Start a conversation

It all started when I e-mailed a web company from the feedback form on their web site. I politely explained my concerns and clicked "send." Their site took me to a page that said, "Although we cannot answer all e-mail personally, be assured that your suggestions and comments are very important to us..." Now—if it was really important, wouldn't they make the time to reply?

Why is it that many sites act as if they don't have to answer e-mail? It would be like if you had a phone number but never had anyone in your company answer the phone. You would never dream of doing that—and yet many sites do just that by not responding to all their e-mail (on the first ring).

I figured my e-mail had gone into the great cyber circular filing cabinet in the sky when I actually received a reply that read as if it had been writing by a computer:

"Dear Daniel, Hello! : ) I am Ste   , I would like to thank you for spending the time to write to us.  It is my pleasure to assist you regarding any concerns you may have because I highly value your commitment.

I want to thank you personally for writing to us with your thoughts and feelings. I understand you have concerns about the our service. Your opinion makes a difference.

Please accept my apology for any   difficulties and frustration you may have experienced with our service. Thanks again for     voicing your concerns.    For answers to your questions, please send mail to our corporate offices. The address is: PO Box 10810, Herndon, VA 22070

Thank you very much for your continued support. Have a great day! Your Online Friend, Steve, Customer Care Consultant"

Now that all sounds very personal, which is good. But it didn't answer my concerns at all, and just seemed like a series of almost amusingly generic apologies. And why could I not send e-mail to a major web company's corporate office? They must be connected to the web.

I wanted to see if this was really a standard reply. So I wrote another note, saying "I am concerned that I cannot e-mail your corporate offices. If they are having difficulty connecting to the internet, I can suggest several good ISP's they could use." The reply began, " Hello! : ) I am Mar  , I would like to thank you for spending the time to write to us... The rest of the e-mail was the same as the first one.

Hmmm. I sent two more e-mails, The first said "I am concerned that your company's logo looks like a black hole sucking up the universe. I believe this sends a bad message to the youth of this country."

The second said, "I need your help. My chinchilla, Dusty, is having difficulty logging onto your service because they keys on my keyboard are too large for his tiny feet. Is there something you can do about this?."

I received two more identical replies (well, the names changed—though they were always weirdly truncated in the first sentence as if the "mail-merge" somehow cut them off).

Unfortunately, the problem here is not just this company. The problem is that a lot of people on the web don't seem to "get" the fact that the web is a two-way street.

It's not just about throwing content into your visitor's face. It's about starting a conversation, a dialog. Yes, I know it takes time to answer e-mail. But the people writing to you are your visitors, your guests, your customers. Without them, you don't have a business. You work for them. When you think of it that way, it doesn't seem very smart to ignore their e-mail, does it?

I believe that reading and answering your e-mail is part of your responsibility as a citizen of the web. It's also good business. And more than that—it can be a useful, interesting, and valuable learning experience.

I'm not holding my breath to get a real answer from this company. Besides, my chinchilla really has no problem logging on or answering his email. Surely you can do as well as a rodent, can't you?


Complementary Colors:
Mixing a palette for your product.

When you're selling products that have their own clear visual identity, the challenge is to design a site that complements them. You choose colors that coordinate with the colors of the products, typefaces that fit the mood, photographs that show the products in their best light, and illustrations that build on a theme. Chuck Green, master designer, shows and tells you how.

Relationship Marketing:
Creating customers for life.

Roger Parker is a man with a mission—to help you discover the relatively unglamorous but highly realistic and attainable ways the Web can help you be more profitable. It's not about getting more and more people to your site. It's about building customer loyalty, to turn current customers into repeat customers. Learn how.


Avoid Web Censorship: Rate Your Site

Brian Livingston's excellent article for c|net explains how AOL's filters for children and teens show some odd biases that have nothing to do with sexual or violent content.

This brings up serious questions—because even if speech is free on the web, if large ISPs can block sites of their choice, then how free is the web, really? Even if you agree with the bias of these filters—what happens when they filter your site, or sites you don't think should be filtered? And why is AOL already blocking some of their competitors' sites?

