, given that the vast majority of the traffic they receive is spam that clogs up our subscription system and can unsubscribe readers automatically). Although there will be an email option for managing subscriptions, I’d rather encourage people to use our Web-based subscription form.


Please bear with me if anything goes wrong. Given the size of our mailing lists, this migration is a major high-wire act for me, and although I’ve moved smaller lists in the past with no trouble, I can’t predict exactly what might happen. Rest assured that if something does break in a big way, I’ll know about it and will be in my own private hell, so just sit tight and wait for news on ExtraBITS, in direct email, or in the next issue of TidBITS. Cross your fingers!


Executive Summary — Can you tell I’m a bit paranoid about moving tens of thousands of TidBITS subscriptions? To summarize everything above:

  • You’ll receive an email message from me containing your account information.

  • You do not need to log in right away, but if you do, you will have to change your password to something you’ll remember.

  • If you have troubles, check the TidBITS Account Help page, and if that doesn’t help, contact me.


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