Microsoft to launch another email client, designers collectively hold their breath

Last Sunday, Microsoft made an announcement about the official launch of Windows Live Hotmail, the new version of Hotmail that will be rolled out to all of their users over the coming days. This wasn’t big news, we’ve all known about the beta for a long time and covered it in detail in previous posts. However, there was one little bullet point in the press release that actually was big news to us email designers.

In the coming weeks, Microsoft will introduce an additional e-mail client option for Windows Live Hotmail with the release of Windows Live Mail beta, a free consumer e-mail client available via download that will be a successor to Outlook Express and Windows Mail on Windows Vistaâ„¢.

Holy crap! We’ve got a new email client to contend with people.

Windows Live Mail comes to the desktop

After some digging around, we tracked down an entire entry by Live Mail Program Manager Tanja Fournier about the new email client on the Live Mail blog. It’s always been a bit confusing to us. There was Outlook 2007, regular old Outlook Express, and then when Vista came we got Windows Mail. On top of this Microsoft have also been offering Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta from their Live Beta site since July 2006.

Thankfully, the press release points out that this new app will be the official successor to Outlook Express and Windows Mail on Vista, and will be built on the Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta foundations. This is great news, because this version in particular had seen loads of improvements since its release and was starting to shape up as a great desktop email client (pictured below).

Screenshot of the Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta

The new app will feature plenty of decent features like easy synchronization of Hotmail and POP accounts between the desktop and web-based versions and a cleaner, faster interface. That’s all good and well, but what are the implications for us email designers and marketers?

Unsubscribe and spam complaint integration

Screenshot of the Windows Live Mail Desktop BetaCurrently, Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta (pictured above) supports the Unsubscribe functionality we mentioned here last week, reducing the chance of false spam complaints and giving subscribers another way to unsubscribe from your lists.

The current beta also features integration into Hotmail’s junk mail feedback loop which already hooks directly into your Campaign Monitor reports. This means that we can report on any spam complaints made by Live Mail customers, whether they use the web or desktop version. Disappointingly, this option is off by default in the current beta, so let’s hope this is switched to the default option for the final version.

What about CSS support and image blocking?

We’ve done some CSS testing on the Live Mail Desktop Beta and can confirm that unlike Outlook 2007, it does in fact use Internet Explorer to render all HTML emails. This means it features almost perfect CSS support (yep, even position and float work nicely).

The problem here is, neither the press release nor blog post mention if this will continue with the new app coming in the next few weeks. Of course, given the fact that this release will be built on top of the Windows Live Mail Desktop Beta, there’s a very good chance the same rendering engine will be used. This is further backed up by the fact that Outlook Express and Windows Mail on Vista both use the IE rendering engine already. You can breath a tentative sigh of relief if you’re using CSS based layouts for business to consumer based emails.

Like Windows Live Hotmail (that’s the web-based version if it’s starting to get confusing), it appears that the desktop version will block images by default. We also noticed an option in the preferences to show images by default for any recipients in the safe sender list or the user’s contacts, following a similar path to the web-based version.

Key takeaways

  1. The new Windows Live Mail (for the desktop) is shaping up to be Microsoft’s best email client yet for email designers and marketers. You’ve got to love great CSS support combined with List-Unsubscribe functionality and feedback loop integration for spam complaints.
  2. No news yet on how strongly Microsoft will be pushing the new email client, but if it’s delivered via Windows Update as a replacement for Outlook Express and Windows Mail for Vista and promoted to all Hotmail users, this client could quickly become one of the most popular in the world. Right now we’ll have to wait and see how they play this one out.
  3. Giving consumers only one free email client (Windows Live Mail) is way better than confusing them with a choice between 4 possible alternatives.

We’ve been in touch with Microsoft about getting our hands on a copy of the final version of Windows Live Mail, and will post an update here the moment we find out more.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner - 4 Comments

It’s t-shirt voting time people!

OK, so we were hoping for maybe 3 or 4 funny suggestions from you guys for our upcoming t-shirt design. Forget that! 61 comments and more than 100 suggestions later, you guys have come up with some absolutely hilarious ideas that we can't wait to print.

