Archive for the ‘email’ Category

3 Rules for Perfect Email

Your career success hinges on writing easy to understand emails. Now more than ever, teams co-create via the written word versus in-person meetings. Mastering the art of writing great emails will improve personal and group communication thus spurring professional growth.

There have been many posts on the subject “getting to inbox zero,” which means various organizing strategies and productivity tools for managing an overflowing inbox.

This post is about a different angle to email management: shining a spotlight on the sender’s responsibility, not the recipient’s, for effective email communication.

Let’s face it, an email exchange becomes a TODO for the recipient. They have to read the message, and then, in many cases, respond to questions or clarify assertions. The sender needs the message to be remarkable in some way to get a faster reply. This means the sender must put some thought into how the message will be read and acted upon.

3 Common Sense Rules for Perfect Email Communication

  1. Subjects Matter
  2. Use Generous White Space
  3. Format the Message for Easy Replies

 Rule 1. Subjects Matter

Start with a specific, compelling subject line. Use three to five descriptive words to help your reader understand context without having to read the message. This will help them prioritize your update. Sometimes it takes more time to craft the message subject then the actual content.

Read more…

“Cloud Killed the (SaaS) Rock Star”

“Cloud Killed the (SaaS) Rock Star”…

… well, not literally, but definitely in a figurative sense.

The press release below is the all-points-bulletin heralding the cloud has “won.” Why do I say this? Because LiveOffice, a non-cloud SaaS start-up, couldn’t compete against the new generation of SaaS start-ups powered by true public cloud computing like Sonian.



LiveOffice was the rock star of SaaS archiving. Ten years in business and they deserve the credit as one of the pioneers to legitimize the SaaS market. When LiveOffice launched a decade ago, they had to operate their own data centers. (This is called “Co-located Powered SaaS.”) But during the past five years, the world changed underneath them. Usually, market dynamics cause this kind of disruption, but the SaaS archiving market size didn’t get smaller, rather it’s bigger than ever. What changed starting in 2007? The advent of the public cloud. Suddenly, any SaaS company running their own data center became vulnerable to competitors able to harness the cloud. This is the beginning of the cloud-powered SaaS era.

Seriously, I wish all the best to the LiveOffice team. Sonian and LiveOffice competed vigorously from 2008 to 2011. Symantec acquired a great team, and the fit between LiveOffice and Symantec makes a ton of sense, and it’s understandable why Symantec made the acquisition.

Although LiveOffice called themselves a “cloud archiving” company, that was stretching the truth. The cloud moniker is so overused at this point, the public is deceived into believing they are using a cloud service, when in fact, it’s really just re-packaging the same old SaaS with a new label.

Why did this Happen?

Operating a SaaS infrastructure on a pure cloud environment is vastly different compared to a co-located system; it’s the reason we’re going to see more of old-world SaaS companies change control or fade away. It will be exceedingly difficult to re-tool a co-located hosted SaaS business to use the cloud. Not impossible, but very difficult. The whole architecture would need to change. I say this having lived in both worlds — with the cloud battle-scars to prove it.

Read more…

When Chrome Tabs are my ToDo List


No matter what “time management system” du jour I use, my Chrome browser tabs become the default daily todo list. @sonian we’re multi-tasking on new features, new channels and solving some really challenging “big data” problems in the cloud.

Check out some previous posts on building for the cloud:

Email Address Sociology

This post is inspired by a recent Hunch study “What Your Email Domain Says About You.”

I’ve been in the “business of email” most of my technological career. In 1986 I setup some of the first “electronic mail” services on mini computer systems (Wang Office, DEC Office, AS/400) and quickly migrated to the then nascent Novell and 3Com networks and the very early email systems that paved the way for today’s web services that provide email functionality for billions of people world-wide.

25 years later email is “free” and we can choose from a number of providers that match our taste and means.

