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.