We spent a few hours today casting an internal vote and came up with 9 of Freshview's favourites. It was a tough call and there were a few we didn't include because, while they were hilarious, they probably weren't something you'd wear to your grandmothers ;) So what are you waiting for, tell us which shirts you'd actually wear and we'll do the rest.


Cast your vote now


Thanks again to everyone who made a suggestion. We'll be sending those behind the selected designs a copy of each of the shirts we print, along with some free credits for their account and other goodies.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner - 1 Comment

Extreme Email Makeover, Vol. 4: Miroballi Shoes

Welcome to the fourth episode of our Extreme Email Makeover series with Dr. Mark Wyner. We’ll be running a series of email makeovers to help illustrate best practices for email design, layout and construction. Dr. Wyner will assess an existing email newsletter for ailments which can easily be cured with treatments in modern “medicine.” A patient’s vitals will be provided (email intent, target audience, etc.) and a diagnosis will be revealed. Finally a cure will be outlined, complete with a brand new email template designed and built by Dr. Wyner.

The Patient

Miroballi Shoes administers an email newsletter for their customers which announces product offerings, discounts and sweepstakes. The emails comprise brief advertisement-like messages and are deployed every month or two.

Email Clients

This is a consumer-based newsletter and thus we can safely assume the primary target clients are as follows:

  • Apple Mail
  • Thunderbird
  • AOL
  • Outlook Express
  • .Mac
  • Yahoo
  • Gmail
  • Windows Live Hotmail
  • Hotmail
  • Outlook

Note that while it is likely most consumers are reading these emails on their personal computers, some may be using typical office-clients such as Outlook. This has been considered as part of the markup development.

The Diagnosis

Exploratory surgery quickly revealed the culprit of the pain: a message entirely enveloped in images. This was a life-threatening condition which would require immediate surgery to stop the bleeding.

Design Ailments

The overall design of this email was clean, professional, appropriate for the audience and closely related the company’s website design. However, it was lacking scannable characteristics and missed key opportunities for the addition of secondary information. Dr. Wyner addressed the following disorders as part of his treatment:

[screenshot (fig. 1): original email template]
[fig. 1]

  1. Graphical text throughout (all information vulnerable to possible omission) and no “web version” link or best-practice “permission reminder” statement (learn why this is important).
  2. Overly consistent connection to website with contextually-irrelevant navigation.
  3. Missed opportunity for anchor links (quick access to items of immediate interest).
  4. Left/right alternate positioning can be controlled with graphic text, but not HTML text.
  5. Small, compressed graphic-text (impossible to increase size) and little visual distinction between subheads and descriptions.
  6. Location information (only point of sale) buried at bottom of email.
  7. CAN-SPAM Act messaging folded into disclaimer, no copyright notice and missed opportunity for a “forward to a friend” link.

It should be noted that this template was not only CAN-SPAM Act compliant (reference item 7 in fig. 1), but the patient went the extra mile for good health in adding a telephone number. The Dr. added a link to Miroballi’s home page for good measure.

Markup Ailments

The risks of sending image-based emails extend well beyond visual design:

  • Large file sizes trigger spam filters and increase bandwidth usage for mobile/dial-up recipients.
  • When images are disabled, the content is lost in its entirety.
  • Those with visual impairments are unable to access any content.
  • Recipients with small screen devices (mobile) either receive no content (stripped images) or an image reduced to a size in which the content becomes unreadable.

But the primary risk of sending a single-image email is the potential for legitimate emails to be filtered as spam. An emerging trend among spammers is a technique labeled “image spam,” whereby text is hidden within an image in an attempt to foil the filters. Though while it has been a successful technique for spammers, defenders are on guard with new systems to detect image spam.

Content management also becomes an issue whereby an author/editor must have a graphically-compatable application to create new editions or make modifications to existing content. Moreover, s/he must also have compatible fonts and the necessary skills to work in a said application.

Email Vital Signs

  • Standards-based markup: n/a
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance: perfect
  • File size: 244KB

The Cure

Simple ailments called for simple treatment.

