The Digital Education newsletter sign-up buttons: a salutary story

The question is: why does it happen?

The question is: why does it happen?

Conclusion: this is how the story ends

The Digital Education sign-up buttons, as seen below and on the Newsletters page, are now working again. That means, if you have tried to subscribe to the newsletter, and were unable to, your luck has changed because you can now!

Quick! Do it while you're thinking about it:

The middle of the story

I moved this website to a new platform on October 9th, 2015. I sent out an issue of Digital Education on November 9th. Usually when I send out a newsletter the number of subscribers goes down.

This sounds pretty dreadful, until you realise that people change jobs or retire. So there are always several bounce-backs, ie email addresses that no longer work, and which are therefore automtically stripped from the database. Some people unsubscribe too, because they have changed careers or retired. They often send me a nice note telling me how useful they've found the newsletter over the years.

The fall in the number of subscribers is miniscule as a proportion of the total number. In any case, the drop is more than made up by new sign-ups.

But not this time. The last time anybody subscribed to Digital Education, at the time of writing, was October 7th. This was worrying.

In the beginning: this is how the story starts

This website is hosted by Squarespace. Once I'd made the decision to change from Squarespace version 5 to version 7, which is mobile-friendly, I was meticulous in my planning:

  • I drew up a checklist of things to try out during a trial period. For instance, I checked that internal links (to other articles on the site) still worked.
  • Then I drew up a list of things to do before taking the plunge. This included taking 4 (yes, four!) different kinds of backup just in case things went wrong. I also copied the Cookie script that tells new visitors that the site uses cookies, and what to do about it if they don't like it; I copied another couple of scripts too, in case I wanted to use them again on the new site.
  • Finally, I drew up a list of things to do after taking the plunge, such as creating a custom 404 ("page not found") page, and a passworded area for subscribers.

It was while working through this last checklist that I amended the formatting of the newsletter subscription button. Once I'd done that, I clicked on it, and nothing happened.

Thinking that this was because I was still in editing mode, I saved the page, logged out, and tried again.

That's when I discovered that while the button itself had survived the transition to the new platform, the code underneath it had been stripped out. So anyone who clicked on the button were just clicking on an image, nothing more.

Given the timings involved -- last sign-up on October 7th, site transferred on October 9th -- it seems to me to be logical that this is the explanation for the complete absence of new subscriptions. (At least, I hope so!)

What I've learnt

Like Atul Gawande, I'm a great believer in checklists, as you've probably worked out.

However, this little episode has brought home to me the (obvious in retrospect) fact that a checklist is ultimately only really useful if it's complete. I thought I was being thorough (well, actually, I was), but I didn't think to copy the button code along with all the other codes I checked. Looking back, I should have given my checklists to Elaine, and asked her if she could spot any obvious omissions.

Oh well, we live and learn.

So please prove me correct in my analysis by subscribing to Digital Education! Here's that button again:

Thanks. I look forward to "meeting" you.

A note about the structure of this article

I've written this story backwards for two reasons.

First, I wanted to get to the heart of the matter straight away, ie to let you know that if you tried and failed to sign up to the Digital Education newsletter, the issue has now been sorted out. You can sign up yourself, and tell all your friends and family to sign up too. Or at least your colleagues. I didn't want to lose you after 5 minutes of apparently inconsequential rambling.

Second, I have been wanting to try this out for decades, ever since I read Henry Kuttner's story, Happy Ending (which I read in an anthology called Beyond Tomorrow (I think), by Damon Knight, not the original magazine: I'm not that old!). You can read about that here: Happy Ending

Note: the link to the book above is an Amazon affiliate link.