Why do developers and product managers skimp on profile management?

Now that OtherInBox is pissing off its users for the second time in three years, I’m going through the less-than-fun exercise of switching a couple hundred logins and subscriptions to new email addresses.

This has not been fun, not least because of the rote and manual nature of the updates. But it’s been made considerably worse by the half-assed approach many of these sites and subscription management platforms take to the basic task of updating user/profile/account data.

Here are a couple examples; neither site has a front-end interface to update the email address on file for either login purposes or notifications:

Site one

I’ve looked all over the site and left two chat thing on the Olark widget but no one’s responded to my question: how do I change the email address on file/login from [email] to [new email]?

we have to change it from our end is because if you’re currently logged into the site, then it causes a system crash if you change your login while you’re logged in!

Site two

Thanks for your email.

If you would like to change your email address you need to do the following:
1. Open a new account with the email address you want to use
2. Send us an email with both email addresses stating clearly which one you want to keep

Once we have the information, we will merge your accounts so that all the information is saved and the email address is changed.

Then there are the sites – more than two dozen, at last count – that decouple their obligatory marketing lists from their platforms. Meaning that an update or unsubscribe action entered on your profile isn’t synced with their email marketing platform of choice.

A word to all of you using “SafeUnsubscribe” from Constant Contact – stop. This is weaksauce:

Screenshot 2014-07-06 18.37.13

And Mailchimp folks, you might want to hide those segments/groups you’re using:

Screenshot 2014-07-06 18.44.46


The specialest of shouts to the many, many sites and lists that have neither a user-accessible way to either unsubscribe or update profile emails or any way of getting in touch with a human. That’s a “report for spam”, with extreme prejudice, for you.


[SQAS] Mobile + email = are we really ready for this?

Posts labelled [SQAS] (as in Stats, Quotes, Anecdotes, Snippets) will feature nuggets of information and insight. These are the kinds of things I save in Evernote because I’m a digital hoarder because they make for great bullet points in presentations and quality soundbites.

The numbers are in, and they are clear: a majority of emails are being opened on mobile devices vs desktop. Here’s the latest snapshot from ReturnPath on email traffic over the December holiday season, based on an analysis of more than 1bn emails:

[I’m Reading] The not-so-quaint charm of the email newsletter

Posts with the label [I’m Reading] will be about articles I’m finding interesting. I often find things interesting even when I completely disagree with them. No lawyers approved this message.

If you’ve spent more than 5 or so minutes with me over the past couple of months, odds are very high that you’d have heard me talk about friction (reducing); delight (creating); email (the importance of; how to be awesome at).

First, some background on an important change Gmail made to image caching, and what that means for email senders. Gmail will now show images in email by default (win!) but (there’s always a but) the change means counting repeat opens is going to be more difficult.

From the Gmail blog:

you’ll soon see all images displayed in your messages automatically across desktop, iOS and Android. Instead of serving images directly from their original external host servers, Gmail will now serve all images through Google’s own secure proxy servers. So what does this mean for you? Simple: your messages are more safe and secure, your images are checked for known viruses or malware, and you’ll never have to press that pesky “display images below” link again. With this new change, your email will now be safer, faster and more beautiful than ever.

And from a Mailchimp post on the matter:

Image caching still lowers our ability to track repeat opens, but turning those images on means we’ll be more accurate when tracking unique opens. At least, theoretically it should work that way. By leaving images turned off, Gmail has been allowing subscribers to open emails without downloading our tracking pixel, so those opens were invisible to us. If Gmail is going to display images automatically, those previously invisible opens should suddenly become visible. That’s exciting in a nerdy data way, but keep in mind it doesn’t affect the number of subscribers actually reading your email. It just makes the count of unique opens more accurate. Then again, maybe seeing your beautiful email content will get subscribers to keep opening in the future.

And from The Monday Note, one of my favourite blogs on “media, tech, business models”, some highlights from their recent reflections on email newsletters (any emphasis mine):

Newsrooms who assign junior writers to expedite email newsletters should think again

two critical factors needed to create a valued product: Timing — sending a news briefing at the right time to maximize its impact — and the multi-device format.

A newsletter begs to be read both on mobiles and on a desktop. You can no longer decide for the reader which screen size h/she will read your stuff on. Responsive design is mandatory. But applying responsive design techniques is way more complicated for newsletters than it is for websites. Even large medias such as the NYT are providing single formats newsletters.

Another thing about email design: It must be conceived to be read offline. I live in a 4G city (Paris) but I still get poor 3G or even EDGE service in too many places (French carriers are said to slow down network speed in order to accelerate the switch to 4G). Therefore, the ability to read complete content offline beyond headlines is, in my view, a basic feature. Going a bit further, I would dream of newsletters pre-loading multiple layers of reading, allowing the reader to jump from the main page to one or two levels down — without requiring a connection.

[I’m Reading] Try Everything

Posts with the label [I’m Reading] will be about articles I’m finding interesting. I often find things interesting even when I completely disagree with them. No lawyers approved this message.

The topic du jour among media pundits and pontificators: the new Glenn Greenwald venture, backed by the considerably deep-pocketed Pierre Omidyar.

The best commentary I’ve seen on this so far (as of this post, anyway) comes from the folks at The Monday Note, who have some thoughts on how the venture’s product portfolio might be developed.


Mobile should primarily be a news updating vector. In a developing story, say hearings on the NSA scandal, readers want quotes, live blogging, snapshots – all easy to grab while on the go. Addiction must be the goal.

Newsletters deserve particular attention. They remain an excellent vector to distribute news and a powerful traffic driver. But this requires two conditions: First, they must be carefully designed, written by human beings and not by robots. Second, they must be run like an e-commerce operation: a combination of mass emailing and heavy personalization based on collected navigation data. For an editorial product, this means mapping out granular “semantic profiles” in order to serve users with tailored contents. If the Omidyar-Greenwald project lives up to its promise, it will deliver a regular stream of exclusive stuff. A cleverly engineered email system (both editorially and technically) stands good chances to become a must-read.


On the product side, the motto should be Try Everything – on multiple segments and platforms.

Don’t be creepy. Repeat: don’t be creepy.

I subscribe to a lot of email lists (if you don’t know this yet, you soon will: I am obsessed with email), and earlier today I was dismayed to see this snippet included in the latest newsletter from one of my favourite sources:

We’ve noticed that you’re reading this content, but not sharing it. Have any thoughts or feedback? Hit reply to send us a note.

This is creepy, and this is manipulative. And my immediate reflex was not to share, or to give feedback, but to unsubscribe. I didn’t, because a) it’s a good list and b) I understand where this urge is coming from. But it doesn’t make it any less creepy or manipulative – and therefore antithetical to creating a delightful experience for the person at the other end.

First, what this does is make explicit the underbelly of our interactions online, the reality that everything we do on the internet is being tracked and may be used against you in a court of law may be used to sell you things later.

We often talk about the importance of open-rates and click-throughs, but we almost never think about the fact that tracking those metrics – no matter how noble our purposes – requires collecting significant amounts of user data. And just as politicians and pundits alike talk about “the consumer” as if s/he does not belong to that category, we often forget that we are equally having our data collected. If you’ve ever run a Mailchimp list you know that you can see exactly who clicked what link, and when, and how many times. There’s an implicit social contract that you will not use that knowledge against me, personally, even as you use the data for some higher-order purpose or optimization.

Second, this is more egregious than the by-now passé “social-media grovel” (“Like this because you think we’re awesome!” “Please retweet!”). It’s one thing to ask our audiences for their feedback; it’s quite another to passive-aggressively indicate they’re not living up to your expectations for them.