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How Accounts Work in the Next-Gen TidBITS Infrastructure

Despite the fact that Tonya and I had the flu all last week, we’re still planning to flip the switch on our Internet infrastructure move late this week. That’s a plan, not a promise, but if all continues to go well, our new system should send everyone who subscribes to TidBITS a welcome email message. It will include a link to the live site and instructions for changing your TidBITS account password.

Since it will be relevant for many of you immediately, I’d like to explain how we’re using accounts in our next-generation infrastructure, hosted at ArcusTech and DigitalOcean. As before, you must have an account to subscribe to the email edition of TidBITS — that’s how we know your email address. A standard account in our WordPress-based content management system includes your name, email address, password, and subscription choices. There’s also a link to change the profile image that will be associated with any comments you leave. Passwords are hashed and salted — the system uses bcrypt — making the data tasty, but designed to choke any cracking software.

For those fine and upstanding citizens who support our work, the account information also includes TidBITS membership details and controls, along with a personalized full-text RSS feed. (Memberships are managed by the Paid Memberships Pro plug-in for WordPress, and all payments happen through Stripe.) So you’ll have to log in to find that RSS link and to access the many Mac software discounts we’ve negotiated for you. Logged-in TidBITS members also won’t see paid ads.

We’ve brought over your TidBITS membership information, such as membership level, expiration date, and renewal type, but because this is an entirely new system, no previously automatic renewals can take place. The new system will send you an email when it’s time to renew; you can also check that date on your account page.

We’re using a system called Discourse for commenting, and although it too requires an account, it boasts a single-sign-on capability that enables it to rely on our WordPress account system for authentication. Once you’re logged in on the main TidBITS site, you won’t have to log in again to leave a comment in Discourse. There are lots of user preferences you can set in Discourse, so that will be worth exploring.

For email, we’ve given the nod to the transactional email service SendGrid. Subscribing or unsubscribing from one of the weekly TidBITS lists (English, Dutch, or Japanese) or individual articles as they’re published (for TidBITS members) involves clicking a checkbox in your profile page. That action automatically makes the appropriate thing happen in SendGrid’s lists, so they remain in sync with WordPress. So again, the TidBITS account is the central source of data.

There are two exceptions to that with SendGrid. First, if your address bounces, SendGrid automatically adds it to an unsubscribe list locally, but does not communicate that fact back to our system. Similarly, anyone who clicks the Unsubscribe link at the bottom of an email message will unsubscribe directly in SendGrid, with no communication back to WordPress. Such a link would be possible but seemed like it was more work than it was worth. The upshot of these exceptions is that if you want to resubscribe after a bounce or a link-triggered unsubscribe, you’ll need to contact us at [email protected] for help.

I hope that gives you enough of a conceptual overview to get started as soon as you can access the new site. I’ll write more in the future to explain other aspects of what’s changing.

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