4 reasons why email is still a killer app

atSign The internet’s original killer app, email has outlasted operating systems, online services, and local area networks. But why has email lasted, when modern communication modes so obviously seem superior? Especially given the scourge of spam?

Here are four reasons why email remains a killer app.

 1. Email is standard. It’s easy to use and supported ubiquitously. Phone, laptop, desktop or tablet — all have email apps that transparently send and receive messages from other apps. Furthermore, precisely because email has been around so long, the interface itself has become standard.

2. Email is a foolproof way to send files. Email is by far the easiest way to share a file or two. Sure you can send files to a cloud service like Dropbox, but often that’s overkill. Plus, cloud services have finicky and proprietary notification methods. Why use a middle step when you can send most files as attachments?

3. Email reaches groups.  To convey one message to many people, email is the simplest, most direct method. Pack the Send field with email addresses — often public and readily discoverable — and you’re set.  The venerable email list still enables effective mass communications, for marketing, for news, or for special purposes like emergency alerts.

4. The inbox is an archive. Unlike social media communications, email isn’t a stream of messages. It’s a pool. (Okay, so sometimes it’s a deep pool!) Nevertheless, it’s a cache of messages we’ve sent and received that we can save, organize, and search.

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Another view of Alec Baldwin: a cautionary tale — with a twist

I whine about tabloid journalism, but I often end up reading the stuff anyway. Ah well! And yet I recently discovered how easily I am manipulated by the sensational stories and headlines I consume.

Until recently, I admired the actor Alec Baldwin. Everything I knew about him I learned from the film, Glengarry Glen Ross. In it, he plays a small but terrifically nasty role as the slick tough guy from “Mitch and Murray” coming to knock some salemen’s heads. He gives a motivational speech with lines like:

“As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”

He finishes the scene by brandishing a pair of brass balls and swinging them below his belt.

“You want to know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes BRASS BALLS to sell real estate. Go and do likewise gents.”

Yah! It’s a classic scene. Check it!

So, a few weeks ago when I read a linkbait headline screaming Alec Baldwin was quitting New York City (whoa! he’s in NYC not LA?), of course I clicked. I skim-read the whole New York Magazine piece, which was basically a very long, very specific rant, spoken or written (hard to tell) by Alec Baldwin detailing ways he gets no respect. Like Rodney! Except Baldwin was totally serious. He itemized all the ways he tries to be a caring public figure but is, for various unfair reasons, by various unfair people, shat upon and accused of evil — and false! — ill-liberal behavior.

Yah! It was embarrassing . (You will have to Google it. I’m not linking.)

The next thing I knew, I had a completely different view of Alec Baldwin. Oh, I believed he was vilified unfairly; anyway, I was too lazy to check the facts. Heck, I didn’t even know he HAD a television show. Even so, after reading his rage against vicious public perception, I immediately stopped thinking of Alec Baldwin as an actor. Suddenly he’d become a goofy celebrity with a gift for terrible PR.

Okay, so what’s the point? From actor to moron in 15 minutes: public media has a sadly insidious effect. Who cares, you ask? Here’s the kicker: Real life trumps “the media.”

Soon after reading Baldwin’s ridiculous rant, I was listening to public radio, as I am wont to do on weekday evenings. My boys and I tuned in, once again, to an hour with the New York Philharmonic, hosted by Alec Baldwin. I had heard the host’s very smooth,  deliberate, intelligent-sounding voice many times, and I assumed it was some-classical-music-DJ Alec Baldwin, not THE Alec Baldwin. And as they’ve asked before, the boys wanted to know: “Is that Alec Baldwin the actor?” This time, I Googled it.


Alec Baldwin in the WFMT studio. Photo: Todd Heisler, New York Times, 2009.

Well! Sure enough, Baldwin’s been the voice for the New York “Phil” since 2008, a serious personal commitment. Plus, he recently donated $1M to the orchestra.

Immediately, my view of the man flipped — again. Now that I know he’s an individual who spends his time and money where he sees true value, I view him as a bonafide public figure, not merely an actor, and certainly not merely a tabloid clown.

The tasks for me remain: resist the tabloid linkbait. Think more kindly of strangers. Keep listening to Alec Baldwin and the New York Phil. . .

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Sporting the Quora fleece

I’m pleased to say I was selected for the second year in a row as a Top Writer at Quora, a social site for writing questions and answers about anything crossing your mind, from how to use an abacus to whether zebras can be domesticated.  I’ve been a Quoran since December 2010.


(Yes, that’s me in the Quora fleece!)

I write answers about cooking, movies, literature, and parenting. I also keep several micro-blogs on Quora, including a red wine review.

