Monthly Archives: October 2012

Seeing More e-mail’s with graphics (✈✈✈) in the subject line

Hi all,

One of the newer trends we’ve observed in e-mail marketing, concerns the use of graphical characters in the Subject lines.

For example:   ✈ (an airplane) – which came to us from an e-mail blast from PriceLine.com

We’re seeing more of these as time goes on.  Although still not horribly common, they are fairly easy to implement, but do represent a double-edge sword of “pro’s and con’s”.  On the “Pro” side, the limited use of graphics characters (like having a single ✈) may help entice recipients to read or open the message.  On the “Con” side, there is not a guarantee that all devices will display those characters correctly.  And, the excessive of use of them (e.g. too many in a single subject line) could potentially trigger “SPAM” or “Junk Mail” filters.

We generally suggest that these enhancements be used sparingly, and in a small test group first – to see how well they work in encouraging Open rates for an e-mail campaign.  Analyzing the results of a small, meaningful test group should then help determine their effectiveness in future campaigns, or for larger numbers of recipients.

— DB

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The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: New iPad Mini, Windows8 Impressions, and more…

It’s been the end of an interesting week, and the start of an interesting weekend coming up for many reasons, the upcoming “Hurricane Sandy” being one of them – but more notably – we’ve witnessed the official unveiling of the iPad mini, the official launch of Windows8 (starting tomorrow, Friday 10/26), and a progression of other new Microsoft products in the past few weeks, as well as coming up in the next several months.

I categorize the iPad mini under “The Good” for many reasons.  In a prior post, I mentioned my desire and appreciation for having a smaller tablet – currently the Google Nexus 7 – as my “take around with me everywhere” tablet.  My other tablet PC – an original iPad which I won – pretty much just sits around now, since it is so big and bulky, compared to my iPhone and the Google Nexus.  While I haven’t seen the iPad mini yet in person, I suspect it’s going to be a big hit.  I know that I will be drooling over it, and will likely sell my original iPad – and who knows, possibly even the Nexus, too – in favor of it, once it’s released.

Part of the reason that I think that the iPad mini will be a hit, is because it seems to hit “all the right notes” when it comes to its design philosophy, as well as to its ultimate “reason for being”.  It remains true to reasonable principles about how the User Interface (or UI) functions – it’s the same, familiar, elegant iOS interface that everyone knows and is comfortable with.  Even though the screen is smaller (which I consider a plus – for mobile devices like a phone or tablet, I prefer smaller devices and displays to large ones) – it is still scaled properly, so as not to cause potential problems with existing applications.  (Contrast that with the iPhone 5, which I critiqued in another blog entry – which introduced a slightly taller display, as well as oddly decided to put the audio jack on the bottom of the device, rather than the top).  While I’m not looking forward to the new iPad’s “lightning” connector for many reasons – that is a single, small annoyance which I am willing to abide by, given all of the other positives that the device and its smaller/lighter size will offer.  Summary – I think it’s going to be a huge hit, and I will cheer when it’s out in stores, and selling like hotcakes.  It strikes me as being a welcome refinement and addition to the overall line of other iPad devices.

Now, let’s pivot to the upcoming Windows8 release.  Here is a much more “complicated”, conflicted, and potentially awkward subject, and sadly, for many reasons that – in my humble opinion – were very much unnecessary.  I think that most of us all realize that tablets are rapidly displacing PCs and other “full computers”, for many reasons.  However, we also all realize that there seem to be certain tasks, roles, and mindsets that are better suited for a “tablet” than a more traditional, PC experience.  Tablets, on the whole, do a great job at what I refer to as “consuming” content – meaning reading e-mails, browsing web pages, accessing data, etc., performing certain online transactions, etc. – however, they are not the best devices to use when necessarily CREATING content – such as writing longer or more formal documents, or other heavy-duty work where a “real, full PC” is needed.  If we accept the premise that most people have by now gotten very used to, and comfortable with, a “traditional” PC interface (meaning, Windows and/or MacOS) when using PCs for work, then we also accept the premise that people have learned how to work with the newer interfaces on “touch” devices, like tablets and phones, and that those seem the best suited for those.