It's especially odd that AOL would filter this way, since they're one of the founding members of the Internet Content Rating Association which is devoted to protecting free speech, being culturally non-specific and objective, and user friendly. What's more, AOL's system is inefficient, and, according to Livingston, "I found that even those children who were limited to the most restrictive "Kids Only" filter could, in some circumstances, view sex sites that were recently visited by adults."

The fact is that the web should not be edited by third parties. You should be able to decide what you and your family see.

So what can you do? First, rate your own site. The Internet Content Ratings Association (formerly the Recreational Software Advisory Council ) is a non-profit group that makes it easy to create what's called a PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) label for your site that tells web filters what kind of content you have.

Then the RSACi system lets you, the site visitor, to choose the level of sex, nudity, violence, offensive language (vulgar or hate-motivated) that can be seen in your browser.

This is not censorship, it's merely informing potential visitors what'you're your site. To use this, In Netscape 4.5 or newer, choose Help/Netwatch. In IE, choose Tools/Options/Content/Content Advisor Settings.

When you go rate your site on http://www.icra.org/, a simple online wizard asks you questions about what's on your site. Answer a few screens full, and you've given a PICS-label. You can create one single label for your entire site (put it on your home page), or one for each page or section, it's up to you.

To add the tag to NetObjects Fusion, Right Click on your home page and choose Layout HTML. Paste the RSAC tag in the Inside Head tag. Make sure not to add blank returns before or after it (as some browsers add extra space at the top of your page if you do this).

We all need to work together to make sure free speech on the web truly remains free. So rate your site, right now, at http://www.icra.org

Get NetObjects Fusion 4 for just $99!

The nice people at NetObjects have finally allowed eFuse to let you buy a fully-functional copy of NetObjects Fusion 4 for Windows for just $99! That's right, Fusion 4, in all its glory, under $100. And this price is good almost everywhere in the world!

NetObjects Fusion 4 is a reliable, easy to use, powerful program that lets anyone (from someone with no experience to the most sophisticated designers) create truly professional looking pages that work perfectly on all browsers.

NetObjects Fusion actually delivers what so many other programs only promise. It eliminates the need for you to know the technical details of HTML, yet at the same time gives you the utmost precision. It automates tedious tasks like building and maintaining navigation and linking, while guaranteeing that your site works, all the time, with every browser.

To get this very special (and of course, "only while supplies last") offer, click here.

Do not pass go. Do not spend an additional $200. Void where prohibited by dogs.  Actually, this is a serious offer for a great program at an reasonable price, so I hope you will take advantage of it, and let your friends know about it, too.

Search This

Want to add full-text search to your site? It's easy and free, with Atomz. If you use NetObjects Fusion, you can add it even more easily using coolmap's free Atomz component. The component is free to anyone with a CCC membership—even the free 14-day membership. So all they need do is sign up for the free membership to download the component. If you aren't already a member, just use the free signup link on the the Atomz component description page.

You Don't Need To Reset Or Cancel

According to usability expert Jakob Neilsen's influential web site, Web forms would have improved usability if the Reset button was removed. Cancel buttons are also often of little value on the Web. I agree. If you don't want to fill out a form, just click on the back button or type in a new URL. I find myself filling out long forms, only to hit "reset" by mistake. I lose everything I entered, and usually don't bother to enter it again. Click here to read the article.

Photoshop Help

If you use Photoshop, take a look at "Design with Photoshop." It's an excellent website, featuring user interface designs done in Adobe Photoshop. Also featured are easy to use step by step tutorials on creating user interface elements and other cool effects. Free Photoshop files, fully customizable. The site design has beautiful Islamic art influence.

Feed The Hungry With Just A Click

Here's a great idea. All you have to do is visit this site and click on the "Donate Free Food" button. When you do, a sponsoring corporation will make a donation to feed a starving person for one day. You can do this once a day, it costs you nothing and it does a lot of good. Do it now!

One Final Word

If it's sunny where you are, go outside for a little while. We all need a break from this computer stuff now and then!



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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.