I’ve been thinking about this subject for sometime, and while it’s not a unique thought, here’s my take on how the email service provider you choose affects the way you are perceived as a netizen.

Most of us maintain several email address, often funneling all addresses to a single account, while still preserving the ability to send/receive as different identities. Usually the desire to maintain separation between business and personal lives drives this pattern. Or in other cases circumstances change, and an old email address with one provider is maintained because changing email addresses is hard to do. Let’s focus on the personal email accounts we all use since this is where our own choices are distinct from our “work” email address.

The “Cadillac” of personal email addresses is your own domain name. But that costs money (domain registration, annual hosting fees) and creates friction to mass adoption.  A very small percentage of people go this route, and usually because they are technical, or know someone close who can setup the domains and accounts. But I’m technical and still choose to use an email service from one of the big providers.

I own several domain name variations of my name (sorry to the other “greg arnettes” out there that I have your name combinations) but choose to use as my primary service. At some point I’ll move my personal domain to the Google Apps version of Gmail.

Recently I was talking with a CTO group about mixing business and personal email accounts and policies that their respective organizations enforced from the corporate information governance perspective. The conversation veered into this topic of what our personal email domains say about  ourselves. Basically the unintentional “message” that is conveyed about yourself based on your email address. It’s human nature to make subliminal snap judgements of others by all aspects of ourselves: the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the town we live in, etc. Now add your personal email address as yet another defining characteristic others will use to make assumptions.

The consensus among this technology minded group regarding the major email providers was:

  • Grandparents use
  • Moms and Dads use or
  • Your non-technical neighbor uses or
  • Apple aficionados and creative types use or
  • Technical and younger folks 15-30 use

It’s interesting how the audience is self-selecting to these different platforms based on age demographics and “tech-savvy” quotients. 10 years ago when broadband started to displace dial-up as the default Internet connection, the running joke in the tech circles was anyone with an address was a “net newbie.” Now the common perception is anyone with an is probably 55+ and / or not tech savvy. It’s also interesting to note that Gmail is almost always used by very technical people. Probably because Google created Gmail to “scratch their own itch” and the design and approach to inbox management appeals to those who can appreciate the advanced  conversation threading and other differentiating features.

Don’t Pile On Gmail… Yet

Gmail is under tremendous public scrutiny at the moment with their recent outage affecting .02% of the approximately 170 million active mailboxes. That is a staggering 3.4 million folks waiting for Google engineers to recover their data and allow access to their mailbox.

Google has been very open about the problem that led to this temporary data loss problem. Here is what we know so far: A software update to storage systems introduced a bug that caused data loss. The data loss occurred in the software layer, which means the sophisticated data replication scheme between multiple data centers (normally a positive architectural attribute) actually replicated the data loss and magnified the problem. Google did the right thing with “old school” tape backups, and at the moment dev ops engineers are restoring the missing data from tape. The story should have a good ending, although the inconvenience to potentially hundreds of thousands of people over the past 48 hours will cause hurt Google’s reputation. Fortunately for Google, our collective memories are short on theses issues, as long as this is a “once in a decade event.”

Welcome to the world of sophisticated distributed systems: Many pros and a few cons in this new way of designing large-scale systems that serve hundreds of millions of people around the world. And without distributed systems, everything from Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Office 365 and would not be possible to operate at scale and efficiency.

Many “anti-cloud” factions will jump on this outage with “I told you so’s.”  Google will definitely take some hits, but when there is a positive conclusion, then we’ll treat this as a learning experience, what we often hear as a “teachable moment,” and not the beginning of an anti-cloud movement.

The truth is, even non-cloud environments suffer these types of outages. If I were running my own email server and had a failure, it’s my responsibility to get resolution. I trust the Google brain trust to do a better job at data restoration than I would myself trying to recover data from backup tapes for a mythical small to medium organization. But in times of outage, and especially when you might be one of the affected .02% locked out of your account, there is legitimate outrage to the situation that something went wrong out of your control. When we collectively give up control to a third party we benefit from the third parties expertise, but also have to be patient while problems are resolved.