Unfortunately, Windows8 attempts to meld the two worlds together in what I consider to be an awkward, inelegant, and “stubborn” fashion, for those who are using a non-Touch device.  And the main reason is the insistence on the removal of the “Start Button” and “Start Menu” that has been tried and true, tested and always there, ever since 1995.  Put in other words, in an effort to try to “jump ahead” to a future world where – I suppose it is hoped – that somehow everyone will learn to adapt to a new “Windows8 way of doing things” – Microsoft ends up taking away many of the very things that make Windows7 (as well as other prior versions of Windows) as enjoyable, productive, familiar, and professional as it could have been.  What’s quite sad to me, is that all that would have been needed to help “bridge” the gap, would have been some sort a setting in the Control Panel to allow a “Classic Mode”, for those who may prefer a more traditional Windows interface, Start Button and all – which, I suspect, is going to be an overwhelming majority of Windows or PC users.

I’m trying to envision the business case for companies migrating to Windows8, as opposed to staying with (or upgrading to) Windows7.  Yes, there are a very small number of under-the-hood technical improvements – but, these are all overshadowed, and indeed marred, by the “shock and awe” (and I don’t mean that in a good way) of unnecessarily forcing a Tablet UI upon a PC-centric world.  I just frankly can’t see the business case to jump to Windows8 in the short term, as opposed to just doing what most businesses have already been doing – adopting Windows7 and certain tablets (of many kinds) slowly, organically, and methodically.  If Windows8 was adopted on a grand scale – I can, however, potentially see Corporate Help Desks and other IT Staffs being overwhelmed with lots of training, support, and other requests as a result of having to support such a radical and unnecessary design change in the User Interface.  What I think Microsoft fails to realize – or perhaps is underestimating – is that most people, and most IT departments, use and/or enjoy Windows because it helps them get their work obligations done efficiently.  They don’t want to voluntarily use something that makes it harder, more awkward, or more frustrating to perform those obligations – particularly if there will be a major amount of retraining or other support headaches associated with it.  As mentioned before, some learning curve is understandable when using a touch device – but this is something that is accepted or agreed to willingly – not being “forced upon” the user, as is the case with Windows8 when running on a PC.  I fear that Windows8 is going to become the “next Vista” – and ironically, is going to simply drive more people to abandon the Windows platform altogether – or at best, just stick with Windows7 – which is a very good and well-tuned release of Windows.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a huge Microsoft and Apple fan, when those companies create great offerings.  I also dish out the critiques to both, when I feel they are deserved, as you’ve seen in my prior postings here, on FaceBook, Twitter (particularly during outages), and otherwise.  And, Microsoft has indeed had several “hits” in the past 1-2 years, particularly in the past few months, and in the next few ahead.  These include Microsoft Lync (which is fantastic!), Server 2012 (in particular its HyperV Virtualization Technologies), Office 365, Azure, and the upcoming release of Office 2013.  However, I think Windows8 is going to be a struggle, and a very hard sell for most business and corporate environments.  And, especially on the consumer side, it will probably make people think twice to wonder if they’d rather not just “make the switch” to an Apple Macintosh with a reasonable UI, rather than deal with the headaches of using what feels like a Tablet-Optimized UI (Windows8) on a device that is very much NOT a tablet.  Apple wisely decided not to radically alter its Mac UI when adding some touch and tablet-like features to it (although, they did make a couple of minor stumbles – such as reversing the direction of the mouse scroll wheel – however, they wisely decided to put a Control Panel option to turn that off – which many people chose to do).

Sadly, we’re not seeing any such “Control Panel” option to turn off Windows8’s lack-of-a-Start-Menu and lack-of-a-familliar-Win9X interface.  Yes, I know that the whole “desktop metaphor” may be considered old-fashion, tired, and quaint by the hipsters who seem to be the prevailing voices in the Windows8 UI department – but being in IT, as well as broader life, for a while now – I have to say that, “sometimes the old ways, are the best ways”.  Some things just work so well, that they should be left alone even though they may be older concepts – or at least, they should still left around as an option.  Paper money, paper currency (cash), metal keys and locks, paper notepads or other records, etc. all fit in that category.  They just work VERY well, despite the original idea being very old concepts by now.  The other big lesson, however, is that changing something radically – such as the world’s most widely distributed and dominant PC Operating System UI – just for the sake of changing it, without listening to end-user and corporate input and concerns – and without it really showing the huge “value” or benefit in doing so – is a path that’s going to be fraught with many perils and risks.  Sorry, Microsoft, but we don’t want our PCs to run, look, and operate like tablets.  We just want them to run well when we need to get our jobs done, and keep our bosses and clients happy.  We’ll deal with a different UI for tablets – but nobody said there had to be “One UI to rule them all” between both device categories.  Apple seems to have understood the distinction – and they are certainly a company which also has its own struggles at times for being insular, closed-minded, arrogant, protectionist, conservative – fill in the blanks…

