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Marketing, design, and technical resources for making your digital and print communications more effective.

Protecting Your Identity on Business Social Networking Sites

March 24th, 2009

The newest publication of the Stanford Business Magazine has a must read article for anyone who has a profile at any of the popular business and social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook or Plaxo:

Facing Mean Streets of Information Highway by Connie Skipitares.

One of relatively easy way of monitoring your good name against the type of online identity theft mentioned in the article is to set up a Google Alert on your name. Unless you have an exceptionally unique name (like I guy I met once named Blender G. Shoulders in Tanner, Alabama) just throw in your city or state to the search query.

How to Add FeedBurner’s Headline Animator to an Outlook 2007 Email Signature

March 5th, 2009

Feedburner (now assimilated into Google as we all will be one day) provides phenomenal RSS feed optimization services. If you’ve found this post you probably already know that.

FeedBurner's Headline Animator

Feedburner’s Headline Animator Email Snippet

One of their many great tools is the “Headline Animator” which is a snippet that rotates your blog feed’s five most recent blog post titles. It’s well suited to be included in custom email signatures as a clever means of promoting your blog to unsuspecting recipients.

Enter the villain: Outlook 2007

As I’ve already complained about in a prior post, Microsoft took a big step back in HTML customization capability with Outlook 2007. Besides the horrible decision to use Word to render HTML for Outlook, the handy option for “advanced” (HTML) editing is gone from Outlook’s custom signature feature. This presents a problem to those of us who want to add the snippet code produced by FeedBurner’s Headline Animator to our Outlook 2007 email signature. It’s not that pretty, but following is a step-by-step guide to forcing Outlook 2007 to comply with our wishes.

The easy annoying workaround

1. After you set up your blog feed in feedburner (http://feedburner.google.com), go to the “Publicize” tab, and select “Headline Animator”, “Create new…”, set your preferences, name the snippet, then hit “Activate.”

2. Now click on the name of your snippet that just appeared under “Headline Animator” in the left column. You’ll see your snippet rotating headlines from your feed. Select “Other (just gimme the code)” and click next to see a pop-up with your code. Uncheck “Include a ‘Grab this’ link” and copy the code to Note Pad. You will need to use Note Pad, not Word or Word Pad, for all your edits (or an HTML editor if you have one).

feedburner

3. Download this template and open with Note Pad. Open side-by-side this template file and the other Note Pad file into which you pasted your FeedBurner code. Then modify the template with your feedburner links and either delete or modify the alt tag and contact info above the snippet.

Outlook 2007 Email Signature Template

4. Enable Windows to see hidden files/folders. A guide for doing this can be viewed here.

5. In your modified Note Pad template file, choose “Save as” then navigate to:

Windows Vista— C:UsersuserAppDataRoamingMicrosoftSignatures

Windows XP— C:Documents and SettingsuserApplication DataMicrosoftSignatures

6. First, select “All Files” in the “Save as type:” field, then name and save your signature with an .htm extension (e.g. “feedburnersiganture.htm”).

7. Now open Outlook 2007 and go to Tools -> Options -> Mail Format -> Signatures and you should see your new signature with the feedburner snippet as a signature option.

Now, recipients will see your snazzy rotating FeedBurner headlines in your signature. All recipients that is except those using Outlook 2007 who will only see your most recent title. That’s right, Outlook 2007 has one last punch to throw. Microsoft has disabled rotating gifs from rotating in Outlook 2007 and provided us with no option to enable them. If you’re hard up for something to do you can vote for Microsoft to change this policy at this Microsoft page.

The good news is that almost all other mail clients don’t have this restriction, and even when being displayed in Outlook 2007 your snippet will still dynamically update to display a static most recent post title so all is not lost.

Comparing Linux and Windows Web Development

February 6th, 2009

I happen to read Guide to Key Comparisons of Linux vs. Windows Servers over at work.com and thought it was worth pointing out to those who might not be that familiar with the fundamental differences between Windows and Linux Web server environments.

Because this it’s such a common misconception I should mention first that running Windows or Linux on your Web server has no relationship to the operating systems you and your site users are running on their personal system.  Individual computers running Windows or Mac OS Xand and using common Web browsers don’t care what operating system the Web server is running on.

