Posts tagged ‘email’


Facebook’s ‘clear history’ option: why should I begin believing them now?

04.05.2018


Maurizio Pesce/Creative Commons

At the F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook will offer a ‘clear history’ option.
   Considering that opting out of Facebook ad tracking does nothing, individually deleting the ad preferences that Facebook claims it would not collect only sees them repopulated, and hiding categories of ads does nothing, why would I believe Zuckerberg now?
   What he probably means is a page that fools you into thinking your history has been cleared, but Facebook itself will still know, and you’ll be targeted as you always were.
   Here’s a parallel: your interface might say your password is secure, but Facebook knows, and the boss can still use your failed password attempts to hack your email account.
   At Facebook, it appears the deceptions are always the same, just the areas they deal with differ.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | No Comments »


The path of least resistance: we humans aren’t discerning enough sometimes

04.02.2018

I came across a thread at Tedium where Christopher Marlow mentions Pandora Mail as an email client that took Eudora as a starting-point, and moved the game forward (e.g. building in Unicode support).
   As some of you know, I’ve been searching for an email client to use instead of Eudora (here’s something I wrote six years ago, almost to the day), but worked with the demands of the 2010s. I had feared that Eudora would be totally obsolete by now, in 2018, but for the most part it’s held up; I remember having to upgrade in 2008 from a 1999 version and wondering if I only had about nine years with the new one. Fortunately, it’s survived longer than that.
   Brana Bujenović’s Pandora Mail easily imported everything from Eudora, including the labels I had for the tables of contents, and the personalities I had, but it’s not 100 per cent perfect, e.g. I can’t resize type in my signature file. However, finally I’ve found an email client that does one thing that no other client does: I can resize the inbox and outbox to my liking, and have them next to each other. In the mid-1990s, this was one of Eudora’s default layouts, and it amazed me that this very efficient way of displaying emails never caught on. I was also heartened to learn from Tedium that Eudora was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s email client of choice (‘The most important thing I use is Eudora, and that’s discontinued’). I’m in good company.
   However, this got me thinking how most users tolerate things, without regard, in my opinion, to what’s best for them. It’s the path of least resistance, except going down this path makes life harder for them.
   The three-panel layout is de rigueur for email clients today—all the ones I’ve downloaded and even paid good money for have followed this. Thunderbird, Mailbird, the oddly capitalized eM. All have had wonderful reviews and praise, but none allow you to configure the in- and outbox sizes. Hiri’s CEO says that’s something they’re looking at but right now, they’re not there, either. Twenty-plus years since I began using Eudora and no one has thought of doing this, and putting the power of customization with the user.
   But when did this three-panel layout become the standard? I can trace this back to Outlook Express, bundled with Windows in the late 1990s, and, if I’m not mistaken, with Macs as well. I remember working with Macs and Outlook was standard. I found the layout limiting because you could only see a few emails in the table of contents at any given time, and I usually have hundreds of messages come in. I didn’t want to scroll, and in the pre-mouse-wheel environment of the 1990s, neither would you. Yet most people put up with this, and everyone seems to have followed Outlook Express’s layout since. It’s a standard, but only one foisted on people who couldn’t be bothered thinking about their real requirements. It wasn’t efficient, but it was free (or, I should say, the licence fee was included in the purchase of the OS or the computer).
