Archive for May, 2010

LOL at Web Hosting TOS

Posted: May 31, 2010 in Technology

I was doing a little research today on secondary webhosting services for the purpose of expanding my vast network of websites and blogs. I keep my main websites on a very reliable host – DowntownHost.com, great service by great people over there, can’t say enough good things about them. But I regularly throw up “supporting” sites and throw-away domains on other hosts to spread linking across multiple C-blocks, you know how that goes (please don’t tell Google). Well, I had a chuckle at the terms of service of a couple of web hosting services today.

JustHost was looking like a reasonable second tier hosting company to add to the stable, until I got to this line in their terms of service:

“Safe lists” and “double opt-in” will be treated as spam. Any user who sends out spam will have their account terminated with or without notice.

LOL, you know of course that double opt-in is the antithesis of spam. It’s the only 100% sure way of proving that you are not spamming because someone must signup for you to send them email and then confirm that they signed up by clicking a link in a confirmation email. So you have a clear record of them doubly opting in that they can’t really dispute and claim you are spamming. I was kind enough to email JustHost to point at that either their TOS contained a glaring error or that they don’t know what they are talking about. Well, maybe I wasn’t so kind in my email after all, but the lulz were good.

So I moved to the next candidate, WebHostingPad, and they were looking ok, too. Then I got to this section of their TOS:

Credit Card Disputes/Chargebacks
WebHostingPad has a zero tolerance policy for chargebacks. Any customer who disputes a credit card payment is subject to a fine, suspension and account termination at WebHostingPad discretion. A charge of $25.00 per chargeback will be assessed to all accounts that receive a chargeback.

Ok, don’t get caught in a recursive loop there just because they seem to be. If I read that right they are going to charge you if you do a chargeback. Which means they would charge the same credit card that you just did a chargeback on? Well, then you would chargeback that charge, right? And then they would charge you again for the second chargeback? Infinite loop it seems, at least until the credit card company decides they are complete fools and does a Ctrl-C on their merchant account. This must be one of the funniest terms I have seen. I didn’t bother mailing them to let them know that I thought their terms were too funny to take them serious as a hosting provider.

Maybe I’m bottom feeding and need to move up the food chain a little for secondary hosting providers.

And an update: JustHost emailed me back and said no, that is not a mistake, they really do consider double opt-in spam. I think that is double lulz.

Everybody is a brand manager

Posted: May 29, 2010 in Business

Maybe it is my training as an engineer that makes me roll my eyes at all those people who find it so easy to claim expertise in soft skills, like “brand management” for example. I mean, everybody has an opinion, and it’s easy to make claims about what will and won’t make a brand and lead to sales, particularly since brand building takes so long and has so many variables that it is next to impossible to measure the results of any single thing you do, and very easy to attribute success to something that may have little at all to do with it.

It stands in such stark contrast to so much technical work where you actually have to make something work, and when it doesn’t work it is immediately obvious. Take website building, for example, something I dabble with strive for excel at these days. The design and functional aspects of a website are in-your-face, they work or they don’t and it is immediately obvious as soon as you publish a web page. What about the branding for your web presence? I’ve worked alongside a few self-proclaimed brand managers and some of their direction and advice has been not so great.

Consider the case of evolving a brand to be somewhat more expansive but still encompassing the original brand image. What should you do with your existing list building efforts? According to one brand manager you should suspend your newsletters and wait until the new brand book is complete, not worry about losing your subscribers because the brand is changing, and then start over with list building. I think this is rather poor advice. That list is so valuable you should be constantly building it and keeping it engaged. Subscribers who are already engaged will follow you to the new brand since it still encompasses the old one. I think that kind of advice comes from someone who has never done list marketing and has no concept of how valuable it is.

Another thing that sticks out as a big issue is putting resources in the wrong places. A brand manager insists you must make your company look big and impressive with a very flashy website design that has big name security certification badges featured prominently in the online store. Big ticket items those are, and they undoubtedly make a big difference in sales conversions…provided anybody sees them. But when you have very little traffic to your website to begin with then what difference does that multi-thousand-dollar theme make? A good clean design that is fully functional, conveys the brand, and has a basic SSL certificate for secure purchases is all you need to make a good go of it. Once you have steady traffic and sales you then start split testing changes in the design and evolve to a bigger look and feel. In the early stage, however, you need traffic so put your resources there. Get the mechanics busy driving targeted visitors to the site. Make sure the traffic builders internalize the brand document first so they are targeting the right audience, but then send the brand manager on vacation until there are actually enough customers that you can measure the results of changes. Otherwise it is all speculation.

