Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Blogs Vs Email

What are the pros and cons of Blogs and Emails?

Everyone knows how to use email so we tend to do that automatically even when email may not be the best tool for the job.

Email is good for notifying everybody but often there is a broadcast which includes people who may not need or want to know. Knowlege workers face a deluge of email. Business documents must be sorted into folders. Each recipient must duplicate the time and effort of the others.

Email is mature technology with plenty of features and options but the easiest choice is often not the best choice. Email was once the only option but with the growth of the WWW, there are a variety of services which can complement or replace email depending upon what needs to be done.

A Web log, or Blog for short, provides new and interesting possibilities. A Blog is a journal with the most recent entry, or post, at the top of the page. There are now millions of Blogs on the WWW. Most are banal experiments but many contain interesting and valuable material. So how Blogs help the over-emailed knowlege worker.

The first step is better teamwork. Get together and brainstorm when information is best emailed or put in managed documents. Look for items that require notification and those that can be read when it is convenient. Here are suggestions for items that can be Blogged:-

  • minutes of meetings for a project
  • list of persons not at work today
  • progess reports for a project
  • reports of visits to customer sites by a service person
  • what I learned this week
  • ideas: how can we be more efficient?
  • write about anything that happens in a sequence

Unlike Email, a Blog does not pester anyone. A person who is interested in the content of a Blog can read it at his convenience. Moreover, if he wishes to be notified of an update, he can subscribe using RSS, known as real simple syndication, which gives automatic notification. If he grows bored with the Blog, deleting the RSS link will terminate the nuisance.

Conclusion: Some combination of Email, Wikis, Blogs, and other services can reduce the information overload of knowlege workers. Managing information flow results in less work than using Email alone.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Possible Credit Card Risk With PayPal

I had my first encounter with PayPal today but not by choice. I was attempting to purchase a magazine online and was redirected to PayPal which captured my credit card and mailed a receipt. But the download of the magazine did not work. Here's where it all falls apart.

None of the published email addresses for the vendor worked so I intended to file a complaint with PayPal. But this is only possible if one has a PayPal account. My attempt to create an account was rejected because my credit card was already attached to an account.

After several useless emails, I phoned PayPal for help. The support lady told me that I was supposed to click "Save My Info" in the email receipt so that the transaction info would be pasted into the account application. She resent the receipt.

My computer has remote images in email disabled for security. Links to remote images are a favourite of spammers for bypassing spam filters. PayPal hides information in remote images so I did not see any links in the email receipt.

After disabling security, I see the PayPal logo but it only has a link to the main PayPal page. I still cannot create an account.

Now my emails are ignored so I phone PayPal again. This time the support guy says my visa account has another name. If that is true, how could I use it for purchase? Don't they check that the person name matches the card number? I ask if my card is compromised, he says no. But I later call visa and cancel the card anyway.

The first problem here is the email receipt is comprised of two pieces of information. One part is just text from the email server, the other is a link to a remote graphic on the web server. I suspect that the email programmer changed his part but the webserver guy did not update the other part to match. So the customer bears the confusion.

The other problem is customer support. They know how the system is supposed to work but are not aware of it's quirks and bugs. Successful problem resolution depends upon which support persons one happens to contact.

Finally, enter into Google "security remote images email" and see 49 million links. Many of these warn against allowing remote links in emails. Given this common wisdom, it is quite surprising and disturbing that PayPal, who is supposed to provide ultimate security, sends email with remote images.