And maybe that’s why the taking away of our beloved Start Menu and classic Desktop BUGS us so much.  We’ve had to work with Windows for years now, through good times and bad, tough times and easier times, etc. – but we’re used to it being a certain way – and that helps give us assurance, confidence, and even (at times) some joy or enjoyment in using it, even if we have to do so because it’s for our work, not something we’re doing for leisure.  Radically changing it up would be kind of like if Microsoft was the dominant automobile maker, and decided to start tossing out the concept of the brake pedal being on the left hand side, and the accelerator pedal on the right – just because someone invented someone new vehicle type – the hovercar – which now requires an entirely different set of controls to operate.  We would accept that a hovercar would need different controls, and probably some additional training, to operate properly.  But, please leave our “traditional cars” alone in the process.  There’s no need to mess up our brake and accelerator pedals on traditional cars, just because something else new and different was invented.

It shall certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out…

 

Web Design Pet Peeve: The renewed importance of a “clickable” phone #

Hi all,

I ran across an old, and somewhat surprising “pet peeve” the other day while attempting to pull up information about one of our favorite local vendors (in this case, a car wash).  Given that “the Web”, at least in somewhat common commercial use, has been around for 16+ years [depending on who you ask] – it kind of shocks me that this pearl of knowledge may have been lost amongst the ages (or perhaps, it’s just being ignored by hipster web designers of late), so I feel I must ask the following:

Why are web developers and/or web designers still creating web sites, and web pages, that do not have clickable phone numbers – and who insist on embedding that kind of critical information into a graphic?

While I understand that there are some very creative and pretty designs that can work important contact information – such as a phone number or e-mail address – into a graphic or Flash file, even years ago before Section 508 guidelines even existed, it always struck me as an idea of “just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD…”.

To re-cap, there are MANY reasons why critical information, like a phone number, should ideally not be embedded in a graphic (or Flash) file.  For one, you can’t click on the phone number from a Smart Phone and call it.  Worse yet, you can’t even “copy and paste” it – because it is a graphic, rather than text.  Granted, there may be very specific instances where a designer has no choice to embed a phone number, URL, or other information into a graphical or text file – such as for Banner advertising etc. on another party’s web site – but that would seem to be the only exception that I could envision.

Section 508 fans, of course, will also be out of luck for extracting that type of critical information from such a web site, too – because typically audio screen readers or speech synthesis devices (such as those for the blind or visually-impaired), will not work on non-text content.  And given that a phone number (or phone call) would probably be pretty high up on the list of priorities for a visually-impaired person to try to get more information from a web site – well…  you see my point.
On the flip side of the Web “design versus practicality” debate,  I also still find it curious that many web sites still insist on publishing e-mail addresses on their pages.  Of course, doing so makes those addresses become a huge magnet for SPAM and other e-mail related abuse – however, I can understand that simpler web sites (as well as simpler web developers) may use such an approach to avoid the programming of a “Contact Form” with a CAPTCHA – which is what would seem to be a more modern best practice.  Incoming e-mail can get disrupted or clogged for many reasons – and it would seem that the “Contact Form” would be the way to go, particularly for any organizations of size.  However, I can better understand that there may be situations where the web site requestor (or perhaps, the company or agency who defined its requirements) may insist on having specific e-mail addresses published on the web site.  Perhaps they don’t want to deal with how to route or program a Contact Us page, as well – since it does potentially require having a person(s) monitor those messages, and then route them to whomever they should be handled by.

While having published e-mail addresses doesn’t help cut down on the amount of SPAM, it’s at least understandable as a design tradeoff.  And I suppose that anti-SPAM technologies have gotten a lot better over the years – although, with modern “studies” stating that around 70-90% of all e-mail messages tend to be SPAM in a hypothetical filterless-environment – it makes one wonder, any little things that a web site designer can do to help keep that down, is certainly appreciated.  😉

Tablet Wars: Google Nexus vs. iPad?

We just finished up an in-person marketing event on behalf of Constant Contact on Tuesday 10/2, with the McLean Chamber of Commerce.  One of the items at our table which got an interesting amount of attention, was my Google Nexus 7 tablet.  So much so, that I figured I’d write a quick blog piece about it.