[screenshot: new email template]

Treatment

  • Text-to-HTML: the graphic text was converted to HTML text to ensure accessibility and content readability, improve ease of use for content managers, reduce the overall file size and decrease the possibility of spam filtering.
  • Improve information design: secondary content (website navigation) and important location-information was relocated to a second column. Additional secondary-content (special sales) was also integrated in the new column to add overall value.
  • Experience-design evolutions: a set of anchor links was applied as an overview to the featured content and to enable quick access to items of interest.
  • Permission reminder: a preface was integrated to assist with previews/snippets and to help reduce spam flagging. A “web version” link was included therein.
  • Visual design evolutions: text formatting was enhanced to improve information scanning and segmentation.
  • Legal-messaging clarity: CAN-SPAM Act information separated from disclaimer notice, a copyright was integrated. A “forward to a friend” link was also implemented.
  • Addition of peer-to-peer functionality: a “forward to a friend” link was implemented to simplify information sharing.
  • Strong call-to-action: two scannable instances of the call-to-action were integrated, clearly exhibiting the intent of the email. The first instance includes a graphic for emphasis and the second instance is HTML text to ensure call-to-action visibility when images are disabled.

Email Vital Signs

  • Standards-based markup: yes
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance: perfect
  • File size: 20KB (8% of the original size)

Before and After

Let’s review some screen shots illustrating some key benefits of this surgery.

Thunderbird: plain-text view

[screenshot (fig. 2.1): email preview]
[fig. 2.1: before (left), after (right)]

These screen shots were taken in Mozilla Thunderbird in plain-text view. Looking at the original template (fig. 2.1, left) we can see how the image-based text renders the email unreadable for those using text-based clients.

Note how in the new template (fig. 2.1, right) all content is clearly readable because of proper, semantic markup.

Yahoo Mail: images disabled

[screenshot (fig. 2.2): email preview]
[fig. 2.2: before (left), after (right)]

These screen shots were taken in Yahoo Mail with images disabled. Looking at the original template (fig. 2.2, left) we can see how the content itself is disabled along with the images.

Note how the new template (fig. 2.2, right) all content is clearly readable because of proper, semantic markup.

Opera Mini webmail: images enabled

[screenshot (fig. 2.3): email preview]
[fig. 2.3: before (left), after (right)]

These screen shots were taken in Opera Mini webmail with images enabled. Looking at the original template (fig. 2.3, left) we can see that the content is essentially rendered unreadable.

Note how in the new template (fig. 2.3, right) most of the visual design is retained, anchor links provide an overview of subsequent content and all text is clearly readable.

Notes on Outlook 2007

People continue to ask about how emails hold up in the Outlook 2007 environment. So although this template is consumer based in nature, I thought it would be helpful to show a screen shot of its performance therein:

[screenshot: Outlook 2007]

Note that while we lose the floated images and graphic bullets (unavoidable), nearly the entire design is in tact. And it took a single-row, two-column TABLE to make it happen. So for those facing a requirement of design integrity within Outlook 2007, the minor degradation of web standards may be a saving grace in avoidance of a complete breakdown of sensible markup.

Summary

Dr. Wyner approached treatment from many angles. Speech therapy (accessible/semantic markup) to help the patient communicate via all email clients, minor cosmetic-surgery to make the patient visually appealing (because when we look good, we feel good) and reduction of fat (removal of image-based text) will make the patient’s heart and lungs happy (bandwidth).


Check out more handy work from Dr Mark

Don't miss the other makeovers in the series:

Read this post Posted by Administrator - 2 Comments

Some changes ahead on the webmail front

Over the past few weeks there's been a number of interesting announcements from the likes of Yahoo and Hotmail/Live Mail you guys might want to take note of.

The "Unsubscribe" button in Windows Live Mail

Windows Live MailThe first of these was news from Microsoft that they'll be integrating an Unsubscribe button into their webmail interface. While it sounds like a minor update, it's actually a very significant step towards reducing false positives from the "Report Spam" button. If you've ever got a spam complaint from a Hotmail recipient, you know what I mean.

There are a few conditions that will need to be met to ensure the Unsubscribe button is visible, the most important of these being that you'll need to be in your subscriber's Safelist or Contacts. We plan on making some small tweaks to our mail headers in the coming weeks to support this new functionality, and we'll give you plenty more details on how to take advantage of this feature then.

