Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Updated a couple posts

I updated these two popular posts yesterday. Just thought I’d drop a reminder here in case anyone’s on the lookout for these sort of resources.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where have all the citations gone?

A few lifetimes ago I was a marketing and communications specialist for nonprofits, most notably for Bay Area Action and its later incarnation as Acterra.

For a few years I wrote and/or edited weekly email newsletters and action alerts. I started doing this for the Headwaters Forest Project at BAA, then created a weekly EcoCalendar of events all around the Bay Area, and later founded Acterra's first general email newsletter.

During that span of about eight years, I also performed a lot of other communications functions, especially surrounding the Headwaters issue. For a few years my website and email list were the best sources for news on the controversies emanating from the North Coast, and I fielded inquiries from small and big sources alike, everyone from elementary school students to the big media outlets such as Time and CNN.

I spoke at events (the Green Party's state convention comes to mind) and universities (I presented to a Stanford law class once, which was a bit unnerving, but then I reminded myself they were just students), I did radio interviews, I fielded calls and emails and faxes from reporters all over the world, and my email list contained addresses from places as far-flung as Japan and Australia and people from the press, government, and even Hollywood.

Copy this, please

This all happened in a time when the migration of such information to the Internet was much, much less frequent, and a lot harder to do. Nevertheless, lots of people copied my emails and forwarded them along to others. Which is what we wanted. Unlike commercial material, for which one might have copy-protection concerns, we wanted this information spread far and wide. Granted, we didn't want people to re-edit the information, so I simply attached a footer to my email template that stated that permission was thereby granted to forward the email in its entirety, for non-commercial purposes.

And people did it. In droves. They forwarded it on to their friends and family, co-workers, whomever. Some maintained their own large lists of concerned citizens interested in environmental issues, and they sent my emails along to them. Others posted my newsletters and action alerts on their AOL and Geocities homepages, on university listservs, and lots of other places.

Here are a few examples, still archived in various niches of the 'net:
Later, as search engines became more adept at crawling and indexing the content of the web (this had all occurred before Google existed), I'd be doing Headwaters research on AltaVista or Yahoo! or Dmoz, and come I'd across some of my old emails and articles scattered across the web.

Fading way

In more recent years I've noticed that Google's algorithm seems to be devaluing these old (nearly ancient in Internet time) posts, probably for fairly legitimate reasons (the HTML of those old web pages would not withstand semantic rigors of modern search technology), so they rarely show up in results, or if they do, they're buried many, many, many results pages deep. It's probably that a lot of those pages are simply gone now too, as people fold their old accounts or Geocities pages get closed down, or whatever.

When I first started noticing this, I must admit that it was a little sad, as it seemed almost as if my contributions were disappearing from the universe. I know this is not strictly true, but in a world where we seem to rely increasingly on Google to provide us with what we want to know (I'm certainly guilty of this reliance), it's disappointing that the content of those older articles is devalued in large part because the method used for archiving them did not use the modern HTML standards.

It's a little like devaluing the best encyclopedia in the (physical) library because its publishers have not yet made it available online. Perhaps the actual content contained in that encyclopedia is of better quality than anything published on the web, but most people would never know it because they'd never see it.

I'm conflicted about this on many levels. Partly because I believe passionately that people should have access to the best quality information (so I want people to go the library, or wherever they need to go for that single best source), but I also want that high-quality information to be much more widely accessible than that. Let's face it, the researcher in Prague seeking information on West Coast salmonids can't easily get the 700-page document off the dusty shelf of the tiny library of the Northcoast Environmental Center in California, can he? But what if it's the single best source, and it's not available online at all?

Technology will catch up

I believe (nearly) all of these documents will be available online someday. It may be a decade or more away, but it will happen.

And I will do my part. I have archived all my data from the Headwaters Forest years, and all my BAA articles and photos, and while they're not really in any usable order right now, I am confident that technology will continue to advance in ways that make the data easier to sort and publish. It's already been happening, with sites like Flickr making it easier to share photos, and tools like blogs and wikis making it easier to publish and collaborate.

