Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
There are several organizations that maintain blacklists of IP addresses that send out spam. Internet service providers (ISPs) subscribe to these lists to filter out email that comes from these sources. The idea being that this will keep spam from being delivered to their email users. There is no silver bullet for spam and this can be a heavy-handed practice. It works fine when email comes from a private IP address, but what if someone with a large ISP email address, like yahoo.com, starts sending out spam? Should the originating IP address be blocked? This could block every email that comes from a yahoo.com email address. There are plenty of legitimate non-spamming users who have @yahoo.com email addresses. I use yahoo as an example, but this could be applied to any ISP. Most blacklist managers are aware there are large numbers of legitimate users out there and generally do not blacklist larger service providers without good reason. An example of a good reason is when an email service provider shows a total inability to monitor and control spam that originates from their network. This is a real problem for email service providers. Naturally they want customers but at the same time they must monitor and deny service to customers who are spammers. They effectively have to look for customers to turn away. Never the less, no ISP should tolerate spamming in their network. It has serious repercussions on their legitimate users. If an ISP becomes blacklisted, legitimate customers don't get the service they pay for.
Legitimate email users should be aware of this. If your ISP harbors spammers or is soft on spam, there is a chance that your ISPs IP addresses will be added to a blacklist or has been added already. These may well be the same IP addresses that you use to send email. As a result, your email can be labeled as spam, regardless of the content. The best defense is to use an ISP that has a strong anti-spam policy and avoid working with the ISPs on this list.
Get out of there:
You should avoid ISPs that are "spam friendly" or "spam infested." There are plenty of ethical considerations but they should be avoided for tangible reasons. Spam exploited ISPs generally suffer from poor server performance and lost emails. You can also become associated with spammers just by your relative proximity to each other on the internet. This can lead to frustrating returned emails and long sessions arguing with blacklist managers and your ISP to get the common IP address you share with spammers released. The best bet is to avoid these ISPs all together.
Blacklists can be a major problem for those who send out email newsletters. One of the things many email newsletter management services don't talk about is their delivery rate. Because newsletter services send out so much email their IP addresses are constantly fighting a battle against being blacklisted. Most of the time newsletter services are in the right. It's usually a case of an email behaving like spam or one of their customers making a mistake that trips a flag. This can lead to the newsletter service provider having their IP address blacklisted.
What you need to know is whether or not the IP addresses of your newsletter service provider have been blacklisted. Some services never make any claims to their delivery rate, only how many emails you're allowed to send… with no assurances that your email will ever arrive. One service provider that does speak about this issue is Constant Contact who takes managing the reputation of their IP addresses quite seriously.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Friday, October 13, 2006
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Not only is spam incredibly frustrating, it continues to hamper legitimate business in new ways. Sending out honest email newsletters is becoming increasingly difficult for a number of reasons. Most of these are the direct result of entanglements with tools and protocols that are in place to protect users from spam.
A big problem with spam prevention today is that most anti-spam software can report "false positives" where legitimate email is labeled and treated like spam. The spam filtering software looks over an email message if it fits the profile of spam. This can be done at the server level, an IT department's Exchange server, or at the client level, a copy of Outlook or Eudora on a desktop. The problem is that determining what is spam and what isn't spam is a very delicate job. Unfortunately most anti-spam software just isn't up to it. You run the risk of either tossing legitimate email in the trash without seeing it or only eliminating a small fraction of incoming spam. Granted that cutting out half of the spam you receive is a positive step but it's hardly an ideal solution especially when you loose real email in the process.
Dealing with incoming spam:
In my experience, most anti-spam software causes as much hassle as it prevents. This is especially true for people like me who depend on email for new business leads. Those of us in this situation simply cannot afford a false positive because that costs us business. For a long time my solution was to run a spam filter on my email client at a low level. Set this way it would flag obvious spam and let the rest through to my inbox for me to deal with. I still had a ton of spam coming into my inbox but it wasn't quite as bad. Even with a low grade filter I had to skim through my spam folder once per day to look at hundreds of emails to avoid throwing out something important.