   ‘It was free’ is also the reason Microsoft Word overtook WordPerfect as the standard word processor of the 1990s, and rivals that followed, such as Libre Office and Open Office, had to make sure that they included Word converters. I could never understand Word and again, my (basic) needs were simple. I wanted a word processor where the fonts and margins would stay as they were set till I told it otherwise. Word could never handle that, and, from what I can tell, still can’t. Yet people tolerated Word’s quirks, its random decisions to change font and margins on you. I shudder to think how many hours were wasted on people editing their documents—Word can’t even handle columns very easily (the trick was usually to type things in a single column, then reformat—so much for a WYSIWYG environment then). I remember using WordPerfect as a layout programme, using its Reveal Codes feature—it was that powerful, even in DOS. Footnoting remains a breeze with WordPerfect. But Word overtook WordPerfect, which went from number one to a tiny, niche player, supported by a few diehards like myself who care about ease of use and efficiency. Computers, to me, are tools that should be practical, and of course the UI should look good, because that aids practicality. Neither Outlook nor Word are efficient. On a similar note I always found Quattro Pro superior to Excel.
   With Mac OS X going to 64-bit programs and ending support for 32-bit there isn’t much choice out there; I’ve encountered Mac Eudora users who are running out of options; and WordPerfect hasn’t been updated for Mac users for years. To a large degree this answers why the Windows environment remains my choice for office work, with Mac and Linux supporting OSs. Someone who comes up with a Unicode-supporting word processor that has the ease of use of WordPerfect could be on to something.
   Then you begin thinking what else we put up with. I find people readily forget or forgive the bugs on Facebook, for example. I remember one Twitter conversation where a netizen claimed I encountered more Facebook bugs than anyone else. I highly doubt that, because her statement is down to short or unreliable memories. I seem to recall she claimed she had never experienced an outage—when in fact everyone on the planet did, and it was widely reported in the media at the time. My regular complaints about Facebook are to do with how the website fails to get the basics right after so many years. Few, I’m willing to bet, will remember that no one’s wall updated on January 1, 2012 if you lived east of the US Pacific time zone, because the staff at Facebook hadn’t figured out that different time zones existed. So we already know people put up with websites commonly that fail them; and we also know that privacy invasions don’t concern hundreds of millions, maybe even thousands of millions, of people, and the default settings are “good enough”.
   Keyboards wider than 40 cm are bad for you as you reach unnecessarily far for the mouse, yet most people tolerate 46 cm unless they’re using their laptops. Does this also explain the prevalence of Toyota Camrys, which one friend suggested was the car you bought if you wanted to ‘tell everyone you had given up on life’? It probably does explain the prevalence of automatic-transmission vehicles out there: when I polled my friends, the automatic–manual divide was 50–50, with many in the manual camp saying, ‘But I own an automatic, because I had no choice.’ If I didn’t have the luxury of a “spare car”, then I may well have wound up with something less than satisfactory—but I wasn’t going to part with tens of thousands of dollars and be pissed off each time I got behind the wheel. We don’t demand, or we don’t make our voices heard, so we get what vendors decide we want.
   Equally, you can ask why many media buyers always buy with the same magazines, not because it did their clients any good, but because they were safe bets that wouldn’t get them into trouble with conservative bosses. Maybe the path of least resistance might also explain why in many democracies, we wind up with two main parties that attract the most voters—spurred by convention which even some media buy into. (This also plays into mayoral elections!)
   Often we have ourselves to blame when we put up with inferior products, because we haven’t demanded anything better, or we don’t know anything better exists, or simply told people what we’d be happiest with. Or that the search for that product costs us in time and effort. Pandora has had, as far as I can fathom, no press coverage (partly, Brana tells me, by design, as they don’t want to deal with the traffic just yet; it’s understandable since there are hosting costs involved, and he’d have to pay for it should it get very popular).
   About the only place where we have been discerning seems to be television consumption. So many people subscribe to cable, satellite, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, and in so doing, support some excellent programming. Perhaps that is ultimately our priority as a species. We’re happy to be entertained—and that explains those of us who invest time in social networking, too. Anything for that hit of positivity, or that escapism as we let our minds drift.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, design, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