Here highlights I took from the article:

  • Both Windows and Linux are about equal when it comes to market share, reliability, performance and security.
  • Because Windows is proprietary commercial software and Linux is open source software, if your business decides to own and operate your own Web servers, Windows can be more costly. However, this base cost is nominal if you choose to outsource your Web server hosting and management.
  • Linux offers the inherit advantages of open source . . . in terms of flexibility and customization. The author states:

Linux distributors, using an open-source application with more flexibility, can implement “extensible” packages with greater customizability. In normal situations, the performance of the two is comparable, but if system functionality is most important to you, this may have an impact on your final decision.

Another critical consideration that wasn’t mentioned in this article is total cost of ownership. Linux is generally regarded as the leader in this category, but not necessarily, it all depends on each organization’s goals and required applications. Researching total cost of ownership can be confusing . . . since many of the most popular studies are drawing data mostly from very large IT enterprises and in very large enterprises TCO tends to level out between Windows and Linux.

As a general rule the smaller the organization, the more clear-cut are the TCO benefits of Linux over Windows. This does not imply that Linux will not be the best choice for the largest enterprise environments (examples of Linux enterprises include the city of Los Angeles, NASA, Amazon, American Fidelity Assurance Company and Overstock.com), but what it does mean is that any business should spend the time to evaluate the options in light of their specific needs to get the right answer.

Web Design Perfection

January 20th, 2009

media-templeTo my recollection, I’ve never made mention on this blog of a specific Website as an example of being truly great. While no one has elected me as the design judge of the Internet, nor will any great people likely take notice of this post, I am compelled to call out a Website that I’ve been captivated by for some time and that serves as a great example of the principles that we here at RisingLine advocate every day.

No, it’s not RisingLine.com (although I have to admit I think quite highly of that design), and before I continue I should disclose that I have absolutely no ulterior motive in praising the site I’m about to mention . . . no referral fees, or kickbacks of any kind.

So enough with the rambling, MediaTemple.net is the site to which I am directing my compliments. The first thing a visitor to their site will notice is that graphic design is extremely powerful but not overpowering. . . minimalist, detail oriented, clean, modern, just plain classy. It does what a graphic design is supposed to—provide a professional backdrop to the content of the site which beams credibility without distracting from the message.

I have to assume by the continued proliferation of shabbily designed sites on the Web that many don’t realize just how important design is. As we like mention, over and over, research has shown that a shockingly high percentage of people make a judgment call about the credibility of a company within seconds of visiting a Website based primarily on the graphic design (see the Stanford Web Credibility Research site for more insight on this topic). While my high school history teacher did not find it amusing when I offered to turn in a picture instead of the assigned 1,000 word essay, it really is true that a picture (or for our purposes a design) is worth a 1,000 words of credibility, and all that communicated in the blink of an eye.

A very common misconception is that an effective design is one that has a lot of swirls, colors, moving things and flashy graphics. While those types of sites might be appropriate in some instances (although I can’t think of any of the top of my head) professional Websites have a demanding purpose to concisely communicate value propositions and persuade their prospects to buy. Much Web design we see out there does more to distract from those goals than reach them. Media Temple offers us a great example of a well refined goal-oriented design that delivers their message with just a touch of panache.

Even the best graphic design is of no real use without concise messaging, clear communication flow and easy to understand navigation. These disciplines are collectively known as usability and are achieved exceptionally well by Media Temple. What’s even more impressive in this accomplishment is that the unique value of Media Temple’s hosting solutions are considerably more challenging to communicate than their competitors because they really are unique. Media Temple provides virtualized hosting accounts that are spread across a grid of resources as compared to the typical shared hosting company that sticks customers on a server in their farm to fight with the other squatters for finite resources. Based on my experience using their product, Media Temple’s solutions live up to the grand impression they make on their Website.

While I’m not going to get into the details, the usability of their client-side administration panel and knowledge base impresses me even more than their front end. I recently spent some time in Media Temple’s Grid-Service environment testing the CMS platform we develop on (coincidentally their hosting platform provided the most consistent high performance of any of the many shared hosting environments we’ve tested in) and I had a hard time tearing myself away from their administration panel when our project was complete.

Hats off to Media Temple for their great achievement and many kudos for providing us all a great example of what the Web should look like.

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