The problem with these types of filters is that the software is making a guess. Emails that have blank subjects or subjects like "hello" or "hey" look a lot like spam. Heaven help you if you actually happen to be in the mortgage business or work for Pfizer.
Better than filters:
Since software isn't up to the task of determining what is spam and what isn't spam what can we do? Cloudmark has developed a unique and quite brilliant solution to the problem. Rather than rely on software to make judgment calls on what is or isn't spam, Cloudmark leverages the opinions of millions of email users. Here's the process in a nutshell: The vast majority of spam is a basic message that gets sent to a large number of people. Everyone with Cloudmark's software has the option to mark an email as spam. When a message gets marked, Cloudmark reads this as a "vote" to label a message as spam. When a message gets enough "votes" Cloudmark's software gets updated and removes future occurrences of that message from everyone's mailbox. The genius of this is that Cloudmark only marks something as spam if several people have marked it. If you get a new business lead from an individual, there is no way that email can be flagged as spam by Cloudmark because it is a unique message. No one else has received the email other than you, so no one else could have marked it as spam. No more false positives!
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
4) No one thinks they are jerk. I want to write a book called “The extreme effort the human mind will put forth to deny wrongdoing” or “Hitler didn’t think he was an ass.” No one thinks they are an ass. No one thinks they are shifty or wrong. Sure maybe we’ll admit we’re wrong on small matters and the catch-all “nobody is perfect” clause, but we are very slow to admit our wrong doing on larger matters or matters of personal interest. It takes a lot of soul searching to honestly look at ourselves and bring our faults to the surface. We as humans will go to great lengths to justify our actions. We will do amazing mental acrobatics to justify our actions that we know are not right. Hitler thought mass genocide was a good thing. He never thought, hehehe, I’m an evil bastard bent on killing innocent men, women, and children. Obviously, we are not dealing with such large issues day to day...at least I hope not. But it’s the little things. It’s the way we come up with justifications for why “Bill” sucks at his job, when in actuality, it’s just that we don’t like him, we are jealous of him, or we don’t like something he believes in. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking we don’t do this. WE DO. Be aware of it. Just be honest with yourself. Just understand that you can fall into the trap of mental acrobatics to justify your stance or reasoning behind a decision. Just know that the truth may be that you are simply covering your butt and justifying your poor decision or poor conduct by projecting the problem onto someone else.
The flip side is to use this knowledge as a tool. There’s a reason behind everything. Here’s the scenario:
You and your coworker Bob have always been on good terms. It’s not like you hang out after work or anything, but he’s a good guy and you two get along fine. Then one day, Bob isn’t so nice. He short with you, calls out your mistakes at every opportunity, and generally makes the mood far from ideal. Why the change? It’s not because Bob picked up the “How to be an Evil Guy in 5 Easy Steps” book at Barnes and Noble the other day. The truth may be that you got the promotion that Bob secretly thought he should have had and now he treats you poorly. It’s not your fault. You didn’t know and you didn’t do anything to “take it” from Bob. Just know that there may be more going on than you are aware of and if you approach a personal problem from the standpoint of no one thinks they are a jerk, you will be more effective at getting to the heart of the problem. Put yourself in their shoes, try to “think like they do,” and know that no one thinks they are a jerk and you can often figure out why someone is behaving a certain way. You may not agree with it. It may not be “right.” But at least you are closer to the truth – or at least their “truth”. Once your have that understanding and insight, you don’t waste your time and energy on why is Bob suddenly being a jerk and how can I get back at him. You can get on to solving the problem and moving past interoffice misunderstandings. More importantly, you can honestly look at yourself and make sure you don’t become the one doing mental acrobatics to justify some poor actions.