Social media: not the evolution you might have expected

01.02.2018

I’m getting a buzz seeing how little I update social media now. Around February 2016 I began updating Tumblr far less; I’ve gone from dozens of posts per month to four in December 2017 and seven in January 2018. (Here’s my Tumblr archive.) Facebook, as many of you know, is a thing of the past for me (as far as my personal wall is concerned), though that was helped along by Facebook itself. However, I’m still a pretty heavy Instagram user, and I continue to Tweet—though with Twitter’s analytics telling you how much you’re up or down over the previous month, it might be a challenge to see if I can get that down by 100 per cent next. (It won’t happen any time soon, but if Twitter continues on its current path over its policies, it might come sooner rather than later.)
   I’m wondering if the next badge of honour is how much you can de-socialize yourself, and for those of us with web presences (such as this blog), bringing traffic to your own spaces. Why? It’s all about credibility and authenticity. And I’m not sure if the fleeting nature of social media provides them, at least not for me.
   Now in an age where so many are trying to be an “influencer”, then wouldn’t we expect the tide to turn against the shallow, fleeting posters in favour of something deeper and more considered? After all, marketing seeks authenticity—it has for a long time. What is authentic about a social media influencer who changes clothes multiple times a day out of obligation to sponsors? Even if they reach millions, did it really connect with audiences on a deeper level or did it simply seem forced?
   I can understand how, initially, social media were real connectors, allowing people to connect one on one and have a conversation. It seemed logical that marketing would head that way, going from one-to-many, to something more personalized, then (as Stefan Engeseth has posited for a long time) to one where brand and audience were on the same side, trying to find shared values (let’s call it ‘oneness’). At a time social media looked like it would help things along. But has it really? Influencers are less interested in being on the same side than being on the other side, in an adaptation of the one-to-many model. It’s just that that model itself has become democratized, so a single person has the means of reaching millions without a traditional intermediary (e.g. the media). There’s nothing really wrong with that, as long as we see it for what it is: a communications’ channel. Nothing new there.
   Some are doing it right in pursuing oneness with their audiences by posting just on a single topic, updating honestly about their everyday lives—my good friend Summer Rayne Oakes comes to mind with her Homestead Brooklyn account, and has stayed on-message with what she stands for and her message for over a decade. Within the world of Instagram, this is a “deeper” level, sharing values in an effort to connect and be on the same side as her audience. However, she isn’t solely using Instagram; other media back her up. Hers is a fantastic example of how to market and influence in the context I’m describing, so there is still a point to these social media services. But for every Summer Rayne there are many, many who are gathering attention for no values that I can fathom—it has all been about the numbers of followers and looking attractive.
   I haven’t a problem with their choice—it is their space, after all—but we shouldn’t pretend that these are media that have allowed more authentic conversations to take place. Marketers should know this. These messages aren’t customized or personalized. Algorithms will rank them so audiences get a positive hit that their own preferences are being validated, just like any internet medium that places us in bubbles. The authenticity is relative: because no party has come between the communicator and the audience, then it’s unfiltered, and in that respect it’s first-hand versus second-hand. But how many times was that message rehearsed? How many photos were taken before that one was selected? It’s “unreality”.
   There are so many such social media presences now, and crowded media are not places where people can have a decent connection with audiences. Some with millions of users—I’m thinking of young models—might not even be reaching the target audience that companies expected of them. Is what they wear really going to be relevant to someone of the opposite sex browsing for eye candy? That isn’t a genuine conversation.
   Don’t look to my Instagram for any clues, either—I use it for leisure and not for marketing. I don’t have the ambition of being a social media influencer: I’m happy with what I do have to get my viewpoints across.
   And I don’t know what’s next. I see social media decentralizing and people taking charge of their privacy more, even if most people are happy to have the authorities snoop on their conversations. Mastodon has been pretty good so far, because it hasn’t attracted everyone. The few who are there are having respectful conversations, even if posts aren’t reaching the numbers they might on Twitter, and mutual respect can lead to authenticity. If, as a marketer, that’s not what you seek, that’s fine: there are plenty of accounts operating on audience numbers but not genuine conversations—as long as you know what you’re getting into. But I believe marketing, and in particular branding, should form real relationships and dialogue. Not every life is the fantasy shown in social media—we know that that’s not possible. One politician has coined the term ‘fake news’; and social media have “fake lives”, in amongst all the bots.
   If these media become known for shallow connections “by the numbers”, then even those doing it right, forming those genuine conversations, may be compelled to move on, or at least value the social media services less because of what their brands stand for. Email is a great medium still, and you can still have great conversations on it, but email marketing isn’t as “sexy” as it was in the mid-1990s, because there’s more spam than legit messages. It takes skill to use it well and to build up a proper, consented email list. Social media are getting to a point where some big-number accounts are associated with shallowness, and the companies themselves (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) have policies and conduct that have the potential to taint our own brands.
   In 2018, as at any other time, doing something well takes hard work. There is no magic medium.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, technology, USA | No Comments »


I don’t do paid blog posts here (so don’t ask)

11.12.2017

I know we all get these emails from time to time, but they still annoy me.
   If ‘Peter’ had visited this blog, he would know that every single post since 2006 has been my own, unpaid, unsponsored thoughts. Why would I change that now?
   You may say it’s a fair question, and maybe in his case it is, if I had to be generous. Peter mightn’t have had the time to analyse every entry I’ve made.
   But it’s not just this one. Medinge gets these requests, too: again, it’s not something you would have asked if you had actually visited the site, when everything on the blog has been members-only, and when the philosophy of the organization would probably tell you that we couldn’t be bought or endorse any products.
   The most ridiculous would be Beyond Branding’s blog getting these requests—when that blog hasn’t been updated since 2006. We were still receiving requests in 2017.
   I know, some of these people found us through blog directories, and there was probably an email address tied to each entry.
   However, if they haven’t the courtesy to check us out, can I really trust that they would even pay up? And if Peter were legit, these unsolicited approaches have been coloured by the ridiculous ones we receive for a blog that hasn’t been updated in 11 (and almost 12) years.

