Category: Internet

Pretty Emails

html vs plain text for emails has been a raging debate for me for a long time. I have always recommended going down the plain text route to avoid getting tagged as spam, not to mention rendering issues.

Personally, I have found html emails to be distracting and annoying, so that was another reason to stick with plain text emails.

Recently however, the explosion of html emails has made it more important to cater to this requirement. We, as an organisation are moving towards html emails for marketing purposes and are also helping our clients send out html emails. There are several reasons for this.

My favourite reason is to make emails easier to read. When sending a newsletter, there are several pieces of information that needs to be communicated. With plain text, it becomes far too difficult to highlight important parts and highlight relevant information.

How can one then write html emails that get through spam filters, get rendered correctly regardless of email client and does not distract inappropriately.

An article by David Greiner titled Rock Solid HTML Emails covers key steps to ensure that your emails has the highest chance of rendering correctly (and bypass spam filters).

The basic idea is to build for the lowest common denominator bearing in mind that the email is viewed in an email client, not a web client.

Big thanks therefore goes to David for such a useful resource…

Fluidic Navigation

I have a dream – to think as little as possible. I agree with Arthur C. Clarke when he suggests that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Therefore, how can we get technology to “magically” make things easier for us to do. The invisible interface, which I have covered before, is one outcome of such a concept.

In this particular case, however, I am referring to web navigation. In some ways, arguably the biggest user-interaction challenge over the medium of the web.

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Making Twitter Better

I think that twitter is a fantastic service and has a bright future. However, like a lot of new things, the question of whether it will flourish or perish is really all down how the growth is managed, planned and executed.

I should point out that I don’t know the people at twitter at all and is very much an outsiders opinion. I have been running a business for about nine years, and while it is of nowhere near the success of twitter, I’ve definitely learned some hard lessons. I am not complaining – I am however, voicing some ideas on how things could be made better.

My experience also includes working very closely with megabus.com, which grew from a fledgling website 6 years ago to what it is today servicing over a 100,000 visitors every day.

My gut instinct about Twitter is that the guys and gals are working hard to delivery one really good service really well. However, it is of a size now where service delivery should be happening in the background with little or no effort.

When megabus.com first launched and over the first couple of years, we spent a lot of time managing the hardware, software and processes till we got it right. It went through a dramatic re-architecture in 2005 and since then, the management time has dropped dramatically.

To take twitter to the next level so that it can be bigger than facebook, in my opinion, requires twitter to a lot of things:

Reliability & Performance

I don’t know the architecture / infrastructure of twitter but having used it fairly heavily over the last few days, have noticed intermittent outages. This has to be solved. Not just in the short term, but in the medium and long term. Twitter has to be a service that just works. All websites suffer glitches and outages but the mean time to failure needs to be a lot higher and it should be cheap and cost effective to scale.

TwitApplications

There are a lot of services and applications that link into twitter. I consistently use tweetburner, tweetdeck and have looked at / considered a range of other services / applications. While the wiki page can point someone in the right direction. This needs to be integrated better into twitter itself

Facebook really took off and removed bebo and myspace as competitors, in my opinion the day it introduced facebook applications.

It should be a different process from facebook as facebook applications are of a different breed and different target market. Twitter simply needs to make it easier for applications to integrate in to solve two problems

  1. Easy launchpad to add them in and use them
  2. Remove the need to provide the twitter username/password in other websites. I currently have to do this with tweetburner to post directly which makes me very uncomfortable.

Accessibility

I am not talking about makes it easier for people with disabilities to access the site. I am talking about people who are not technically savvy or more importantly twitter savvy.

I joined twitter a while back and just felt a bit lost. There was no guidance as to what a tweet was, what it meant to be a follower or what it meant for people to follow you.

It took an article on a magazine explaining it to make it easier for me to understand and re-boot my twitter life.

Help & Support are good and useful but it should not be necessary if the help and support is present throughout the site. Facebook does this well and makes it easy to learn and do new things. It does not need to be idiot proof but it does need to have just enough information for a newbie to get started.

There are numerous blogs, articles and websites that cover this information but that means that someone has to spend enough effort getting out there and finding out.

This can be difficult when you don’t know what you are searching for as well.

Functional Integrations

There are several integrations that would be useful. There are websites that do some of these things but it would be useful to have them integrated within the site. Examples include:

  • Easy way to see the last tweet of all the people you are following / your followers
  • Popularity of the people you are following / your followers
  • Group people, so that you can follow people who blog about different things but read them together

Conclusion

From my perspective, this is of course a starting point, the tip of the iceberg. Twitter is involved in a lot of new things but without the soft aspect, I think it is making its life harder than it has to be to get the masses.

Work Life (Im)Balance

Started twittering this week although I’ve had an account on there for about a year. Huge, very interesting community on there of people from all walks of life. Whole communities, sub-communities, tools, utilities – all based on 140 character messages. It really is very impressive.

As a twitterer, there is the question I ask myself as to whether i tweet my personal life or my professional life. Right now, with half a dozen followers, it really doesnt matter. But in the longer term, it would be my goal to increase that number substantially. After all, it is all about who you know, not what you know…

I am already following Levar Burton (Geordi La Forge), Brent Spiner (Data) and Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) – all from Star Trek The Next Generation, Richard Branson of Virgin and Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror and Stack Overflow.

I’ve often thought about separating my personal life from my professional life in terms of online presence. Clearly Star Trek above is a personal interest whereas the other ones are professional interests. But then, my professional interests are classified as such only because I turned personal interests into a career.

If I could make my interest in Star Trek a part of my career, I will…

I do wonder how it would affect my relationship with my followers though, in the long term. I am always going to tweet about things that are of real interest to only a percentage of the followers. This percentage is going to be lower than for other people. This stems partly from my wide range of interests and diverse group of friends / associates.

As an organisation, that works in a fairly diverse range of sectors, this identity crisis is experience not just by me, but as a whole within the organisation. One of the challenges we face is expressing the core values that are fundamental to the way we do work regardless of what that work is.

I believe, at the end of the day, that is the most important quality and our biggest USP…

Bad Google

I stumbled across a post by a Mark Ghosh, an unhappy orkut user which covers a very basic and age old security flaw within Orkut, a social networking site similar to Facebook / MySpace which is now owned by Google.

Google, one of the largest corporations in the world went through and acquired a whole bunch of online communities and this is all fine. However, should a company of this calibre not be more careful about associating with a website that has such a silly but serious security flaw. A flaw that could probably be resolved within an hour of work. I appreciate that there are probably numerous other issues that the site has…

However, if the security of the site is not given any priority, how can we, as the masses place so much trust into an organisation that we trust to perform our searches, store our emails (GMail), our files(Google Docs) and trawl through our websites to make it searchable and available to the masses?

In all honesty, if Google cannot allocate enough resources to at least fix security issues within its products, perhaps, they should at least shut them down to limit the damage hackers can do to legitimate users.

Sure, if someone falls for a scam and accidentally gives out their password, they end up paying a price but having zero control over being able to resolve it is unacceptable. A user should be able to change their password and know that someone who had your old password can no longer log in…

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