So let’s give Google engineers another day to recover data, read the post-mortems, and treat this failure as an industry-wide teachable moment on how to do better at web-scale distributed systems.

2011-2013, The “Hybrid IT” Years

Now through 2013 is the period  ”Hybrid IT” will help enterprises harness cloud computing. Hybrid IT is a new paradigm for IT management, enabling organizations to benefit from cloud computing’s low cost, infinite storage, and powerful and flexible central performance unit (CPU) platforms. All these positive capabilities are accessible while still preserving the idea of maintaining control of data as if it were stored on premises. Hybrid IT is a “win/win” scenario for both the IT manager and the chief financial officer.

From small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs) to the Fortune 1000, organizations will move parts of their IT infrastructure to the Cloud.  For the SMEs, Hybrid IT will level the playing field by enabling organizations to adopt strategic hierarchical storage management (HSM) and Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) features without breaking the technology budget. For larger enterprises, Hybrid IT will introduce new cost savings by allowing them to allocate portions of their storage environments to the Cloud and eliminate the hardware, software and management costs previously associated with keeping those activities on site.

New software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications built specifically for the Cloud will act essentially as an extension of the customer’s own data center. These Cloud-powered SaaS services enable organizations to strategically and tactically meld SaaS functions with on-premise servers. This is an important development on two fronts. First, the ability to use hybrid functions allows the enterprise to on-ramp into the Cloud without making a wholesale conversion. Second, the Cloud is perfect for back office applications that subsets of employees use. As businesses get more comfortable with the Cloud they can migrate more of their data processing needs to Cloud CPU and storage.

As a result of these technological advances, organizations will leverage the Cloud’s on-demand CPU to power through terabytes of content for large searches or deep analytics. With better business intelligence culled from employee generated content across the organization, businesses will unlock the previously inaccessible value of their data and gain new insights to their customers and operations.

As further evidence of this trend, Forrester published a January 2009 survey highlighting that over half of the respondents anticipated using a mixture of on-premises and cloud-based services for email and collaboration.

Cloud-powered archiving will help organizations focus on long-term growth initiatives. Cloud-powered archiving is an example of Hybrid IT service. The customer retains their existing messaging server on-premises, but uses a Cloud-based SaaS service to provide data archiving and analytics capabilities.

Hybrid IT is ushering in a new wave of computing that will be as profound as the change from mainframes to minicomputers or client-server to the web. Hybrid IT will also help leverage the Cloud in a way that is comfortable to the early adopters, while also satisfying valuable IT goals: Do more with Less.  Hybrid IT requires new software development skills and technology frameworks to build SaaS applications that can use the Clouds positive attributes: scale and low cost. To leverage the Cloud also requires new IT management skills for the individuals who manage SaaS applications, which will result in an enormous payoff for end users.

Interesting Number of the Week: 32 (we’re our own worst enemy re: email)

This weeks interesting number: 1 in 5 UK workers spend 32 days a year managing email. Courtesy of this vendor-sponsored report. Even with a 20% margin of error, this information management productivity statistic is eye-opening.

The 2010 Star Email Survey discovered that 19% of employees spend up to an hour each day managing emails, with a further 20% spending more than an hour each day, which is the equivalent of 32.5 working days per year.

Many established enterprise email technology vendors, as well as startups, have tried to offer solutions to help alleviate  email overload. But nearly all have either outright failed, or had to pivot to another market. Changing a large audience’s (over 400 million corporate email users) daily usage behaviors is challenging. In this endeavor we’re our own worst enemy; We want a more productive experience with our inbox, yet aren’t willing to invest the time to learn new methods, or allow new tools to help. And the new tools aren’t perfect yet, since the problem is so massive.

It feels like a “tipping point” event will happen soon. Something has to give… either people will accept change or the technology will get that much better and seem like magic.