We've been pretty harsh critics of Microsoft lately, but they are leading the industry with this change and we take our hats off to them.

Yahoo! may be turning off images by default

The new Yahoo! Mail BetaWhile images are now off by default for the new Yahoo Mail! (currently in beta), rumours are abound that Yahoo! may plan on turning images off by default for the classic version of Yahoo! Mail too. Yahoo! have already explained that they won't be forcefully upgrading current users to the new version when it's released, but it will be the default for any new customers.

What does this mean for you? Not a great deal, because designing for images being off was already one of the most important factors in email design. Having said that, we ocassionally see some customers sending predominantly image based emails. Let this be another wake up call for you. For a full run down of image blocking in popular email clients, check out this post.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner

“Using Campaign Monitor has been an absolute pleasure”

My first newsletter campaign has gone off without a hitch, using Campaign Monitor has been an absolute pleasure. My client and I are especially pleased with the reporting functionality. I usually try to offer feedback on ways companies could improve their service, but I'm speechless when it comes to your software.

Not only do you provide a top-notch service but all the resources you provide me as a designer are very much appreciated as well. It's nice to work with a company that is interested in seeing you succeed rather than just taking your money.

Mike Bowzeylo, Base2 Studio

Read this post Posted by David Greiner

Campaign Monitor t-shirts: we need your help

We've had the idea for Campaign Monitor t-shirts in the back of our minds for a while now. Trouble is, coming up with a funny shirt is kind of hard, especially when it revolves around a fairly dry topic. But hey, if communism and couches can be funny, surely email marketing stands a chance.

Basically, we'd love to dish out free t-shirts to our favourite customers, anyone who gets in the gallery and maybe even sell a few on the site. Mat, our resident funny man has come up with a couple of ideas, but we think we can do better. We've decided to pass the buck on to you, our awesome, funny and good looking customers to help us come up with some more tagline ideas. Here's an example Mat came up with that we had a good chuckle at.

I'm single - forward me to a friend

Here's a couple of others he also came up with...

For the recently rejected:

I wasn't dumped....I was soft bounced

For the adventurous:

Ask me about my open rate

Come up with a better one and win some stuff

Think you can do better? Add anything you can think of in the comments below and those that we end up going with will receive a copy of all the shirts we print along with some email credits and a few other cool prizes we'll round up.

We don't really have any rules, but it helps if it's email marketing related in one way or another. Here's an email marketing glossary to get the creative juices flowing. No idea is too weird or too dumb, so please, help us!

Read this post Posted by David Greiner - 70 Comments

Big upgrade to the help system

We've just pushed a large update to the help system live that should make it much easier to find an answer when a question arises. The old system worked well for us when we launched, as there wasn't a great deal of content in there. Over the last few years we've obviously added plenty of new features with documentation to match, along with loads of tips and how-to's to get the most out of the app.

To make sure you can still get an answer out of the system as quickly and clearly as possible, we've made the following changes:

Categories now have sub-categories

We've split the bigger categories up into small chunks so it's much easier to scan the page. We're also listing a sample of the most popular topics in each category at the top to get answers to common questions fast.

Screenshot of a category in the new help system

Context-sensitive help

Screenshot of a category in the new help systemThis one was long overdue. If you hit the "Help" link from any page in the app, you'll be taken to the category related to that section of the app. Not only that, but we'll take a guess at the question you're probably going to ask and will highlight that answer at the top of the page.

This change should make it much easier to find the right answer in a single click rather than browse or search the entire help system.

Video walkthroughs

We've put together a series of narrated video walkthroughs (or screencasts, or movies, or moviecast thingies) that cover some of the main functionality in Campaign Monitor. Sit back and relax while we show you how to use custom fields and segments to send targeted campaigns or how you set up report access for each client.

Screenshot of the video walkthoughs in the new help system

On top of these updates, we've also made a public-facing version of the help system that any one can check out without being a Campaign Monitor customer. Now that these changes are live we'll continue putting together more help content to ensure you can get your questions answered on the spot as often as possible.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner - 2 Comments
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