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Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Crash Test, Dummy
Two days old, but I just ran across it. Courtesy of channel9 and the fine folks at E-CQURITY we learn that one can crash all current versions of IE on Windows 2000 or XP with 11 bytes of data:


IE users can enjoy the effects here. Firefox aficionados can sit around and laugh...but we should probably laugh pretty quietly.
Chicken, Egg, Lemming
Yesterday the Email Sherpa blog cited Return Path's deliverability analysis in support of their earlier piece stating that Monday is the best day to send email campaigns. This is true, of course, but not anything close to the whole story.

Email Sherpa points out that the majority of commercial email goes out between Tuesday and Thursday, with very small amounts sent on Monday and Friday, and virtually none sent over the weekend. Why does commercial email follow this pattern? Perhaps because prior to this most recent report, the common knowledge -- as recently as December of last year -- was that midweek was actually the best time to send commercial email.

Funny how that works, isn't it? Everybody knows that Tuesday through Thursday is the best time to send email and starts sending on those days, and yet suddenly -- mysteriously -- people don't respond as well and ISPs start filtering more aggressively on those days. But, of course, it then turns out that Monday is actually the best day to mail, because people get less mail on Mondays.

I understand the desire to be able to say to one's boss "I don't know why we're getting low response rates, we're mailing on Tuesdays, just like these industry publications recommend," rather than "I need time and money to figure out when we should mail, and I'll have to keep getting that money forever, because that answer will keep changing over time." I also understand that it's a lot more difficult to actually gather, control, and analyze your own data on what works and when than...well, than to do nothing. But this is important. Seriously.

I'm particularly aware of this issue right now because of the recent Forrester report on email marketing service providers. While the report merits a whole separate post, one of the key items for me was the listing of items related to email that marketers felt would be issues for them in the coming year. Close to 50% of marketers interviewed for the study listed "increasing the number of email addresses" as a signficant challenge, while less than five percent listed "establishing the right metrics" as an issue. Apparently these companies already know everything they need to know.

According to his Web site, Bruce Schneier is "best known as a refreshingly candid and lucid security critic and commentator." He has a lot of intelligent things to say about security issues, but one of the most important is a simple sound bite: security is a process, not a product. Marketers would do well to remove the word "security" from that sentence and try fitting a few others in there: customer responsiveness, email deliverability, or perhaps just "business." Marketers, like everybody else, need to be focused on metrics -- not just the results that they're currently getting, but understanding how those results are calculated and whether the right things are being analyzed. This is a process, and you're never going to be "done" with it.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
More on Bayes
But nothing about a bayesian avocado this time. Just a link to a interesting, non-mathematician accessible explanation of Bayes' Theorem (coming to you courtesy of metafilter and the goodness that is FeedDemon Watches).
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Just a Test
Yes, really just a test of some stuff for the feed, see how feedburner handles stuff. Nothing to see here, move along...
Friday, July 16, 2004
Resend any important personal email
Since my readership is largely people who know me, I'll post this here as well: my ISP's mailserver was borked pretty much all of yesterday. Apparently there was no email loss, but all of my incoming mail -- spam and otherwise -- to all of my personal addresses was restored directly into my inbox, with none of the normal filtering or sorting.

It'll take me a while to sort through all of it, so if you sent me anything time sensitive yesterday, shoot it over again today.
Again with the Search: Salon, this time
So continuing the trend started by yesterday's search post, I'll note that Salon is today running a piece on Email and search.

Since I've got to get going shortly I'll just post a couple of questions for your consideration:

Do you feel that the author of the Salon article is affected by the "in a Google world, search is the answer to everything" trend that I briefly mentioned yesterday? What in the article supports your opinion?

I find it a little curious that the author begins by citing a study that finds that people use email readers in a wide variety of very different ways, and then proceeds on the apparent assumption that an email reader that pushes the user towards search rather than sort (folders) as a data management approach will work better for everyone in every situation -- don't you agree? :)
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Searching for Search Stuff
I just came across a reference to Blinkx (on metafilter, though my FeedDemon watch for search related stuff actually brought it to my attention). I bring it up because I'm fascinated by what's going on with search right now, on a couple of levels.

In part it's interesting to consider how much Google has fed this trend: while it now seems obvious that search technology -- if it's good enough -- can dramatically change how we look at information and the structures used to organize it, I'm not certain how much of that is 20/20 hindsight. Prior to 1998 it was equally obvious that data should be categorized and dropped into a formal, hierarchical structure, so that users could do a search and then look for related information in the appropriate place in the hierarchy. With Google's success, suddenly everybody is about search, self-defining structures, and latent semantic analysis.

