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.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Enhancing Gmail’s security

If you use Gmail, you’ll want to read these two tips:

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Syncing your home and office Macs

I was leaving my job and had accumulated three-plus years of contacts, website bookmarks, emails, etc., that I wanted to keep and transfer to my home computer, but I didn't necessarily want to use the same apps at home that my company used. For example, Mac users in my office used Microsoft's Entourage (the Mac equivalent of Outlook) for address book, shared calendering, and email.

Despite two or three super-annoying bugs that Microsoft never fixed in the three-plus years I used it, I actually liked Entourage more than any Microsoft software I've used since the old System 9 days when the Mac version of Internet Explorer was the only really decent browser on the market for a few years (obviously this was before Safari, Netscape had been swallowed whole by AOL and was beginning to suck pretty bad, and Firefox hadn't even been invented).

But why would I splurge for Microsoft's Entourage at home when my Mac comes with three great free apps (Address Book, iCal, and Mail) that do fundamentally the same things Entourage does, and all work together too?

So I needed to figure out a way to sync data from the work computer with the home computer, while also switching from some apps to different ones. There were a lot of tips on the web about how to switch from Entourage to Address Book or how to go from Outlook to Entourage, but these tips all required that you were either doing this on one computer, or had the two computers in the same room.

I needed solutions that would work between work and home. It took me a few days of researching and experimenting, but I came up with some solutions that worked well.

Read on for solutions to these problems:
Problem #1: Can I export my Entourage contacts and email?
Problem #2: How do I get my IM contacts to my home computer?
Problem #3: How do I sync that newly exported data from work to home?
Problem #4: How can I take my web browser's bookmarks home?
Problem #5: I don't want to lose all my web site passwords saved in my browser!
Problem #6: How do I open Word documents at home?
Problem #7: Can I consolidate my home and work iTunes libraries?




Problem #1: Can I export my Entourage contacts and email?



Entourage to Address Book
This was easier than I expected. Entourage on OS X lets you export your contacts as vCards, which is a cross-platform text format (.vcf) that is recognized by almost any contact app (like Apple's Address Book). It's simple: In the Finder, make a new folder called vCards. In Entourage, select all your contacts, and just drag them all to the folder (it may take a couple minutes if you have a lot of contacts). Then, in Address Book, simply select File > Import > vCards... from the menu (see picture below), and navigate in the dialog box to the vCards folder you dumped your Entourage contacts into.

After that, I could sync my Address Book with .Mac to get them to the home computer. But more about that in a moment.








Entourage to Mail
This bit was unexpectedly simple too. Similar to the previous scenario, if you just drag an Entourage email folder or your entire in-box from the program to the Finder, all the data gets exported and packaged into the popular .mbox format. It even includes attachments, much to my surprise.

After that, all you have to do is transfer all those .mbox files to your home computer, and if you're going to use Apple's own Mail app at home like me, you simply open Mail and select File > Import Mailboxes... from the menu (see picture below).



Next you'll see a dialog box named Import (see picture below), in which you'll want to select Other from the list and hit Continue. Then you just use the ensuing dialog box to navigate to the .mbox files on your hard drive and then Mail will churn through them all (it may take a while if you have a lot of email) and put them in a new folder titled "Import."






Problem #2: How do I get my IM contacts to my home computer?



I use the excellent, multi-service, open source Adium X at both work and home, but Adium stores some of its contact data locally. So if you've added a nickname to a contact to remember that, for example, pirate2am is Hilary, then you only have that notation on the one computer, and the next time pirate2am IMs you while you're on the other computer, you may not remember who that is (don't you hate having to ask somebody "Who are you?" on IM?).

So my solution concentrated on finding a way to export my contact list from Adium at work and then syncing it with my contact list at home. There's no built-in function for this, and sadly there's not even an export function in Adium (although the latter is on their development roadmap), so I couldn't just export a tab-delimited or CSV file to take home and import.

At the same time, I also had duplicate contacts in Adium and Address Book, but in the IM client you normally have little more than their username, their IM service (AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.), and maybe an avatar. In Address Book, you obviously have a lot more fields. But if you're like me, for some people's entries you don't have their IM, you always just have that in your IM client, so why bother? And perhaps you want to capture their avatar from the IM client and copy it into Address Book's nifty picture field.

Doing a Google search brought me (eventually) to Adium Book, a little OS X AppleScript app made by a Brazilian programmer named Aurelio.

This little app worked great, looking at Adium X and Address Book at the same time, comparing records, and giving me a simple interface for resolving conflicts (see picture below) like duplicate names and/or differing data for the same name. It even let me copy avatars back and forth, and if I had two different ones for a single person, it let me choose which one to use, or to keep a different one in each app.



Now that I had all my IM contacts copied from Adium X to Address Book, I still needed to get them home. So it was time to sync using .Mac.




Problem #3: How do I sync that newly exported data from work to home?



I'd been avoiding getting a .Mac account for years, since I couldn't justify paying $99 a year for things that I can already do on my own website (e.g. web pages, blogging, webmail, etc.), or through other services that have more robust features (e.g. photo sharing, bookmark syncing, etc.).