Those are just two examples of brand management in action. I’m talking about e-commerce, of course, where it is often quite efficient to measure results. That’s key, being able to measure. Is it this bad in meatspace? Maybe worse because it is often harder to measure.

A few posts ago I wrote about how I implemented a Drupal newsletter archive that is based on using Mailchimp but keeps the archive on my own domain. It works fine and is easy to use – I feel like it is even a bit elegant in its simplicity. However, I feel it perhaps a bit awkward in one sense because if you decide you need to make some adjustments to your campaign you must jump over to your Mailchimp account instead of being able to control everything within you Drupal site.

Now some bright individual has kicked off development of a new Drupal module called Mailchimp Campaign to do just that, allow you to create campaigns within your Drupal site. I am just hoping that this means that newsletters will be created and archived on your Drupal site, like the way I set up my newsletter archive solution, along with giving you full control of campaigns without ever leaving your site.

I guess you would call Marc Faber a financial guru who makes some rather accurate predictions of economic events. I’ve never followed him before but I think I should, particularly since he is based in Chiang Mai and has some very insightful things to say about Thailand’s political and economic situation. Here is a recent interview of Marc Faber by Bloomberg’s Tom Keene and Ken Prewitt.

I was rather amazed at how widespread the rebellions against the new health care law is when I looked at that health care rebellion map. However, I’ve also been wondering what is the basis for the lawsuits. I saw a short post today about Virginia’s lawsuit that spelled out their position rather simply. It’s this:

“The federal government is forcing citizens to buy health insurance, claiming it has the authority to do so because of its power to regulate interstate commerce via the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. We contend that if a person decides not to buy health insurance, that person – by definition – is not engaging in commerce, and should not be subject to a federal mandate.”

And this:

Just being alive is not interstate commerce.

Kind of interesting, and quite simple actually.

I’m still staying out of the debate about the protests and riots in Thailand. But I am watching with interest the reporting of the events in western media. It seems to be quite sensationalized in some places, mostly with the angle of the underclass’ struggle for democracy. It’s much more complicated than that but the details, even if they were understood by western journalists, wouldn’t sell newspapers or grab attention on the evening news in the U.S., UK or Australia.

Here is an example I just saw, thanks to a tweet by British journalist Richard Barrow who has been tweeting profusely all during the Bangkok crisis while sometimes in the midst of gunfire and grenade attacks. Earlier today the online edition of Australia’s ABC News had a story with the headline “Jailed Aussie ‘braved bullets’ for Thai peace”. Here’s a screen shot of the story (click image for larger size).

Sounds like he was quite a hero, doesn’t it. However, if you read the story and look at the included photo you realize that this guy was involved in the red shirts’ protests and appeared onstage making rather inflammatory speeches, and what followed later was wide scale arson and gunfights with some protesters using M16 rifles and M79 grenade launchers. Hmm, I’m not so sure setting fires is something most people would consider heroic. How does that headline reconcile with the story? Well, if you missed it upon first read the ‘braved bullets’ part is in quotes because they are quoting what the Aussie said. He’s calling himself a hero, ABC News isn’t. But that headline seems a little sketchy, as if it is meant to deceive.

Then about two hours later the headline of the story was changed to “Aussie claims he braved bullets for Thai peace”. Here is how it looks now.

Ok, so it’s cleaned up now, doesn’t mislead. But one wonders if the intent was to mislead. Many people are going to just skim the headlines and remember the impression they got without reading the story carefully.

Penalizing healthy people

Posted: May 24, 2010 in Health

When I was young and single I worked for a large technology company that provided very good health insurance plan options. Each year we would re-enroll by choosing from several options for which our cost and the company contribution was clearly spelled out. I always bristled at the fact that it was a flat rate for all employees despite the very obvious differences in health care costs. I was active, thin and a non-smoker while some of my office mates overweight, sedentary and heavy smokers who were clearly close to being on their last legs. The obvious differences in lifestyle choices were clearly reflected in the obvious differences in health. Yet none of that was ever a consideration in company or individual contribution to plan premiums.

Are things any different now with the enforced mandatory purchase of health insurance by Americans? I mean, is there any connection between health care cost and premiums under the current plan? Does a healthy person who lives a healthy lifestyle pay the same as an overweight person who has unhealthy habits? There really should be a strong correlation between lifestyle and insurance premiums. That is the only way to move more of the resources from “sick-care” to “health-care”. It should be a requirement that a person have a physical examination each year and assessment made of their overall health and lifestyle choices. It’s pretty easy to identify an overweight person who smokes, and those people should pay substantially more for insurance and face a substantially higher penalty for not buying insurance.