Incidentally, our commercial publications do carry paid content, and advertorials (‘native advertising’), by law, are clearly marked as such.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing | 2 Comments »


Could the fight against phishing be shifted?

08.04.2017

I wasn’t able to find anything about this online, and I wonder if anyone was already doing it. If not, maybe someone should.
   Could the big players, e.g. Amazon and Apple, not provide the public with a fake email address and password (or a series of them) that we can feed in to phishing sites? When the crooks then use the same to enter Amazon, they could be reported with their IP address and caught. Is anyone doing this?
   In other words: make fake accounts to fight fake emails.
   It seems regular people like us can spot phishing long before the big sites and web hosts do, and this could act as a deterrent against this sort of criminal activity. Like a lot of things, we’d democratize scam-busting, instead of reporting them to the authorities.
   Of course we can still report the phishing site to APWG, Spamcop et al, but it’ll take hosts some time before they shut down the site, by which time the crooks will have made off with a lot of usernames and passwords.
   I imagine some of these people will have built in safeguards, e.g. they keep a record of the emails they send phishing messages out to, and if the one you provide doesn’t marry up, they’d know. But then, do all of us use the same email on these sites? If their aim is to cast their nets widely, then they would want those extra email addresses. I don’t necessarily use the same email address on all websites. Greed might trump the fear of getting caught, since the average scam nets the criminal US$4,500.
   I know they’d also get suspicious if a whole bunch of us entered the same address and password, so these might need to be automatically generated regularly to bait the scammers. The oldest ones would be deleted.
   Comments are welcome. It seems such a simple idea that it must already be out there after so many years, but maybe the pitfalls of generating so many would present difficulties, or maybe such an idea has already been tried and discarded.

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Posted in internet, technology | No Comments »


Everything’s perfect with those Auckland systems, nothing to see here

28.11.2014

I contacted Auckland Airport through its Facebook on Tuesday over the matter in my previous post, and got an immediate reply from someone monitoring its social media. She tells me that she will ask them to furnish me with an urgent response. I am still waiting. It’s a bit of a worry when this is an airport’s definition of urgent. If your plane is three days late, don’t worry.
   Maybe I am very behind the times when it comes to Auckland. After all, this is the biggest city in the nation and its conventions must drive the rest of the place. I began seeing a lot of red-light runners there some years back, and this novel custom has made it down to Wellington now, where we are ignoring red lights with increasing frequency. Dunedin, watch out: we’ll be exporting it your way soon, as it is the new way of doing things. My Auckland friends all kid me when I observe the no-intersection-block rule from the road code: ‘Ha ha, we can tell you’re from Wellington.’ Get with the programme, Jack: the road code is optional.
   Today, I was asked by one Auckland-based organization about whether I attended an event or not in May, which had a cost of NZ$30, and this was, naturally, overdue.
   I don’t understand why this organization fails to keep records of who attends its events. But apparently this failure is my fault.
   I responded, ‘I don’t recall if I attended but I can tell you that I never received an invoice.’
   Their response, ‘As per below, I note an invoice was sent to you on the 19 June 2014.’
   Well, no.
   I never received it. And I can prove I never received it.
   It is not my fault that they use MYOB and, from an earlier experience, they have trouble sending overseas, where our server is located. It is not my fault that their (and presumably, others’) DNS servers in New Zealand are woefully behind the times—something else we already know. Do they seriously think I would hold back $30?
   My response: ‘I’ve attached a screen shot of the emails that arrived around that period with attachments. This is the first I’ve seen of your invoice.
   ‘I see your invoice is generated by MYOB. From what I understand, their server does not resolve some email addresses outside New Zealand correctly, so that will explain why it has never arrived.’
   Now, folks, remember the modern custom is never to take the other party at their word, and fire back something where they can visualize you are sitting on a much higher horse.
   Always believe in the superiority of your technology over the word of a human being, because computers are perfect. We know this from Google, because Google is honest and perfect.
   This will ensure greater stress, because remember, stress shared is stress doubled, and we can all get on the Auckland bandwagon.
   Incidentally, I have offered to pay because I support the principles of this organization. I realize they could forward invoices willy-nilly to people, but I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt. We’re nice like that in Wellington. I’m such a sucker, keeping those intersections clear and stopping at red lights. How very quaint of me.