The other part that's really interesting is trying to predict how effective search will be when extended into other areas. What Google does is hard, but you've got one very handy element: there are explicit links between many of the pieces of data that you're analyzing. Rather than having to consider each data point (Web page) in isolation and arbitrarily decide which one is a "better" result for the search term alien abductions, you can check the explicit relationships (links) that exist between the data points that appear to be relevant. If one of those data points is a "hub," pointed to by many other data points, it's likely very relevant.

When you're searching your hard drive for that document about email filters that you were working on a couple of months ago, or searching your email for the message that had the address of the party that you're supposed to go to, you're back to evaluating each document individually. Also problematic, you're likely looking for one specific result rather than results regarding a general topic. As interest in these areas increases the tools will inevitably find new approaches to improve the process, but I suspect that it'll take a while.

While both MS and Apple have been promoting improved search on the desktop, I don't know of too much neat new stuff actually out there for the individual user. "Enterprise search" is one area where this tech is already being promoted pretty heavily, though: if anyone has any experiences in this area, I'd love to hear about them.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
The Deal: NewsGator Pricing, Corporate RSS, Miscellaneous
First let me just say that I've very disappointed in all of you. I was hoping to get some brilliant insights for which I could take credit, and instead not nothing but a few moderately interesting questions. I have to do everything around here.

That said, I'll move on. Our starting point was "[t]here exists an amalgam of software and services NewsGator, such that for each registered user of NewsGator the associated corporate entity receives revenue that is recurrent in nature."

So NewsGator's approach seems to make a great deal of sense, with my only question being whether there is enough of a market to support that approach until the rest of the world catches up. Just writing software to read RSS feeds isn't going to do much to aid one's plans for world domination: people buy the software once, maybe upgrade at some point in the distant future -- even if people love your software, you have a constant battle to get enough new people to buy it every month to keep the lights on.

A service, on the other hand, with credit cards being billed each and every month? Way cool. Even if you don't have people locked into a contract, if your product is good people pay you for it each and every month.

This part of the NewsGator approch seems very sane; the potential down side is whether (even with "custom" feeds and whatnot) enough people will pay $20...or even $6 a month for what still seems a pretty limited service. Synchronization between devices is sweet, but the custom feeds don't really appeal to me, and while the keyword/related content feeds are great (and will, I think, become absolutely essential as RSS use really gets going, getting only two of each in the bottom package would piss me off. (REF #5)

I currently use FeedDemon, which has a similar "watch feed" tool. Without even coming close to exploring all of my obsessive geek needs I already have eight watches set up, which would mean that I have to get the $20/month package. That's double what I have to pay TMobile for the bandwith to get the feeds to a phone or handheld, getting close to half what I pay for the bandwith coming in to my house. And if -- sorry, when -- I want more keyword feeds I'm getting up into the "business" packages. (REF. #3, more or less. I think that's why I included it, at least.)

When I can create something similar (though admittedly crappier) using GoogleAlert and my own custom RSS feed, $20 a month doesn't seem all that appealing. (REF #1, #2)

Before I get accused of naysaying, though, let's return to these "business" packages. While I may be (probably am) wrong, that seems like the direction that NewsGator is looking, and it looks like a really sweet position that's just waiting to be filled.

What do I mean? Well, a lot of companies have halfheartedly jumped on the blog bandwagon, but most have chosen to use a blog as an efficent, accessible way to communicate information from the company to the outside world. There are relatively few cases where people have realized that there's probably even greater value to having a blog that's aimed towards the company, pulling relevant information from the outside world. (REF. #4)

If Brad Feld has a feed set up to watch for mentions of his name (hi, Brad!), that's entertaining; if a company has feeds set up to watch for mentions of their products, competitors, relevant business keywords...well, that's useful. That's potentially really, really useful.

With more and more information online, constantly sifted by faster and better search tools, we're approaching the point where finding the information isn't the issue. Figuring out what the relationships between all those pieces of information, and figuring out what to do with it is the issue. Um, are the issues. While there is a lot of ground still to cover in the "find information" part of it, machines are pretty good at that part already; it's us -- the people -- who need to figure out how we can manage that information effectively. (REF. #6)

I've got more science fiction-y "do our brains need to change how they generate metadata in order for us to live in such a data intensive world" musings that I could share, but...well, it's probably best for all concerned if I just go home and have dinner.
Sunday, July 11, 2004
NewsGator Pricing, Corporate RSS, Miscellaneous
Our premise for the afternoon is as follows:

There exists an amalgam of software and services NewsGator, such that for each registered user of NewsGator the associated corporate entity receives revenue that is recurrent in nature.

