Why newsletter readers got info that blog readers didn’t

SNB reader and registered member FuturePerfect posted this comment today in response to my last blog post:

I’m confused. I thought this blog is your newsletter, replacing your old newsletter site which is now an archive. And didn’t you mean you e-mailed not [snail] mailed the newsletter? And since you can’t re-mail your newsletter, is it now unavailable to me forever? Could you please explain?

OK, let’s see if I can clear up your confusion. The blog is the locus of the primary content that was previously Scot’s Newsletter (emailed and web page). And, yes, any newsletter I “mail” is emailed. But there’s a little more to this that you may have missed.

When the blog was launched, I merged the HTML and Text newsletters into a single list and began sending a notification newsletter to let people know whenever there is recently added content on the blog. For the most part, the notification message contains headline, blurb, and links to all (or most) of the blog entries since the last newsletter.

I expected to mail the newsletter on a roughly monthly schedule, but also promised only to mail the newsletter when there was something of benefit to the majority of subscribers. I polled people about this before I made the decision to switch to a blog and use the newsletter this way. Many people were not in favor of the blog, but the vast majority of existing newsletter subscribers wanted the newsletter to continue on as a notification message.

When I made the switch to the blog, I converted the newsletter to text only. Prior to that, the newsletter consisted of two separate lists, HTML and text only. We merged and de-duped the lists. De-duping means that when the same email address was found on both HTML and text lists, one instance was removed. We also cleaned the list so that recent bad addresses were deleted. The list size went from about 47K to about 43K.

Somewhat surprisingly, few people unsubscribed from the newsletter when I made the transition to a notification newsletter.

A key point

So, this may be the main point of your confusion, FuturePerfect:

Occasionally, I write exclusives for newsletter subscribers, which go out via email along with the list of links to the recent blog posts. Usually, these are not items of general interest to blog readers. Having been absent from subscriber’s inboxes for 5 months, though, I decided newsletter subscribers deserved some explanation. So, the email message contained a detailed explanation of why the newsletter hadn’t been mailed since March 27th.

Part of the reason for the unintended hiatus was a nearly three-month security battle I waged with hackers who penetrated the Web servers of my last webhost (IX Webhosting). As a result, part of the explanation included a quick overview of events and even some of my takeaways. I expect to publish a more detailed version of that story in the blog. I’m still not completely out of the woods (although it’s looking good), so I’ll hold off on my fully public report of my security challenges until the story is concluded.

So, if you’re someone who wants to stay very, very close to all things Scot’s Newsletter, subscribing to the newsletter is a good idea. It was my earlier judgment that most blog readers don’t need that much detail. It’s really your choice, however. If you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, please use the Scot’s Newsletter Blog notification list sign-up page. It’s text only, is easy to unsubscribe from, and is likely to mail somewhere between 5 and 15 times a year.

Additionally, if you’d like to support Scot’s Newsletter, subscribing would be a fine way to do so. Although I have no plans to do this right now, it is at least possible that I might someday return to primary content being published in a newsletter format. More than likely, that would be after major new antispam technology became prevalent.

One of the reasons I moved to the blog was that the rise of Yahoo mail (the worst offender), gmail, Hotmail, and other free webmail services has meant the successful delivery rate of most newsletters — especially large HTML newsletters — has plummeted. Webmail services (I prefer gmail of the lot) tend to be quick to block newsletters. Because webmail is a free service, there’s no advantage to Webmail providers in delivering every message. There’s no service level they are compelled to meet. If they deem something to be in some way suspicious, then it’s blocked. And subscribers never even know.

A shorter, text-only newsletter has a much, much better likelihood of making it by the spam filters, though. So, for now, the notification newsletter makes a lot more sense.

Six reasons why the newsletter was on hiatus

So, because some people are interested, here’s a summary of the reasons I published in the newsletter explaining why it took a five-month breather. Unlike the newsletter, I’m placing these issues in chronological order. The delay to the newsletter — and the reduction in the number of my posts over the same period — was actually caused by a series of decisions and events:

1. I have young kids and a wife who is pursuing her own demanding career. My wife needs help, and my kids need time with dad. Nothing is more important than family, so over the last year I’ve been devoting more of my “free” time to my personal life.

2. Last fall I took on a new professional role as editor-in-chief of Computerworld. As you might imagine, the job demands a great deal of my attention. My professional responsibility is to the 39 editors, reporters, and writers of Computerworld’s editorial staff — even on my own time. Something has to give, and since Scot’s Newsletter is for the most part a moonlighting labor of love, it has been getting less of my time.

3. After delivering the Best Firewall Software of 2008 story in March — a decision and a story 18 months in the making — I gave myself a four-week break from even thinking about Scot’s Newsletter.