Not all my contributions have faded away

Interestingly, search technology has more recently broadened to include the content of printed books too. Google Book Search began scanning the collections of several leading universities in 2004. While Google's tool is still in beta and it comprises mostly academic works, I was mildly surprised to see my name turn up with a few results. I was cited in Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash, by Brian Tokar, and Writing for Real: A Handbook for Writers in Community Service , by Carolyn Ross, Joseph M. Williams, and Ardel Thomas. I'd forgotten that I was also thanked in Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society, by my friend Randy Schutt.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Designing and maintaining email newsletters and marketing campaigns

Updated May 12, 2009: Added Mailer Mailer, AWeber, StreamSend, Spam Meltdown, and Equinux’s Stationery Packs.

Updated January 30, 2009: Added iContact and VerticalResponse to the list.

Updated December 16, 2008: Added Emma to the list, the Premailer service, and a Flickr group.



Several web-based companies have sprung up in the past five or six years to provide small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals with better tools for managing large email lists and collecting statistics on how well one’s email marketing efforts are working (or not working, as the case may be).

I have a long history of managing large email lists, having done so for a number of nonprofits in the past 12 years. I used to manage a sizable list for the Graphic Artists Guild, and a couple of pretty large ones (several thousand email addresses) for Headwaters Forest preservationists and for Bay Area Action and Acterra.

Back then, you had to do all the list management with your email program (I used Eudora, which was pretty good for this sort of thing), or often a server-side program called a Listserv, and there was practically no way to measure success other than counting your “Message delivery failed” bounce messages.

Things have come a long way since then. Now we have online services that take a lot of the headaches out of managing your data, and which provide a lot of extra functionality and usually offer a lot of info on best practices for creating and sending email marketing.

Some advantages of these services:
  • Far less administrative time required by your staff or volunteers.
  • Email examples and templates are provided, or you can often upload your own.
  • How-to articles which offer best practices and insights for content and design.
  • Automated list management removes duplicate emails, invalid addresses, and more.
  • Robust statistics track your success: open rates, clicks, and more.
You have to pay for these services, but it’s generally very reasonable compared to the savings your likely to realize in saved time and headaches.

If you’re in the market for this sort of service, here are some you may want to look into:

CampaignMonitor
www.CampaignMonitor.com
I can recommend Campaign Monitor because I’ve actually used it (here’s the email event invitation I made with it). The others I have looked at a little bit, but haven’t actually used. I’ve received some good emails from others using Emma and VerticalResponse, though.

MailChimp
www.MailChimp.com

Emma
www.MyEmma.com

VerticalResponse
www.VerticalResponse.com

Constant Contact
www.ConstantContact.com

iContact
www.iContact.com

MailerMailer
www.MailerMailer.com

AWeber Communications
www.AWeber.com

StreamSend
www.StreamSend.com



Designing HTML email

When it comes to designing and coding for the various email programs, platforms, and browsers people use, it’s even harder to make your email work the same for everyone as it’s to make a web page look the same in every browser.

Among other problems you face, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, and all the other services and programs each display emails differently, plus they all have their own bugs and quirks. For example, you can’t attach CSS like you normally would to a web page, you can’t even put it all in the <head> tag; you have to do all your CSS inline.



More email design resources

Premailer is a free web-based service that runs your HTML email through a script to convert your CSS to inline, checks your HTML against email clients, and other helpful stuff.

Email Design is a small but growing Flickr group showcasing screenshots of good email designs.

Spam Meltdown is a showcase of design trends in HTML email design, categorized by color, industry, design technique, etc.

For Apple Mail users, Equinux offers several Stationery Packs of professionally designed templates (works with OS X Leopard only). I’m not sure how compliant they are with the various webmail apps, etc., but the designs are high quality and easy to use.

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