But because I've avoided .Mac, I've never been able to take advantage of the easy-to-use sync features that are built into all Macs. Because I had a deadline by which I needed to have my work data backed up and transfered to my home Mac, I thought it was time to give .Mac a whirl. Plus I could take advantage of the 60-day free trial and accomplish everything I wanted to do, and then if I still didn't think .Mac was worth it, I could drop it before having to pay for a full year.

There are actually two or three features of .Mac that I really like, and that are difficult to reproduce using other services (and certainly not in the easy and built-in way that .Mac works). Those features are: 1) Sync, 2) iDisk, and 3) Back to My Mac. That last one is only available to Leopard users, so until I upgrade I can't use it. But in the meantime, the first two make .Mac worth a try, and I must admit that Sync works so effortlessly that I'd almost be willing to pay for .Mac just because of that.



With .Mac you can sync your Safari bookmarks, Address Book contacts, email, calendars, keychains, and more (Leopard adds Dashboard widgets too). I wish it also worked with Firefox bookmarks, but I have other methods for that, described later.

Once I signed up for the .Mac trial period, I could suddenly sync my Address Book at work (which remember now contains all my contacts from Entourage and all my IM contacts), to .Mac's servers, and then go home and sync .Mac with my local machine(s). Suddenly I have exact copies of all my contacts at home as well as at work, plus I've got them on the web with .Mac, so I can access them from almost anywhere.




Problem #4: How can I take my web browser's bookmarks home?



.Mac also syncs your Safari bookmarks, but I primarily use Firefox, so .Mac wasn't going to cut it in this regard. Luckily, it's extremely simple to export/back up your Firefox bookmarks. Just select Bookmarks > Organize Bookmarks... from the menu (see picture below).



Firefox will bring up the Bookmarks Manager, in which you simply seelct File > Export... (see picture below), and you save the file as something like "Bookmarks_Firefox_January2008.html" on your hard drive. Then you move the file to your home computer, open the Bookmarks Manager in Firefox again, and select File > Import... from the menu.



There are some apps out there to help you resolve any duplicates, but that's a long, involved, and therefore separate tutorial, so I'm going to save that for another time. At least you now haven't lost all your bookmarks you collected on your computer at work.

Oh, and while I'm thinking of it, it's a pretty good idea to regularly export those bookmarks on your computer anyway, as a backup. I keep several years' worth of them in my Documents folder, all dated and organized by browser. I lost several years worth of bookmarks once in a hard browser crash, and I'm not going to risk that ever again.




Problem #5: I don't want to lose all my web site passwords saved in my browser!



If you're a Firefox user like me, you probably like Firefox's useful ability to store usernames and passwords at the many sites you have to log into every day, week, or month. If you're not using it, you can turn it on from the Firefox > Preferences... menu, then click on the Security icon/tab in the prefs dialog box that comes up (see picture below).



Obviously this functionality is only viable if you're not on a shared computer, and if you are using Apple's Keychain to securely store your master password. Otherwise, other people will see your username/password combination when they go to log in to Yahoo! or places like that.

I was switching from the work computer to full-time on the home computer, and I dreaded having to remember — and re-type! — all those passwords that I regularly used on the work computer. I searched in vain for an app that would export these from Firefox (which does not support this function itself, although it should) so I finally had to bite the bullet and type them all into a text file (you can't even drag and drop them out of FF's list!) which I then transferred to home and will have to re-enter.

Update: I don't know how I overlooked the Firefox extension Password Exporter when I was first looking for a solution. I've installed it now, but haven't tried it out yet. The documentation leads me to believe it can import as well, which would by useful.




Problem #6: How do I open Word documents at home?

This wasn't actually a problem for me, since I've avoided Word for years, and there are already plenty of alternatives to Word on the Mac, and even several web apps you can use instead. But for sake of completeness and because I predict there will be people who find this article who do use Word a lot, I'll mention some solutions.



TextEdit
This app is free and comes installed on every Mac with OS X, but most people don't realize it opens Word's .doc format. I use TextEdit for almost every simple text document I need to write that will eventually get printed or made into a PDF. You can drag-and-drop or cut-and-paste images into it with ease, and I think you can even drag-and-drop tabular data from other apps into it (I never need this, however, so I'm not positive). It lacks many of the vast "features" that make Word the worst of the bloatware in my book, but I never have any need for those features, and if I need to do complex layouts, why in hell would I use a text editor anyway? That's what layout programs like InDesign or Illustrator are for.

Oh, and a word to the wise about Word's .doc files: On a Mac (and on PCs too, for that matter), there's never any reason to save anything as a .doc file, which is proprietary to Microsoft and just means that anyone you send the document to is almost always going to need Word to open it. The simple alternative, which supports 99% of the functionality anyone will ever need in a .doc file, is the .rtf format. Just save everything as .rtf and the whole world will love you.

xPad
I've been using this little notepad app for years and I can't live without it. xPad does everything TextEdit above does, but it also auto-saves and adds an extremely handy tray to the side of your document window and keeps all your docs listed there, making organizing your frequently-accessed text documents incredibly easier. I keep to-do lists in there, five or ten half-written blog entries at any given time (I wrote this tutorial in it, screengrabs and all!), drafts of emails, link lists, and much more (see picture below).