4. Over the last two years I have become a confirmed Macintosh user. Perhaps even more so after the latest detour into my own little security nightmare (see #6 below). Most SFNL readers are Windows users. I am still actively watching and using Windows, but I have recommended against Vista and there’s not a lot more to say about Windows XP. Until Windows 7 arrives, there’s a dearth of material to cover. The same thing happened at the end of the Windows 98SE/ME cycle, by the way. People take my lack of Windows coverage of late as a sign that I have abandoned Windows. While I have abandoned Vista, I have not abandoned Windows.

As long as I’m speaking of Windows, here’s some advice. Windows XP users: Please Install Service Pack 3. If you’re using an HP machine, make sure you have the latest updates (including firmware) for your computer before doing so. Also, Windows XP isn’t going to last forever. Windows users should be thinking about their next move within the Windows world. If you can afford it, have the hardware to support it, and you’re technically minded, Windows Server 2003 or 2008 might be an option. Windows Server is not for everyone, though.

Expect Windows 7 to arrive in 18 months or so (although Microsoft may not be able to deliver quite that fast). My best guess is that Windows 7 might wind up being something that might also be called Windows Vista Service Pack 3 with visible new changes (something like Windows XP SP2 or Windows ME). In other words, it may not be the fix that people who aren’t fond of Vista are waiting for.

In my opinion, Microsoft needs to downsize Windows. It has become bloated with non-essential extras. Simplicity, elegance, reliability, and performance should be the watch words of the next version of Windows. I wish I could say that’s likely to be the case, but I’m still hoping that I’m wrong.

5. When oil prices spiked in May and June, my interests turned sharply to a few of my other passions, automobiles, climate change, and alternative energy sources and technologies. Several posts were devoted to that, and I opted not to send a newsletter just for those posts, since most newsletter subscribers didn’t sign up for that type of content.

6. The Scot’s Newsletter sites were under security attack from May through early August. Once I discovered what was going on (in June), I was forced to shut down the blog and forums during this period, and I also spent well over 120 hours of my personal time fighting the problem on my home networks and machines as well as on my shared webhosting server. In the end, I had to research and select a new webhost, migrate my sites to the new host, update all my server applications, and resurrect the blog, forums, and other website in their new location.

The new webhost is much better than the old one in all aspects, including security, performance, and tech support. I’ve opted not to mention the new webhost by name (and I’d ask folks not to post the name if they decide to research it) until I write about it in a future post. What I can tell you now is that, so far, it’s the best webhost I’ve ever had. So there is a silver lining to my security hassles.

Not getting rid of me that easily

Finally, it should be noted that Scot’s Newsletter will continue to be updated as often as I have time to do so. It will continue to cover Windows, the Mac, broadband, security, Microsoft, Apple, and all the many things it has always covered. It may also cover other things I’m passionate about. Nothing has changed, really, it’s just that 2008 has so far been a year when I’ve had less time for writing posts. I’m not suddenly going to stop writing about computers. And I have no intention to discontinue the blog or the notification newsletter.

11 Responses to “Why newsletter readers got info that blog readers didn’t”

  1. RabidWolf Says:

    So many items…

    I am redoing my ancient condo bathroom, visiting family at my mother’s little seasonal place on weekends, and I’m also at a new job. And I am thinking through converting my old laptop to Ubuntu, but just don’t have quite the time for the backups, etc. So far iffy.

    I can appreciate you going “Mac” on us Windows troopers. Wish I could do that too. I purposely got my current machine last year with XP. Prices of Macs and 20+ years of habit is hard to break, though. Maybe going Ubuntu on my old laptop will help wean me from my Window-ness? Of course there is work, which being a large institution changes slower than even glaciers now. I will not be Win Free any time soon!

    I am also plagued by a less than stellar Host for some of my activities, nothing critical, but others do have links. They dropped their spam filters, and it is really annoying. I have put-of switching, but I need a better and cheaper host. They are unresponsive, after having essentially sold out to a larger entity. Ten years, so no real surprise I guess. BTW, Cloudmark is pretty good, but it does slow Outlook to a crawl with 8 email addresses over 4 email hosts. Yes, I could switch, but Outlook at work, and years of archived ‘.pst’ files slows me down.

    You can send me an email alert any time.

    Grins.

    RW
    aka Bob

  2. rmiller1959 Says:

    I sent this to you via e-mail but I may as well post it here as well:

    I appreciate your explanation of what you’ve been up to these past several months. Given your obvious distaste for Windows Vista, is it practical for us Vista users to expect we’ll get much more out of your newsletter/blog? You’re one of the best technology professionals and writers I know and I’d miss your advice on Vista, but I understand you have to use the computer that makes you most productive. I have too great an investment in PC software and hardware (five PCs) to make such a change so my most productive option is to stay with Windows. Take care!

