Archive for March 2013


In praise of Zoho Mail

31.03.2013

Now that all of our email, bar a handful of client accounts, are going through the paid version of Zoho Mail, I couldn’t be happier.
   When we shifted things over, my friend and web development expert, Nigel Dunn, suggested either Google or Zoho. He’s a big fan of Google, and I can see the good side of the company I bash regularly. But I opted for Zoho, and anyone who’s followed my ongoing privacy battles with the big G will know why.
   It turns out I had a Zoho account anyway, thanks to Gabriel Weinberg and his Duck Duck Go team. But to go from the freebie that I’ve had for four years to a paid one was quite a big step, since we hadn’t ever done this newfangled cloud email before. However, I have to say I am very impressed, because of one major thing: Zoho’s customer service.
   For starters, it exists. No more going to abusive Google forums where cocky users, in their worshipping of the cult, make it all your fault. Zoho staff actually write back to you. In fact, they put me on to their support system after a while and they’ve been dealing with my enquiries really quickly in there, too.
   The longest wait I had was a question about Eudora, because I wasn’t sure how to get the Zoho POP mail working with an older program. While most answers came in 24 hours, this one took a week—but I’ll turn a blind eye to that one, given that it’s one out of a heap of questions I fired at them and it’s not a program they knew well. (For Eudora readers who are reading this, you turn on SSL, but you choose the ‘Required, alternate port’.)
   The replies are courteous and make you think that India knows customer service considerably better than the United States, or Australia for that matter: you’re treated as you would expect, and they don’t start from the basis of “the customer is stupid”.
   Even before I became a paying customer, Zoho treated me with respect.
   Good service isn’t just the province of Indians—just yesterday I blogged about how well Tumblr handled user enquiries and reports, despite reaching 100 million users. However, you sometimes wonder if they are the exceptions in a world dominated by the likes of Google and Facebook.
   The real kicker is this: the system works wonderfully when it comes to combating spam. I get thousands of messages per week so not having spam is a good thing. Our old Rackspace box, at best, killed about 50 per cent of the spam that came in. Granted, we chose our own blacklists, so this is not Rackspace’s responsibility. However, we used the ones we were recommended by experts.
   Zoho gets rid of over 95 per cent, maybe more, of the spam. After a day, I’ve had no false positives, and only a tiny handful has crept in. My emailbox, as downloaded in Eudora, is almost as untainted as it was in the 1990s, and I am not exaggerating.
   For those of you who use Gmail and are sick of the ads, this should appeal: Zoho is ad-free. No more using your personal data and linking it to advertising across all websites where Google and Doubleclick have their banners. As we become more concerned with online privacy, I’d say this was a very good thing.

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Posted in business, India, internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Instaspam: has Instagram jumped the shark?