Those following this blog may remember that I got the Nexus tablet several weeks ago, back when it was still very difficult to find in retail stores, from Walmart, of all places.  As I had mentioned in the prior blog entry, I had been blessed with the good fortune of having won an original iPad in a raffle about 2 years ago.  I had considered getting one of the newer ones (e.g. iPad2 or iPad3, or whatever they’re calling the latest one) – however, I really wanted something that was even smaller than the iPad.

I’ve been pretty happy with the Google Nexus 7, predominantly for its size.  I still like Apple’s iOS much better than Android overall, for many reasons.  However, I am very glad and very appreciative that Android exists – also, for many reasons – including some of those mentioned in prior blog entries.  However, when going out or needing to whip out a small computing device that isn’t a full laptop – the Nexus does the job very well.

However, when I’m doing “casual computing” at home – including playing around with music (e.g. Garage Band and videos), I definitely prefer either (a) A full computer, or (b) an iPad – so I use my larger, full iPad at home for those instances.  And, the main reason for that, is simply the software.  There is no Garage Band, iMovie, etc. available for the Nexus.

Another minor Nexus tablet disappointment – although more Microsoft’s issue, than Google – is that the Microsoft Lync IM/communicator client for Android does not work on the Google Nexus tablet.  This is apparently due to some sort of coding of the application within Google Play’s store.  Apparently the Lync software insists that it needs to run on a telephone-capable device (such as an Android phone), and since the Google Tablet isn’t considered a phone, it refuses to install from the Play store.  This is annoying because we use Lync heavily at RiteTech, and generally for Instant Messaging within the organization – not for phone calls via Lync.   Hopefully this is something that Microsoft will address soon.

The latest “rumor” that I’ve heard is that Apple’s newest smaller iPad may be announced around October 31.  I’m not sure if that’s really true (who is??), however it will definitely be worth a closer look when it comes out.  Maybe I’ll end up selling my Nexus tablet in favor of that device, depending on when it comes out, and how well Apple does with its design.  😉

Dave’s Cell Phone update: Slowly Finding my “Happy Place” and “Happy [phone holster] Case”..

So, I finally did it – made a decision to upgrade my iPhone, as chronicled in my prior Blog posting.

The winning decision was a white iPhone 4S 64GB (I would have preferred a 32GB, but they were getting impossible to find – as mentioned in my prior blog post).  As alluded to in that post, finding any of the iPhone 4S’s that were greater than 16GB has proven to be extremely difficult.

The summary is, I’ve been loving the iPhone 4S so far, now about 3 days later.  I’m in the process of trying to pick a good case for it.  My personal favorites are the Sena LeatherSkin and WalletSlim cases.  I have had 2 of these faithfully serving my iPhone 3GS’s for 2-3 years, and am currently just trying to decide which color and style I want for the new one:

http://www.senacases.com/apple/iphone-4s-cases/leatherskin/

For the curious, the specific iPhone I selected was an older 4S (it had like iOS 5.0x installed on it – and its battery had been completely discharged) – so, this made the upgrade process take even longer than normal.  [FYI – it takes about 30-40 minutes for an iPhone to charge from absolute zero to actually getting to a point where it will turn on.  I was glad that I had brought my Google Nexus Tablet to keep busy while I was waiting at Best Buy for that charging to occur. 😉

Apart from that, once I got the phone back home, I was essentially “forced” to upgrade the phone to iOS6, which I hadn’t wanted to do (again, for reasons mentioned in my prior Blog post), because my prior iPhone backup was in a “newer” format than the current iPhone’s software (5.0x) could recognize.  This is again a practice of Apple’s that chafes me – e.g. forcing people to upgrade to the newest iOS and/or not making it easier for older firmware or software revisions to be obtained.  Best practice, and just good common sense, dictates that it’s wise for technology vendors to make older versions of firmware, Operating System software, etc. available for their consumers – “just in case” – particularly when there’s no strong economic or business case to yank them away prematurely.  What value is there in making it difficult to upgrade (or obtain) the latest NON-iOS6 software update from iTunes?  It’s not like the latest iOS 5 software wasn’t stable or reliable.  If it was, say, the iOS’s version of “WindowsME”* – then I’d understand – but that wasn’t the case here.

That aside, I’ve been loving the faster speed, the awesome display and camera, and the fact that the phone has the traditional iPhone connector, as well as the audio jack up on the top of the unit, where it’s “supposed” to be.  😉

— DB

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