Now, it turns out that I don't have time to do the full post today, so we'll make this interesting: I'll provide the links and other helpful information about the general direction of the post now. I'll also offer extra-special bonus points (and possibly an Alien Abductions Incorporated t-shirt, assuming that I can find one) to anyone who can predict the post content in a comment or email. Doesn't that sound fun?

1. GoogleAlert.
2. My own post on creating a DIY customized RSS feed.
3. My question regarding regular expressions in FeedDemon's "watch" feeds.
4. TechDirt's Corporate Intelligence Service.
5. Some random article that mentions an "all you can eat" pricing model.
6. A quote about RSS that mentions "huge amounts of constantly changing information."

Okay, that should be enough for you to go on. I'll have time to put the full post together in the next day or so; it probably won't be as exciting as what you've got in your own heads, so please feel free to pass along your guesses. If they're good enough I'll steal them for the final post.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
"Minidisc Transcribing" Update
About 72 hours after he published a post on the changing nature of advertising that contained an offhand mention of his desire for a minidisc transcribing machine, Doc Searls' post is the one and only result of a google search for "minidisc transcribing".

I choose to view this as evidence to support what I noted the other day: the tech isn't the hardest part of this...publishing and searching information are both getting easier and more efficient every day. The really hard part is figuring out what to with that information - how to respond to it appropriately. Oh, yeah: it's also a little tricky developing the software that accurately, intelligently, and consistently sorts, manages, slices and dices that big fat pile of information. But that's why god invented really smart software developers, and I'm lucky enough to work with a bunch of them...
Saturday, July 03, 2004
What Doc Searls Wants
Doc Searls wants a minidisc transcribing machine. Of course, he also wants to do some insightful griping, so it's worth checking out the entire post.

He believes that "[w]hen the revolution is over, the only kind of advertising that survives will be the kind customers want. And when it comes, it will bear zero resemblance to the advertising we've known and hated for the last hundred years," also noting that RSS is one avenue that may be leading in the right direction: "I'm in the market for lots of other stuff too. So are all of us. What can we do to communicate that demand, actively but selectively? I believe RSS is a necessary but insufficient answer to that question. And that there's money to be made in making up the difference."

Seems like there are two issues here, and advertising is the secondary one: the primary purpose of advertising is to enlighten people about all the wonderful products and services that they don't yet know they need. That advertising may be caught by someone who happens to have a specific, personal need that dovetails with a particular ad, but that's generally a happy conincidence. Avertisers place their ads (online or off) where they believe they have good odds of finding people who could need what is being offered, because the could need market is waaaay bigger than the do need market.

What Doc is primarily concerned with is something that doesn't yet exist, and I don't think is "advertising," exactly. The closest equivalent to what he's talking about it actually product comparison Web sites: you already know what you want, so you go to the site and are presented with a list of links to the places that have what you want, with a little information about each vendor.

You could take Doc's idea in some interesting directions; what's most interesting, though, is that the hardest part of such a system isn't the tech but rather the psychology. How do people want to use such a tool, even if they're motivated enough to use it at all? Do they want, like Doc, the ability to "actively but selectively" tell people about very specific product needs, or do they want to say "I'm looking for a digital camera" and let the vendors work off of that? What does "selectively" mean in a context like this, anyway? How do you, the user, decide who should have access to the information that you're publishing, and control that distribution process?

Hmmm...this pretty clearly feeds into some "when search? when sort?" thoughts I've been bouncing around for the last few months...I'll go further into all of this in the next couple of days, but right now I've got to head to Coney Island in time to catch the hot dog eating contest. Pictures available tomorrow, I hope!
Friday, July 02, 2004
Old News, now: Return Path and NetCreations
As noted in blogs here, here, and here by interested parties, NetCreations was acquired by Return Path last week. (As an aside, it's interesting that I was immediately contacted by a good friend who first read about it on Matt Blumberg's blog -- and like a number of other people I've since spoken to, he noted that it was the first time that he'd gotten breaking news on an acquisition via RSS.)

So this is a really good thing. NetCreations' and Return Path's offerings complement each other incredibly well, and this is a case where the whole has great potential to become far more than the sum of its parts. It's a little frightening to say it, but the gushing press release is accurate: everyone involved is really excited about this and looking forward to the future of this company.

It's also extremely refreshing to see the care that has been taken throughout this process: the management on both sides has worked hard to convey their respect for their employees. In a company that (post merger) totals less than 70 people that is really valuable, so let me be the first to say that I, for one, appreciate what they've done and welcome our new RSS-enabled overlords. :)

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