  3. Scot Says:

    I still have two Vista machines, and one of them is the Windows PC I use most frequently. I think you can expect me to continue covering Windows the way I have since Vista shipped. I covered SP1 and XP SP3. I’m watching Windows 7, and orchestrating coverage of it at work. As e-i-c of Computerworld, I’ve helped to bring a large staff of expert reporters and reviewers working on the team. Barbara Krasnoff, Preston Gralla, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, Gregg Keizer to name just a few. I still talk to Microsoft and am still very interested in operating systems of all types. So the early warnings, analyses, explanations, and outlooks will continue be published on SNB. Reviews of major new products for Windows that take my fancy will continue. I don’t hate Microsoft or Windows. I’m just very dissatisfied with some of Microsoft’s recent decisions and efforts. I’d like to see the company do better for its end-users and IT customers.

    All that said, I think what you can expect to see less of from me is hands-on, how-to, tippy stuff — the sorts of things I was forced to unearth for my own productivity. That change has been dictated as much by my current job as it is by my switch to the Mac.

    Dyed in the wool Windows folks may be less satisfied in the amount of Windows coverage they get from me. But that might have happened whether I’d switched to the Mac or not. Next year I might switch to Linux for all I know. I don’t think my choice of OS should really matter. But it depends on what you’ve been reading my stuff for. Some of my readers just enjoy the ride. Others are looking to glean specific tidbits. I have always written about what I felt like writing about, what I’m passionate about. That really hasn’t changed. What’s changed is what I’m passionate about. And it will likely change again. Nothing lasts forever.

    So it depends on what you want.

    I tell you, comments are a good thing. For years I’ve been writing stuff like what I just wrote in email, but only one reader at a time had access to it. I think this is better.

  4. Corrine Says:

    Between takes, don’t forget about Scot’s Newsletter Forums. Although Scot’s busy schedule doesn’t allow him to spend as much time in the forums as in the past, you can find a multitude of topics on Microsoft Windows operating systems, Linux, Mac, Browsers, Hardware, Security . . . there is a lot covered and a lot of opinions expressed.

  5. Scot Says:

    Thanks, Corrine! For those of you who aren’t aware, Corrine is a Microsoft MVP who writes Security Garden. She’s also a Forums Admin at Scot’s Newsletter Forums.

    — Scot

  6. rmiller1959 Says:

    Thanks, Scot, for your honest and insightful comment. I like your writing and your passion so I will continue to “enjoy the ride.” The forums are a good place to go if I need help with something specific. I will miss your in-depth coverage of Windows, however. Your search for the best security software was some of the best technology writing I’ve seen online. I wish all tech reviews were that comprehensive and honest.

  7. Scot Says:

    Hey, rmiller1959:

    I switched to the Mac in Sept. 2006. This isn’t news. I wrote about the switch very, very publicly from Sept. 2006 – March 2007. Notice that my delivery of the software firewall decision was unimpeded by my switch to the Mac.

    I’m just about to start testing Kaspersky 2009. And I’ll be writing about some of the Windows security takeaways that I learned from my recent security challenge. It’s all Windows oriented.

    Nothing has changed but the amount of time I have to give the newsletter/blog. My focus is the same. I have been covering multiple OSes since long before I made the personal switch from Windows to the Mac.

  8. rmiller1959 Says:

    My apologies if I said anything in error. I was kinda busy in 2006 – I made my first run for public office in my home state – so I wasn’t fully plugged in at the time. I’ve had a few job changes since then, having been laid off twice in a six-month timeframe. Like you, I’ve had a “a series of decisions and events” that kept me from keeping up with you. I meant no disrespect and I will continue to follow your column because you’re one of the best.

  9. Scot Says:

    Hey, sorry, I wasn’t aiming all that at you. No offense was taken either.

    A number of people have sent me emails of late saying “Hey, since you just switched to the Mac, I’m going to stop reading you.” One of the hazards of being a blog/newsletter author is that it’s easy to forget that even though you have written something 14 times two years ago and 7 or 8 times since, that when you say it again after six months, it’s still the first time for some people.

    But I wanted to put it out there that it’s a mistake to assume that my Windows coverage is about to stop!

  10. rmiller1959 Says:

    I’m happy to hear that. Thanks for clarifying – I’m not going anywhere (grin)!

  11. ddmak Says:

    Hi Scot,

    I wish you would continue writing Windows, to be extact, Vista. As you said, there isn’t much more to said about WinXP.

    Since you have joined the Macintosh camp, how about some coverage on Mac. I know you have done some in the past, but not much news lately.

    I too use a Mac, but I also use Vista. So I am 50/50, not quite like you, but I would love read a newsletter on Macintosh from you. :)

    Cheers,
    Dixon Mak

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