The above was the most sarcastic blog post I have ever written, so no, I don’t believe Auckland has a monopoly on this behaviour.
   Recently, however, I’ve been wondering what’s the etiquette when you receive a bit of bad news.
   I had received some from Hastings recently, and my response was along the lines of, ‘I quite understand. All the best to you,’ albeit with a bit more embellishment.
   I did not know of the context to this person’s change of heart, and there was no point to force the issue when a decision had been made.
   I found myself on the other end recently when a very good friend asked me to help a friend of hers (in Wellington). I initially was enthusiastic—till it dawned on me that if I took on yet another company in a mentoring role, it would be very unfair on two that I was already helping, one of which was a recent client at Business Mentors New Zealand.
   That time really should go to people who are earlier in the queue, and I had to draw the line.
   I wrote back, explaining the above in as polite a fashion as I could.
   I haven’t heard back. This could be due to an email issue, which is always possible, or the silence is intentional. Given that prior emails were working, then I’m going to lean toward the latter, but without shutting my mind to the former.
   Would you reply? I’d like to think that one’s paths could cross again within our very small nation, and you may as well keep the blood warm. Or should we not waste our time, given that that one further email really is of no practical, immediate purpose, and it’s implied, within our very casual, laid-back country, that “it’s all good”?

In the meantime, I got in a submission for the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. As it was under urgency, and I only finished reading the bill after 11 p.m., after getting back and eating dinner late, it’s not the best submission I’ve done (and probably the briefest). However, I was somewhat buoyed to discover the following day that my concerns were the same as those of former GCSB head, Sir Bruce Ferguson. Rest assured my day is not spent pondering the etiquette of modern electronic correspondence.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


When it comes to mass surveillance, forget specificity

26.06.2014

Be careful what you say on social media in Britain.
   English law permits mass surveillance of the big social media platforms, according to Charles Farr, the director-general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, in a statement published last week responding to a case brought by Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bytes for All, and five other national civil liberties’ organizations.
   While communications between British residents can only be monitored pursuant to a specific warrant, those that qualify as ‘external communications’ can be monitored under a general one, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
   Since most social networks are US-based, they qualify as external.
   ‘British residents are being deprived of the essential safeguards that would otherwise be applied to their communications—simply because they are using services that are based outside the UK,’ says Privacy International.
   ‘Such an approach suggests that GCHQ believes it is entitled to indiscriminately intercept all communications in and out of the UK.’
   One Conservative MP, David Davis, accuses ‘the agencies and the Home Office’ of hoodwinking the Commons, although Farr says the matter was expressly raised in the House of Lords, according to The Guardian.
   It was evident in 2000 that there was an international element to electronic communications. After all, telexes had been with us for decades, and emails were mainstream in the 1990s.
   None of this would have been brought to light without the revelations from Edward Snowden and the subsequent legal challenge at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, on the grounds that ‘The absence of [a legal framework under which surveillance of citizens takes place] appears to be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 8, which provides the right to privacy and personal communications, and Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression.’
   If the decision of the Tribunal falls on the side of the civil liberties’ groups, then that could be useful to similar groups here. We’ve already seen the Court of Appeal find the arguments of the Attorney-General more compelling than those of Kim Dotcom and others when it comes to balancing search warrants and the right against unreasonable search and seizure in the Bill of Rights Act 1990. While not directly related, pragmatism outweighed specificity, and it’s not a step, I imagine, that proponents of the Act would feel at ease with.
   When it comes to foreign powers exerting influence on our agencies here, especially with indictments that were so grand for what is, at its core, a civil copyright case, one would have expected specificity would be a requirement. I also would have expected such agencies to have the legal experts who would have used very tight language in an international case against a foreign national.
   The worrying trend with both scenarios is that things are taking place against citizens as though they were a matter of course, not subject to state agencies taking great care and being aware of individual human rights.
   As communications are global today, then the frameworks need to start from the point of the view of the individual and protections afforded to one.
   Here, s. 21 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990 should protect citizens when it comes to reasonable expectations of privacy, and cases tend to start from the interest of the person, who must be informed of the search or surveillance.
   The distinction between domestic and ‘external’ has not existed for years: all our websites, for instance, have been hosted abroad since we went online in the 1990s. Anyone who has used Gmail, Hotmail, Zoho and its rivals would be using external communications. Yet I do not know of anyone who would have consented to surveillance without grounds for suspicion, and laws need to balance the external requirement—where threats are perceived to come from—with the expectation of privacy individuals have on everyday communications.
   The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 is tempered perhaps by the tort of privacy and some precedent, but it’s the new Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Act 2013 that generates similar worries to those in Britain, because specificity has gone out the window.
   We already have had an Attorney-General claim wrongly during the bill’s second reading, ‘As I say, this bill does not represent an extension of powers but a clarification,’ when even a casual comparison between the 2003 act and the new one suggests a marked increase of powers. The Prime Minister has suggested similarly in saying that it was incorrect that the ‘GCSB will be able to wholesale spy on New Zealanders.’
   The requirement for the GCSB’s monitoring of foreign intelligence has been removed in s. 8B, and any intelligence it gathers in the performance of the section is not subject to the protections afforded to New Zealanders under s. 14. Under s. 15A (1), the ‘interception warrants’ can apply to a class of people, covering all communications sent to or from abroad. These warrants can be very general, no threat to national security is required, thus eroding the expectation of privacy that New Zealanders have.
   The process through which the bill went through Parliament was disgraceful. Dame Anne Salmond noted:

During the public debate on the GCSB bill, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Dr. Rodney Harrison QC spoke out about its constitutional implications, while I addressed its implications for democratic rights and freedoms in New Zealand.
   In reply, the Attorney-General made ad hominem attacks on Harrison, me, Sir Geoffrey and other critics of the legislation during the debate on the GCSB bill, under Parliamentary privilege, and without answering the concerns that had been raised.
   These attacks on independent agencies and offices, and on individuals suggest a campaign of intimidation, aimed at deterring all those who oppose the erosion of human rights in New Zealand from speaking out, and making them afraid to ‘put their heads above the parapet’.

   If we think our laws could protect us against the sort of mass surveillance that is legal in Britain, then we are kidding ourselves. By my reading, interception warrants can take place under the flimsiest of reasons, almost in a desperate attempt to catch up with these other jurisdictions, rather than considering New Zealand values and what our country stands for.
   If Britain is successful at amending the scope of RIPA 2000, then that would be a useful first step in redressing the balance, acknowledging that communication is global, and that citizens should have their privacy respected.
   One hopes such action inspires New Zealanders to follow the path of Privacy International and others in questioning our government’s expanded surveillance powers over us. Those who are already leading the charge, I take my hat off to you.

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Posted in globalization, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


It’s still wise to bet against Facebook

26.01.2014

A non-peer-reviewed academic article from Princeton predicts Facebook will be toast by ’17, and Facebook has very cleverly responded using similar methodology to say that Princeton will have no students by 2021. The lack of review on the former left it wide open for the Facebook attack.
   However, it’s not unwise betting against Facebook. I’ve been saying it for years—on the basis that even Altavista could not survive Google—and the only question has been: when?
   This weekend, I spent more time on our company’s websites working on internal projects. I’ve spent precious little time compared with three years ago on the social networks because it no longer suits me.
   Facebook, by breaking its own algorithm for sharing company posts, doesn’t offer me sufficient numbers. It benefits me more to work on business and check our publications’ content than to put up links in Facebook. If I want to share with a smaller group, I have Instagram, where I tend to follow those closer to me plus a few interests. I’m even on Snapchat and Wechat. I’ll go where there is engagement if I want to be social. It’s summer so there’s also the prospect of spending time in real life with your friends. With the positive developments happening at work, I’m getting rewarding engagement even on old-fashioned email. I’m less worried about privacy there, too, since I’ve never used Gmail. (I had an Excite Mail account once in 1999 and, without ever giving out my address, it filled with spam. I’ve been webmail-sceptic ever since.)
   Facebook feeds have become glorified Digg feeds for me, and we all know what happened to Digg. You might think that I’m being contradictory: in one paragraph I bemoan how company posts don’t get shared, while in this one, I’m unhappy at the external links I see. There is a distinction, however: the people I have who are fans want to see the company posts—they signed up for them. What we didn’t sign up to, even if they fascinate us, are comic strips or Buzzfeed trivia. I might have clicked through, but I can’t tell you what the last five Buzzfeed pages were. So now I’m wondering what’s the point.
   I’m far from quitting Facebook but the lack of innovation there reminds me of where Yahoo! was at some years back. It reminds me, too, of Vox, in its dying days, with all the fake accounts that I see—sometimes I only go on to manage a few groups and to clear the queue of the fakes. It’s stagnating rapidly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 2014 will see some form of tipping point where there are noticeable departures from some formerly heavy users. Already two good friends have gone during 2013, concerned either with Facebook’s copyright policy (one is a professional photographer) or its privacy intrusions. I don’t think Google Plus is the answer, either, because Google simply has too much baggage, and its Doubleclick ads, which are used as tracking tools, are all over the ’net. I’m now beginning to think that the next big thing isn’t around yet because our behaviours are shifting, to wanting something that can handle our work and play more ably.
   It’s rather interesting to note in our election year that the tools that have been used to gather information for governments might now render the social media campaigns of political parties less effective than they would have been.
   These new media have become old media because they no longer hold the promise of the new: they are no freer when it comes to self-expression.
   Unless companies can come up with privacy policies that people can live with, they may find their sites drop in visitor numbers and engagement even further. There’s a lot counting against the traditional social networks.