Friday, October 6, 2006
Even if you're on the web for a few minutes a week, you have undoubtedly seen a website (or part of a website) developed in flash. Adobe Flash is a very important part of a developer's toolkit these days. However, it's important to note its limitations.
One main limitation that Flash is that it is notorious for is updateability. Many Flash developers in the early days created a website that was strictly Flash, and many of them had to tell their clients how everything was now going to take twice as long and cost twice as much to make changes. And don't even think about having the client update the site themselves. Flash's development environment is more complex than a traditional HTML development environment (for example Adobe Dreamweaver). In Dreamweaver it takes about 4 clicks to insert a photo. With Flash it takes many more, and you also have to deal with organizational aspects of that image within the development environment itself. In short, there's just more you have to deal with when you insert a photo in Flash, not to mention every other aspect of development.
Another limitation (although I use the term "limitation" looser here) is programming. Flash uses a language called Actionscript. Actionscript is very powerful and also easy for a developer to learn since is similar to other languages. You can use Flash to connect to and update databases, and you can create some very powerful web applications with it. However, the Flash environment is based on a timeline. It gets very difficult and confusing to put pieces of code all over a timeline, and Flash can have many timelines in one file. This issue has been addressed in more recent versions of Flash, and it has helped. But it is still a persistant issue. I'm sure Adobe will work on this more in future versions.
So for now, what can you do with Flash? Currently, many developers treat Flash like a "component" in a website. It isn't the whole website, but a few pieces of it. Games, video, and animations, Flash when used correctly can add a lot of "punch" to a website.
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
3) Play to people’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses. It’s obvious to say that we are better at some things than others. That goes for personalities and the way people approach a problem or devise a solution. Just because it’s not the way you would do it, does not mean it’s wrong. For instance, some people are very analytical and like to evaluate the entire problem and come up with a definitive solution before they make a move. That’s a good thing, right? Yes and no. They are very prepared. They have accounted for almost any situation. No time was wasted once things are set in motion. Sounds good. However, by the time they have all their ducks in a row, quite often it’s too late. In the time it takes to account for all the variables, the variables will have changed. You never have all the information. At best, you’re lucky to have 80% of the information you need to make a good decision. If you spend all your time trying to gather that other 20%, the project will never get done. And then there’s the X-factor. You may account for every scenario you can think of…and then X happens. The analytical personality has a hard time dealing with this. They want to stop everything and re-evaluate. But when the X-factor hits, you don’t have that kind of time. You’ve got roll with the punches and make a call. You’ve got to take a risk and go with your gut. Analytical people HATE that.
Then there are the divers. People who just dive in with both feet and make changes, retool, and retweak as they go. This too, is both good and bad. These people are very “organic”. They can roll with the punches and flow through the problem. They adapt quickly. However, they run the risk of making poor decisions based on too little information. They also run the risk of changing directions many times in a process. They may end up in the same place as the analytical, but the team is worn out by the time they get there from all the direction changes. The team with the analytical is often frustrated, because they reach a point where they just want to stop planning and do something. The answer is somewhere in the middle. You need both and you need to at least acknowledge the “other side”. Understand their value. Focus on the good aspects and not the bad. Know that there is a time and a place for both and be willing, as hard as it might be to hand it off to the “other side” when the time is right. Who decides when the time is right? You both do. You are not going to change the way people think, feel or act. You may change their opinions on things, but you are not going to re-hardwire the way people think. Don’t try. Its takes along time, and even then, many would submit that it’s not possible. So don’t try. You sure aren’t going to do it in the span of a meeting. You are not getting paid to change the way someone’s mind works. So accept the difference and play to their strengths and downplay their weaknesses. Put analyticals in analytical roles and divers in diver roles. It sounds obvious, but people have a tendency to try and convert people to their way of working/thinking rather than playing to their strengths. It’s hard to admit, subconscious or not that someone else is better at something than you. And that’s what’s happening here. Many would say it’s not a case of someone being better. They would argue that the opposing way is wrong. Analyticals are too slow to move and scared to take a risk. Divers are random and have a short attention span. Both of these things are true. But if you let everyone play to their strengths you end up with this scenario:
- Divers explore new directions and ideas
- The divers hand off their ideas to the analyticals to add logistical concerns to the ideas
- Then get the divers come back in and help the anaylticals with X-factor scenarios
- The analyticals chew on those for a while and lay out a process for project completion
- The Divers, now armed with the guidelines for the project, implement the plan – rolling with the punches as they come.