30.03.2013


The tipping-point has been reached: on some of my photos, fake Instagram account likers outnumber human beings. In terms of comments, spam outnumbers real ones. Of my last ten likers, nine were fake accounts. And we know that when some sites get to this point, they begin dying.
   Yet it’s frightfully easy to spot the fake accounts. Many have the same description, or a mixed combination of various sentences (e.g. ‘Bacon trailblazer. Friendly pop culture ninja. Unapologetic gamer. Beer enthusiast’). Many have the same photographs—both profile and content.
   The problem has gone on for weeks, even months, but on the social networks now is the hashtag #Instaspam—something Facebook’s thousand million-dollar purchase might come to be known by, if the company doesn’t get a handle on fake accounts.
   A few of the ones I reported a fortnight ago still have active accounts, so I wonder if anyone there cares.
   Yet, if folks like us can spot a fake account a mile away, how come the real experts—the boffins whose Nginx servers are being dragged down by this—haven’t been able to target them?
   But this is Facebook, I remind myself: a company that stopped caring years ago.
   I remember the good old days when I received replies from Facebook staff, from basic issues to trade mark disputes. Those days are long gone, and Instagram is now part of the big machine.
   In the last few weeks, I’ve been losing feature after feature on Facebook, with links that can no longer be clicked on, tags that can no longer be done with a person’s first name alone, and other little glitches. But we know that Facebook is broken, and even bug reports are now considered spam.
   It’s in direct contrast to Tumblr, which reached 100,000,000 users over the last week. The company is still in the habit of replying to emails and while some of those are copy-and-paste ones, at least you know something is being looked at. Since a lot of fake Instagram accounts have fake Tumblogs tied to them, I’ve reported my fair share—and received either an automated response or a personal one from Tumblr.
   It makes you wonder if Tumblr staff use their service and understand the user experience—all of its recent changes actually work and are bug-free, and are improvements on the service—while Instagram is now in the Facebook culture of “too big to care”.
   And that’s the distinction between understanding your public and being locked up in your ivory tower, dealing with only the issues at hand.
   If I deal with a company, I’d like to know that the leaders have a good grasp of their communities, as well as the world at large. If it’s just about them and their boards, then it’s a cinch that things aren’t healthy there—and, sometimes, a clue to dropping share prices.
   Even at the city or state level, that engagement is vital—which brings me to this interview with California Lieutenant-Governor Gavin Newsom.
   It’s been fascinating reading Gavin’s views in this interview, where he mirrors some of my thoughts about bottom-up governance and citizen engagement (you know, the stuff I talked about in my 2010 campaign). Sometimes, if you elect politicians, you get politics as usual. Put in someone who has had real business experience—Gavin has 17 businesses—and you might start getting ideas for real change.
   Stop engaging, as Facebook and Instagram have, and we may be looking at another Vox: a site which, in the late 2000s, also let spam get out of hand. Splogs were being set up in an automated fashion, left, right and centre. Legitimate bloggers, as I was on that site, were locked out. Eventually, Six Apart, which owned Vox, shut the place down—despite a healthy community of real bloggers. But even toward the end, things were looking less and less viable. Instagram could well have jumped the shark—and if the issue isn’t fixed, it could be to Facebook what Myspace was to the Murdoch Press.

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Posted in business, internet, politics, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


What Is a Brand? Well, there is one we’ve relaunched …

05.03.2013

My good friend and colleague Stanley Moss has written a new book, What Is a Brand?, which provokes some thought on the question in the title.
   Those who know Stanley and have followed his work know that each year, he issues a Brand Letter, which closes with various definitions of branding.
   If there’s one thing brand experts agree on, it’s the fact that no two brand experts will ever agree on the definition of a brand. What Is a Brand? turns this into its primary advantage, getting definitions from some of the top people in the profession, and somehow I managed to slip in there.
   Ian Ryder, Nicholas Ind, the late Colin Morley, Thomas Gad, Ava Hakim, Simon Paterson, Pierre d’Huy, Malcolm Allan, Patrick Harris, Tony Quinlan, Manas Fuloria, Steven Considine, Sascha Lötscher, George Rush, João Freire, Virginia James, Filippo Dellosso, the great Fritz Gottschalk, and others all contribute definitions, on which readers can ruminate.
   As Stanley notes in his introduction:

The aim of this book is to render brand thinking more accessible, to share with you the ideas of theorists and practitioners who bear witness to the evolution of policy and governance, especially in light of society’s drift towards overconsumption and environmental damage.

   It is now available as an e-book and as a paperback via Amazon.com, priced at US$5 and US$10 respectively.

Keep calm and wear a tiara: I’m now also general counsel for Miss Universe New Zealand, on top of everything else. The news announcement went out yesterday—the Lucire article is here, while we have a new website at nextmissnz.com. The highlight is reducing the entry fee from NZ$3,500 to NZ$10 (plus a workshop, if selected, at NZ$199). We’ve had some great feedback over the website, which I am thrilled about, since I designed it and made sure all the requirements of the licence agreement were complied with.
   The year’s going to be a very exciting one with the competition, which will be far more transparent than it ever has been, with the possibility of its return to network television after a two-decade absence. We’re bringing integrity back into the process. From my point of view, the idea is one of business transformation, to take something that has languished and turn it into something that’s exciting, relevant, and 21st-century.
   With this development, I’m relieved I never published a word on the scandal last year and never went to the media over it (even if others did—often to their detriment). It makes it a lot easier to move forward with the future if you don’t keep dwelling on the past—and with the great programme we have, why should we look back?
   I’m looking forward to bringing you more with national director Evana Patterson and executive producer Nigel Godfrey. We’ve created something dynamic that the New Zealand public, and the Miss Universe family, can all get behind. Keep an eye on nextmissnz.com where we’ll post more announcements—and if you think the T-shirts (right) are as cheeky as I do, then they are available for sale online, too.

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Posted in branding, business, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 1 Comment »