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The People's Email

Over the last six months, I’ve been the technical lead of a team working to improve the email subscriptions that we offer on GOV.UK.

GOV.UK offers a multitude of ways of getting updates by email every time something changes. You can subscribe based on topics, filtered sets of documents or areas of government policy.

Until recently, the job of keeping track of who was subscribed to what and actually sending the emails was outsourced to a third-party supplier called GovDelivery, part of Granicus. This was set up around 5 years ago when GOV.UK first started.

Since then, GOV.UK has changed a lot, but email subscriptions have stayed the same. Part of this is because there was no sustained work on the system, but part was also that relying on GovDelivery meant there were a lot of things we couldn’t change - even things that user research showed us could be done a lot better.

Six months ago, we decided that it was time to put the work in to bring our email subscriptions fully in-house. This would be a lot of work, but it would allow us to take full control of the system and make the improvements we wanted to make. It would also save the taxpayer a considerable amount of money.

A couple of weeks ago, we launched the new system to the public, fully replacing the old system. We took the time to move everyone’s details over to the new system so that people would carry on receiving their immediate, daily and weekly emails as they always did.

As a result of this work, we have been able to make some considerable improvements to the system:

  • The emails now look very different - the template is improved, much lighter and works in mobile browsers
  • The subscription journey is now consistent throughout and much simpler
  • How often you get emails can be chosen per subscription rather than just once for your whole account
  • Our backend code is much simpler than before
  • We’re using GOV.UK Notify to actually send the emails, we so inherit their good work with mail providers and ISPs
  • There is scope for more improvements, especially as the site-wide taxonomy is made live, to allow more fine-grained and combined subscriptions

As the end of the quarter looms, we are working on getting subscription management live too. This will allow users to log in and see a list of what they’re subscribed to, change how often they get each email, unsubscribe from individual or all emails and change their email address. This restores the ability that was available before we switched over to the new system, but it is also more secure since you need to log in.

I hope people are happy with the new system, and see small improvements as they are made. For the first time, you can also reply to any email you receive to provide your feedback, and every contact will receive a reply. I encourage you to take part if there’s something you’d like to see improved or added.

If this sounds like a good place to work, take a look at Working for GDS - we’re usually in search of talented people to come and join the team.