The whole process is all about checks and balances, but there must be mutual respect. When the ball is in the divers court, the analyticals are quietly there to make sure the divers stay on track. The analyticals are not there shoot down the divers’ ideas. The analyticals are there to make sure the divers stay on track with the predefined goals of the project. When the ball is in the analyticals court, the divers are there to say “are you ready?, are you ready?, are you ready?” Not in an aggressive way, but with an excited push. The divers are also there to help the analyticals with the “outside the box” ideas (Lordy, I hate that overused term) and solutions to the analyticals logistical problems.
It’s not a fight. It’s not a contest. The fight is with the rival company. Focus on that.
Monday, October 2, 2006
There is a traditional battle in web design between the technical people and the creatives.
Tech – "What good is a website if no one finds it?"
Creative – "What good is being found if no one does anything with it?"
I tend to think of myself as a "creative" (although my background might speak to the contrary) and I'm usually an advocate for the creative aspects of web design: supporting the brand message, dedicating resources to interface design, and refining usability. Getting my "creative way" has often meant headaches for the technical folks and vice versa.
Back in 1996, many were of the opinion (myself included) that SEO (search engine optimization) was a fool's errand. The eyeball economy had not yet started. There was so little traffic in niche markets that it didn't seem worth the effort to compete in search engines. Conventional thinking was that you'd be better off with a compelling "destination" website, some traditional, proven marketing techniques, and fundamental SEO tactics rather than spending exorbitant resources competing for search results with no guarantee of any ROI. However, the web has changed a lot since then and we need a new web-marketing paradigm.
The amount of information accessible online today is incomprehensibly large. While this makes the Internet a fantastic resource, finding information can be daunting and being found online is extremely difficult. Enter SEO. The arguments traditionally made by programmers and technically-minded web developers carry more weight today. The reality of the modern congested webscape is that being found is 90% of the battle… maybe more.
Even though Google provides 600 trillion results, we know most folks typically don't go more than about 3 pages deep. So why bother? Because of these two modern realities:
- The cut-off really IS that abrupt. Back in the day you could count on a few people to power through the first 10 or so pages of results looking for your site. Today content is more abundant as there are more sites offering up information and search engines are getting smarter. Today the top 30 results are actually close to relevant! So instead of having to sift through the first 10 -20 pages of nonsense, search engine users can actually find good information on the first few pages of results.
- The payoff is huge! There are so many people out there using search to find so many things every day that the number of searches preformed, and the resulting number of clicks, visits, and purchases is so high that if you manage to get into the top 10 results the amount of business that this yields will likely be enormous (provided you haven't made any other gigantic web design/marketing errors).
So what does this mean? It means that SEO is no longer trivial. It's still a risk, but making it to the top of results has a huge pay off.
In short, getting found through search has practically become an all-or-nothing prospect. And the "all" is so big that even a website with terrible design will do well because even the small percentage of visitors that make it through the poor design will still be a large number.
Now don't think that SEO is a silver bullet. There can only be 10 sites in the top 10 and all of your competitors the world over want to be there just as badly as you do. SEO is less about a marketing strategy and more about trench warfare… with about a million trenches. Know what you're getting into and don’t think of it as a single ad or even a single campaign. SEO is a long, process of modifying, tweaking and monitoring. Search engine rules change and content is always king. It's nearly impossible to stay ahead of the curve. The trick is to keep up with it enough to surf.