Chicken, Egg, Lemming

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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.

Resend any important personal email

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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

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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? :)

Searching for Search Stuff

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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.