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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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History has already shown us the better way, so why ape an outmoded market leader?

05.02.2012

A friend had his Gmail hacked, and, much like an Atlantic article I read in the print edition a few months ago, the hackers deleted his entire mailbox. Google says these hacks only happen a few thousand times daily.
   I’m concerned for him because he has to deal with the Google forums, and we all know how unhelpful and obstructive they can be.
   I’ve never trusted Gmail, or any web-based email system, “on the cloud”. I’ve always kept POP3 archives and the worst thing that might happen is that some of the older CDs and DVDs might be less reliable. But this event actually brings to mind something else that has concerned me about my method: the email client.
   I’ve used Eudora since the 1990s. I started with v. 1.2, and for years, my standard client was 4.3. I happily paid for a licence to get the pro version, and used 4.3 till it no longer worked with the settings on our server. That meant I stayed with one email client from 1999 to 2008. I was then forced to upgrade to 7.1, and I have used that since.
   Qualcomm no longer makes Eudora, and for the last half-decade or so, there have been various “Eudorized” versions of Mozilla Thunderbird. That won’t fly with me, because my demand is actually very simple, but it is going completely unmet: I want an email program that has a vertically tiled inbox and outbox. For the majority of my working life, I have used this method as a to-do list of sorts, and I can see at a glance who I have to deal with.
   The sad thing is that the three-window interface has become a standard for email programs, but this does not work for me. I don’t want an email program that syncs with calendars or creates automatic Dropbox links. I just want one that works, where I can have filters and multiple accounts, and where I can have inbox and outbox side by side. This should be, I thought, a relatively simple request, especially as Eudora was, at one point, considerably more popular than it is today.

Eudora window
Above: Eudora 7.1, with an inbox on the left and an outbox on the right. Does anyone else make an email program that does this?

This is the story of many industries, where inferior norms become the standard. As I typed this, Preston Tucker came to mind: a pioneer who created a safe, fast and aerodynamic car with fuel injection, decades before Detroit could manage the same. But the big players won out and Tucker died a broken man. Americans, and indeed the rest of the world, made do with the same old junk till they were forced to innovate and use ideas that Tucker wanted to mainstream in the 1950s. Similarly, I laugh when people talk about the novelty of hybrids, when you consider how prevalent dual-fuel natural gas–petrol cars were in New Zealand 30 years ago.
   In the tech world, I happily used—and still use—WordPerfect. Why? It works. And it still works considerably better than its competition. Even a 20-year-old version will blow modern word processors away in terms of sheer functionality and ease of use, assuming you could install it. The latest versions are buggier because of the small user base and the absence of Unicode compatibility. But I persevere with it because, at the end of the day, these programs are tools, and I get my work done far more quickly with WordPerfect. I might be the one person on the planet who does not know how to use Word.
   I can’t get my head around Word. With WordPerfect, if I set margins and font, it stays that way till I tell it otherwise. Word and its later competitors have a habit of needing styles set, and try to be too clever for their own good. It might tab paragraphs automatically—even when you don’t want it to. It might change margins and fonts on me because it can. And Word’s footnote and endnote creation is still light years behind what WordPerfect could do in 1991.
   But Word is the standard because Microsoft gave it away in the 1990s. When OpenOffice and Libre Office came out, it aped the standard, right down to the crazy way it handled styles. Why? By all means, create versions which would ease the transition, but if you’re to adopt any method, why not start with the best? Word, for years, had WordPerfect transitional settings, to steal customers from the market leader. Before Word became a freebie, friends who I converted to WordPerfect were still thanking me profusely for making their lives easier. It would seem logical for these open-source programs to go with a better underlying technology.
   I have subbed with Word, and regularly do, because most of our team write using it. By the end of the piece I will have noticed the original writer adopt three styles, because Word has done it that way. My editing will have caused another three or more stylistic changes. It is a mess by the time I save it, with my only solace being that no member of the public ever sees it in that state.
   When I open a Word file in WordPerfect, which is what I have to do now with the DOCX format, I see all the superfluous code (through Reveal Codes—for Dreamweaver users, it’s not unlike HTML source) and it answers precisely why the program lacks any logic. Styles upon styles upon styles. Even Dreamweaver users who have ever had to deal with a Word-created HTML file post-Word 2000 know exactly what I mean. Word is an ineficient program, in every respect of the adjective.

