New! Three easy steps to a better PlanningAlerts

Photo by David Clode

Do you use PlanningAlerts and have an email alert set up? Do you realise you’ve never set a password for an account? Have you ever found unsubscribing from an alert not entirely obvious or needed help to confirm a comment or update your email address for an alert?

Good news! From now on you’ll be able to make an account! Once you’ve confirmed your email address, simply login any time to manage your alerts, email settings and any comments you make all in one place. Phew! 

Don’t worry, you can still search for development applications and see all the usual details on the website without logging in. You’ll only need to login to set up your email alert or create a comment. All the usual details are freely and openly available at as before. 

When you next get an email alert you’ll be asked to “activate your account” which simply involves these three simple steps

  • Step 1: Confirm your email address
  • Step 2: Click on the link in the email “Activate your account”
  • Step 3: Fill in your name and password

And hurrah! You’re in! 

What? And why now? 

Back when we first launched PlanningAlerts, we wanted the sign up for email alerts to be as quick as possible with the fewest clicks standing between you and what you want to know. We also thought it was rude to ask people to sign up for an account just to see what your service did before you had a chance to look around. So we decided early on we would avoid accounts if we could. We could, so we did. In fact by avoiding user accounts altogether we could take a couple of steps out of the process entirely.

Times have changed! People now expect to login to services and be able to update details with their online services on their own. Using an email and password are now completely standard and password managers even built into browsers to help us stay sane while needing unique passwords for many day to day services. In fact it now seems plain weird PlanningAlerts didn’t allow this. 

This has helped keep PlanningAlerts super easy to use. However this approach has come with limitations.

We also hear from some of you that it can be tricky to update or change an email alert or unsubscribe and there’s been no way to manage your alerts in one place. You had to wait for an email alert and follow a link in the email. With a user account you can simply log in, review your details any time, and make changes yourself.

Also there’s been no connection between different alerts and comments that the same person has. Over time we see that this can lead to confusion and also extra effort.

As the number of people using the service has grown so has the amount of support we have to give people for common problems such as these. In the spirit of giving you access to tools and information you need to stay informed on issues that matter to you in your area, it’s also important that we don’t do something for you that you could easily do for yourself.

Easier for you

You’ll find it easier to 

  • Sign up for extra alerts – no need to confirm each one
  • Change your email address – just confirm the new email address once and any alerts you have are then sent to your new address
  • See any and all the alerts you have currently setup in one place
  • See any comments you’ve made in one place
  • See when each alert was last emailed to you

Tiny changes, big impact, or, How it will make things easier for us to support your community

At PlanningAlerts it’s important to us that you can contact us directly with your questions. Frankly, we’d like to see fewer support requests on some of those more mundane requests in our inbox. This will help us have greater capacity to focus on better supporting people through the planning process. 

As a tiny organisation we think we’re most effective when we figure out small changes that can have the biggest possible impact. For PlanningAlerts that means giving you control over your alerts and comments. So we’ve taken the time to focus on improving your experience of this local information service over the last few months. By providing you information and tools to take care of your ongoing information needs, we figure it might be that much easier to connect with the big picture; we even suspect you may start to feel a growing sense of confidence you have a part to play in shaping your neighborhood.

Some of what’s happening under the hood

So now you know why we’re doing this, I’ll outline how we’ve been rolling out this change. It includes some technical details.

There are two cases when PlanningAlerts asks people to confirm their intention by following a link sent to their email address, setting up a new alert and making a comment. Previously each new alert or comment had its own discrete record of the email address attached to it. Each alert and comment needed to be individually confirmed.

The first step in this migration was to attach each alert and comment to a user record. Where there is no user record associated with an email address, we create one in a special un-activated state where someone can’t actually yet log in.

Then, any new alerts or comments are similarly automatically hooked up to these otherwise invisible user accounts.

Then, we started rolling out changes to production that are only visible to people who are logged in. They don’t need to put in their email address to sign up for alerts and comments. They also don’t need to confirm their email address (because it’s already been confirmed in the user account setup). Phew!

The advantage of rolling the changes out in this way is that we can do it step by step. We don’t have to make one giant change to the service which touches many many aspects of how it works.

Then, the next stage is that to create an alert or make a comment people now have to login. This we hide behind a “feature flag” in the application so again we can roll it out to production without changing anything for current users, so that we can have confidence we’re not breaking anything. 

That’s better!

We are enabling this final step for everyone today. We’re excited about this change and we hope you will be too. 

Matthew Landauer and Katherine Szuminska

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