Problem #7: Can I consolidate my home and work iTunes libraries?



Now this was a big one. I worked in a place where lots of music was available (Download.com has over 100,000 free MP3s, for example), and I occasionally happened upon treasure troves on the net that I was all too happy to queue up for download on the fast connection at work.

Eventually I had amassed quite a collection of songs that I didn't have at home, and when it came time to leave my job I certainly didn't want to lose those. It would be simple enough to copy them all to a hard drive, bring them home, and then drag them into iTunes to import. But I'd spent a lot of time building playlists to listen to at work, not to mention rating most of those songs. I wanted to retain that metadata!

I saw two vendors at MacWorld Expo who offered a potential solution, and I picked SuperSync because it seemed to offer a lot more robust features, even if the interface on the other one was a little cleaner and easier to understand. Plus I met the actual developer there at the booth, hawking SuperSync, so I was able to spend 10 or 15 minutes asking him "Will it do..." and "What if..." until I was satisfied that it'd probably work great for me.

That said, I purchased SuperSync but I haven't actually had time to try it yet, so I'll have to update this post after I've given it a whirl. ; )






Conclusion
I hope some of these tips come in helpful to you. I'd like to hear from you if they do. Or, if you have any additions, corrections, or alternative methods you'd like to share, please post them in a comment below, or write them up for your own site and post a link here.

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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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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

If at first you don't succeed

...then email me again.

Honest, it's not because I don't like you. I'm not ignoring you. Your email message may just have been lost among the 1,500 spam messages I normally receive (this is not an exaggeration) over any period of a few days.

If you don't get a response from me, perhaps I never saw your message. Try again (you do save your outgoing messages in your Sent or Outgoing folder, right? If not, here's a valuable tip -- most email programs allow you to turn this option on if it isn't on by default).

I just spent an hour wading through over 4,600 accumulated messages in my Junk folder, looking to see if there was anything that slipped in there that shouldn't have. There were a few things. But c'mon, there's only so long one can stare at messages with subjects like "Get cia|is today" and "Fwd: Downl0ad spongebob movie" before your eyes glaze over and your head begins to ache.

Why do I get so much spam? Well, it's not for lack of spam-blocking technology. I use three layers of spam filtering. But I happen to be particularly susceptible to this annoyance, and here are a few reasons why:

Long-term email addresses -- I've owned the enews.org domain since 1995. And that gives spammers a long time to have archived my address(es), added them to databases, and sold them them all round the world.

Email addresses published publicly -- My enews.org address has appeared all over the web for many years, since I was a contact for so many organizations and campaigns (Bay Area Action, Acterra, Headwaters Forest Project, Schools Group, etc.), not to mention so many companies (Western Front Graphics, Flux51, Mark Bult Design). Every time your email address appears on the web, it's liable to be scavenged by automated 'bots that crawl the 'Net looking for email addresses to add to their spam databases.

Catch-all addresses -- I have my enews.org mail server account set to filter [anything][at]enews.org. This is called a "catch-all" address. There are several important reasons why I have to do this for my domain, but I won't bore you with them, as they're relatively obscure and technical. But this means that spammers can simply guess at addresses at my domain, making them up to see if anything goes through, and I'll get exponentially more spam than the normal email user because I get everything coming to addresses like Floobified[at]enews.org through Zombified[at]enews.org, and everything in between.

Here are a few quick tips for you, however, so you don't fall into the trap I'm stuck in:

Use spam filters or other anti-spam technology -- Obviously. Do I really need to tell you this? If the answer is yes, please leave a comment and I'll try to find time to compile some suggestions for good spam protection services or software.

Change your email address regularly -- If you don't own your own domain (that's the "something.com" part), you have the luxury of being able to abaondon an address that becomes too bloated with incoming spam. Obviously, it's best to notify everyone in your address book when you do this, so they have your new address.

Have a private account and a public account -- It's best to have a private address that you give only to your friends and family, and that you ask them to guard it against becoming public. Then set up a free account at gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo! or someplace. This would be the address you use if you're posting on a website forum, or subscribing to a listserv / email newsletter, or responding to an eBay posting, for example. You can always shut this account down on a yearly basis if it gets too spammy.

Don't use catch-all addresses -- Avoid this if you can. If your ISP asks you if you want a catch-all email address, decline. If your address is "fred@whatnot.com", and you regularly get mail addressed to other people, like "somebodyelsebutnotfred@whatnot.com", your account may be set up with a catch-all. Turn it off in your webmail control panel, or ask your ISP to turn it off.

Don't let your email address be published on web pages -- Avoid this if you can (if you have to, use the public address I recommend above). If a link to your address has to be on your website -- say, for example, as the contact for your small business -- don't let it appear as text on the page, use some technique that obscures the address with JavaScript, spells it out like "fred [at] whatnot [dot] com", or something else. This foils some, but sadly not all, the 'bots. [I'll eventually post some good ways to obscure your address, foil the 'bots, and still retain link functionality.]

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