WordPerfect window
Above: This is about as simple a document as you can get and the first I found with public information: one set only in Courier, 14 pt. WordPerfect shows that Word, on which the document was originally prepared, has still inserted Times New Roman font-change codes on every blank line—for no reason whatsoever. This is one of the reasons I dislike Microsoft Word. Had the document been prepared on WordPerfect, every incidence of the Times New Roman code would not have been present.

   I don’t know much about programming, but it seems, from every article I have read about these open suites, the new programs are playing the anti-Tucker game, mostly unconsciously, since the developers I have met are usually generous idealists. Let’s stick with this less productive, less logical method of word processing, because that is where the market is. But with fonts and more complex layouts now what people need, I would have thought that the methods employed by old computerized typesetting machines—which used codes similar to WordPerfect—would have been a more logical start for a word processing program.
   This isn’t an ad for WordPerfect. I simply ask for utility and logic. It doesn’t have to have WordPerfect code. It just needs to be a word processor that does what I tell it to do. Set font, stays in that font. Set margins, stays with those margins. Is this too big an ask? Wouldn’t this save time, which is the whole idea of technology? Why should we become slaves to software, when we created it to be our slave?
   Email clients, then, I find, follow much the same pattern. When I chose Eudora, I have a vague recollection that the New Zealand competitor, Pegasus, was structured in much the same way. The tiled inbox and outbox was a norm, and it worked. People rejoiced.
   Then, Microsoft decided it would adopt the present three-window standard in Outlook, and it gave away Outlook. I resisted it from the get-go: who wants to click just to see their outbox? Isn’t that an extra step? Why can’t I see my lists of emails at a glance? For someone who gets several hundred messages a day, I need to see more than ten. I would rather see 25 or more. And my outbox would have action items, things I had promised people I would do. So I stuck with Eudora.
   It’s not about being in Luddite position. It is going back to basics and saying: what would improve people’s workflow? Forcing them to click to see something or just showing it? (Twitter UI designers, take note.) Is the three-window convention the best way to use that on-screen real estate?
   It seems that Thunderbird, the open-source rival, again missed an opportunity by using an inferior convention as its base. By all means, ape Outlook, to ease a transition. But give the public—you are, after all, on the 11th version now—a chance to move the windows as we see fit. Computers are powerful enough now so it must be possible. It was in the 1990s.
   Let those who love the three-window convention stick with it, but let the rest of us move those windows to our heart’s content, and make life as easy as possible.
   The aim, therefore, is to gather as much success in the next decade before these programs become obsolete, by which time I should either have (a) hired extra folks to take care of these tasks exclusively or (b) pushed for these features in the open-source programmes.

Therefore, making leaps ahead is a good thing, but will people do it? This is always the gamble with predicting future needs: will we go so far that we still miss the boat? We fired but the missile landed in front of her bow.
   But I’m not even talking about creating something that doesn’t exist yet. I’m talking about existing methods, things that have been around for ages, waiting to be rediscovered. Resizing and detaching windows is a standard feature in so many programs. All it takes is being able to grab this stuff from history—a lesson that could well apply to organization memory as well. History has already told us, when the playing field was level, which methods were superior, and what people opted for when confronted with having to spend their own money on software. Before their giveaway periods, the choices were never Word or Outlook.
   The open-source movement, in my opinion, has a wonderful opportunity ahead of it for creating a new round of office efficiency.

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