At the moment, I’m working on an answer about James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s taking some enjoyable research and thought.

As for questions, I’ve asked more than 400 of them. For instance, I want to know what sorts of music ancient Romans listened to and which of Italy’s ancient monuments are being left to decay.

Sadly, many of my queries languish. So far, no one can tell me what it’s like to be a gangster in a post-Soviet republic or what the primary arguments are (for and against) the Hawking-Hartle no-boundary proposal. Can you?

Meantime, it’s back to Ulysses. . .



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Woes of a content manager

wrench-smOne of the most troublesome aspects of managing a multi-user website is ensuring the structural integrity and editorial quality of the site’s content. Here’s why:

  • When it comes to content appearance  — unless your content creators are web developers — managing page layout can be a nightmare.
  • Font-proliferation and poor image placement are two basic problems.
  • If the site enables users <shudder> to use forms or polls or other applets, there’s sure to be trouble.
  • Even good writers need editors.

As a web manager, I’ve tried and witnessed multiple approaches to preserving structural and editorial integrity. Several techniques almost worked, but not quite:

  • Become a “site Nazi.”  Yes, build an environment that tightly controls user behavior. On  the plus side, this solution works pretty well on sites with relatively uniform content types. On the downside, no one likes Nazis. Content providers desert in droves.
  • Train users.  Ah, yes, “teach a man to fish,” etc. The truth is: for most people, web design training is a black hole. You simply can’t do enough of it. Arguably, becoming proficient at page layout and design requires immersion. It’s not for the dabblers.
  • Channel content through the web team. With a team of web professionals adding the content, you take those users out of the equation — sort of. No longer posting their own content, they will have plenty of time to hound you, now known as the content bottleneck, about the ways you’re screwing up their stuff.

So, what are viable solutions for managing content on a multi-user site? That’s my next post. . .

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Mini review: Top corporate home pages

I nominate Time Warner as one of the best corporate web pages: (See  Time Warner Inc.)

As a web communications professional, I am picky and (perhaps) somewhat idiosyncratic in my website aesthetic.

In my eyes, 95% of all corporate websites are incredibly ugly. Common uglifying elements include:

  • Garish sales pitches, coupons, and special offers.
  • Lots ‘o boxes.
  • Tiny text.
  • Photos straight out of the stock image bin.
  • Worse, a big fat image with a triangular overlay. Oh yippee, a video. (Yawhn.)

The best corporate sites use their domain root to enhance their brand, not sell stuff. Arguably, elegant branding is difficult for corporations whose sole mission is selling stuff. Oh well.

Anyway, after mousing around to more than 20 corporate domains (including Apple and Seimens and The Gap and Tesla Motors, and IKEA, &etc) I discovered that media companies seem to build the most attractive and useful websites. No surprise, really.

The Time Warner site features full-size images in a slide show that showcases the many, currently running, Time Warner productions. The appealing images are  filled with interesting-looking people. I actually felt compelled to click-through. It takes a lot for me to click through. I clicked through the whole set of slides, 15 or 20 images. In fact, I learned something from the TW website: The Hobbit is a Time Warner production.

Score one for TW.

Runners up: Martha Stewart.com and Edmunds.com

(Originally posted 12/21/13 in my Quora feed.)

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Lord love a weather-troll

In the Midwest, we love to brag about our terrible weather. When I was a storm newbie, gawking out the windows at dark skies and thunder, workmates trolled me with stories about “hail the size of cantaloupes.” I totally believed them.

So when I saw Jim Romesko’s November 18 post, on the heels of a big, tornado-ridden storm, I cracked up! Some local “eye witness” newsies uploaded the image below to Indy’s WTHR TV website, where it appeared, for bit anyway, in the station’s storm gallery.


The image is of downtown Lafayette. If the funnel cloud fooled you, the UFO is a give-away. Now that’s some weather! Allegedly Purdue student prankage was involved.

The spoof was originally caught and posted by Indy Star reporter @EricWeddle on Twitter.

(Both links are worth following — for larger images and goofy comments.)

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Professional development at Stack

stack-2As a tech-oriented professional, one of the most efficient time-investments you can make is to join a community or two at Stack Exchange, a collection of topic-specific Q&A sites.

Joining a Stack community is one professional development activity that doesn’t require an expensive trip to Orlando (or wherever) to learn fundamental elements of your trade, whether you’re a web developer, a librarian, a project manager or a food blogger. You don’t even have to join the group to read the ongoing conversations.

At the moment, there are about 100 Stack communities. Each consists of experts (and wanna-be experts) willing to answer (and ask) very smart questions on very specific topics. Myself, I’m on the writers and English language Stack. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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