MediaPost Makes Bold Suggestions for Email Marketing

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Pointer to a MediaPost column that discusses the “seductive attraction” of madness like the endless “best day to send email” discussions, and why one-size-fits-all approaches are generally weak.

Nice to see this point aired again, and yes, yes, yes: there is no “one true day” for email marketing…and while we’re at it, one-size-fits-all sucks as an approach to targeting, too.

Network Diagrams for Compulsive Freaks

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Been spending time at our colocation facility this week, moving stuff around, cleaning out old junk, and the like, and this leads naturally into checking and updating network diagrams. Somehow I’ve managed to use Visio for years without ever noticing that the “Basic Network Shapes” template includes “keyboard” and “mouse”…are there people out there who actually put keyboards and mice on their network diagrams?

network digram widgets for compulsive freaks

Language Matters: RSS

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Back in July, when some folks were upset about various other folks’ intention to employ RSS without actually calling it RSS, I started a post and then gave up on it — while language seems like a big deal to me, I didn’t think that many other people would care.

Apparently I was wrong. Nice to see that.

While I can understand why Dave Winer would be a little touchy on the issue, it seems to me like a non-starter question. RSS is a data syndication format, and in discussions of that format it is essential to use the correct, specific language. In cases where the discussion is of other tools or toys that might make use of RSS, however, dictating that the resulting RSS-fed product be called “RSS” seems unnecessary.

In the post linked above, Brad Feld used the SMTP/email example, but I prefer HTML. Which of the sentences below might you actually say during the course of a normal day?

A. Hey, you’ve got to check out this great HTML document that I just ran across!
B. Hey, you’ve got to take a look at this cool Web page that I found!

Be honest, now. You’d feel like a pedantic goober saying version A, wouldn’t you? The fact that the stuff that you’re looking at is marked up with HTML is totally irrelevant to a non-technical discussion. There is, however, a related language question that remains relevant: version B above is immediately comprehensible to pretty much anyone you might be talking to…they might never have heard of HTML, JavaScript, or Flash, but they know what a Web page is. What we need is a single, generally accepted, specific-but-not-too-limiting term for RSS thingies.

In the case of RSS, one could make the argument that “RSS” is a perfectly good designator that should be propagated, rather than splintering off into “Web clips,” “Web feeds,” and whatever else various marketing departments come up with, but I don’t really buy it: something like a simple “feeds” is much more compelling to me. It’s not tied to a specific technology, so that you eliminate discussions like “do you mean RSS RSS or Atom RSS?” It’s a meaningful word rather than an abbreviation, which is always a good thing, and — since I’m starting from Brad Feld’s post this seems an appropriate note — it’s an analog analog.

The idea of a feed or feeding something into is one that’s familiar from the outside world, and one that points users in the right direction when trying to understand what “feeds” might be online. “Channels” should have been a good candidate for this word, and it’s strange to me that it never really caught on as a term for RSS thingies.

Outside of FeedDemon (you subscribe to channels rather than feeds in FD), I never hear about RSS channels any more; given that “channel” is the key element in all versions of the RSS spec, and a totally familiar offline term to boot, it’s just weird. I guess that the people have spoken.

Attention, Aggregation, Customization

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In his post The Looming Attention Crisis Fred Wilson notes that he’s already past his saturation point for RSS feeds, among other things. [And I haven’t said this in a while, but you should really go read the original post now.] Quite a few other people have been talking about this as well, but since he’s effectively my boss at a couple of removes, I pick his post. Go figure.

Anyway, the RSS saturation question is one I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently. My little experiment with the Searchfox RSS reader crystallized a couple of things for me, but the real reason this started getting mindspace was that I’ve noticed that I consume feeds very differently than I did a year or two ago, and that the change happened via slow evolution rather than a clear decision on my part.

Back in the day…I subscribed to a bunch of feeds. I maintained a folder structure to keep those feeds in logical, topical groupings: Tech, Work Stuff, Funny, New York Stuff, Writing Related…probably a round dozen categories in all. The system worked, for the most part; the biggest difficulty was that I’m a compulsive taxonomist, and the question whether a given feed had the characteristics of, say, a “Tech” feed rather than a “Work Stuff” feed was one that could eat up a lot of time. Every time I saw that little bold number indicating that I had unread items, I went and read those items, frequently saying to myself “this is so cool! I’d never have time to check all of these sites for updates! Woo-hoo!”

In this brave new world…I have something like 300 feed subscriptions, and just three folders: Daily, NewSubs, and Keepers. The feeds in daily (about 40) are the ones that I normally read individually…I’ll at least look at every item in a feed. Some of these are pre-aggregated already (my del.icio.us inbox, tech.memeorandum, and so on). NewSubs tends to be 15-20 feeds, and is the first stop for any new feeds that I add. After a little while I either delete the feed (very common), add it to daily (much less common), or drop it into keepers (also pretty common).

Keepers is where it gets interesting: it’s bulk input for the multitude of keyword watches that I have set up in FeedDemon (best RSS reader ever, etc., etc.), and a place to scan though periodically; I don’t read everything and don’t worry about it. These feeds have stuff that’s interesting to me, but I just trust that the good stuff will bubble up to me.

This is also where Searchfox got interesting (and, I believe, where FeedDemon is going). For those who’ve missed it, Searchfox scores and sorts feed items based upon your reading/clicking behavior: things that are “like” items you show interest in get scored higher and therefore appear at the top of your list of unread items. While there’s work to do on the intelligence of the scoring, it’s pretty solid already — and this approach works perfectly for my keepers folder. 250+ feeds get torn into their component elements and ranked based on what I’m likely to find interesting. Perfect. (Though as a side note I do have concerns about the feedback loop created by this sort of personalization if it’s based entirely off of my own behavior and doesn’t mix in some data from others who seem to be “like” me, as well, but that’s a whole different story.)

So what’s the point here? Well, that over time my approach to consuming feeds has shifted to treating them as raw material, rather than finished products. I don’t feel obligated to give each feed the attention it deserves, nor do I worry about what gems I might be overlooking. While I do still read my daily feed group in a high-friction way, much as I go through my email inbox, the rest of it (the overwhelming majority) gets a low friction approach. [“Low friction” as a concept that applies to process and interface design is also something that’s been much on my mind recently, more on that anon.]

If I set things up right (and have the right tools to work with), then increasing the size of the input set doesn’t necessarily mean a corresponding increase in demands on my attention: I’m consuming the aggregate product, not the individual feeds.