We’re proud to say we have (at last!) removed a well-known obstacle that sometimes slowed the submission of recommendations to Interfolio. From now on, when you send an Interfolio recommendation request via email, the letter writer will be able to submit their letter in a few simple clicks, without having to sign in or create an account. Along the way, this update taught us more about the balance between security and ease of use. See also: The Letter Writer’s Guide to Interfolio

If you’ve requested letters via our “email” request method before, you know that our site sent an email to your letter writer with a link for them to follow to upload their letter. Sounds simple enough. But submitting a letter meant the letter writer also had to create a free Interfolio Letter Writer account with a password. They didn’t need to provide any information beyond a password, they certainly never had to pay anything, and we didn’t use their information for anything beyond the actual letter request, submission, and storage process. Nevertheless, it created confusion and frustration from letter writers who asked, quite reasonably, why they couldn’t simply upload their letter and have done with it.

Historically, the “account” model of letter submission was Interfolio’s way of documenting a letter’s authenticity and the path it took to arrive in a Dossier account. Obviously, it is crucial that we take reasonable measures to ensure (1) that every letter we store has been written by the author attributed to it and (2) that the content of confidential letters are never shown to the applicant who made the request. Be assured, this level of authentication has not changed. Ultimately, however, we decided to do away with accounts because, in the end, no security was compromised. After all, following a link in an email is the same level of authentication as following a link in an email and… creating a password.

To be clear: if they are inclined, letter writers can still make use of an Interfolio Letter Writer account to organize their requested and submitted letters, download copies of past letters, and update or replace letters they’ve submitted. But they don’t have to, if all they want to do is submit a letter.

This kind of product evolution is representative of our ongoing endeavor to rethink how technology can best serve higher education and academic careers. We don’t view the earlier Letter Writer sign-in model as a failure, exactly–although it’s very gratifying to have overcome its limitations. Back when we first instituted the sign-in model, it felt like a responsible solution to the legitimate challenge of authentication in a private dossier service. But now we’ve made sure that security and ease of use are equally accounted for in one of our commonly used academic products.