Wednesday, October 26, 2005

This Chicagoan reluctantly roots for the Sox in the Series

Ah, baseball. That summertime game that leads to fall playoffs, and the pathos and drama of the Fall Classic, the World Series.

Over the decades the World Series has always been that bright spot when the days are dark. This year is no different. In the aftermath two horrific hurricanes to hit the U.S. in short order, two Cinderella-like teams face off in the waning days of fall -- the Houston Astros who have never been to a World Series, and the Chicago White Sox who haven't been in the Series since ... forever. Well, 1917, anyway.

Chicago is a rare two-team, with the hapless Cubs calling North Chicago home. The Sox call home on the Southside. You'd think that all in Chicago would be happy to root for a "hometown" team in the big dance.

But that's not so, according Aaron Freeman, a Cubs fan. In a hilarious commentary I heard on National Public Radio's All Things Considered today, Freeman admits he's a reluctant fan.

You can hear Freeman's commentary online here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Extreme path to product publicity

This is just too much. Some people have all the fun. It's rather bizarre. And it's a way to get exposure for your product.

It's Extreme Ironing.

Say what? From the website:

"...the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt."

But apparently it's not all just for the ironing -- or the danger. The sponsor behind it all? Rowenta, a German top-of-the-line steam iron and small home appliances manufacturer.

I stumbled across it at work. A guy there has a calendar posted on his cubicle wall showing people with their irons and ironing boards in all kinds of unusual -- extreme -- places -- mountain tops, sides and ledges, underwater...

Check the Galleries link at and you'll get the idea real quick. The Times Square photos show the publicity they got from Good Morning America and Fox News, among others.

There's even an entry in Wikipedia.

Makes me wish I'd thought of such an outrageous way to get product publicity.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Better email messages Part 3: How to write useful email subject lines

Edited 9.8.07 - updated these links
Part 1: Rule of One
Part 2: One-word subject not enough

A while back usability guru Jakob Nielsen published an article titled: "Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines."
It's an excellent article, useful and a quick read.

Here are some key points in brief:

  • Clearly explain what the article (or email) is about in terms that relate to the user... an ultra-short abstract of its associated macrocontent...

  • No puns, no "cute" or "clever" headlines...

  • No teasers that try to entice people to click to find out what the story is about. [Works in print, but not online.]

  • Skip leading articles like "the" and "a" in email subjects and page titles...

  • Make the first word an important, information-carrying on

Read the entire article online here.

Better email messages Part 2: One-word subject lines don't tell enough

Edited 9.8.07 - updated these links
Part 1: Rule of One
Part 3: Write useful subject line

The infusion of computers and the integration of email into our work and personal lives has done much to expose poor writing -- and thus poor communication.

I'm sure we all use email for informal as well as some more "formal" business-type communication. I've told people that I live and die by email. I rely on it heavily.

One of my pet peeves about email is the one-word subject line. For instance:

Subject: website

Ooookaaaayyy. What about "website"? Which website? Mine? Yours? Someone else's?

You've got a whole subject line. Why not use it? You can use more that a dozen characters. Is it really so difficult to string together a phrase of a few words to give more of a hint about the subject? How about this:

Subject: Broken links on blog website

Now that gives me a little more information. And because I don't like broken links on my website, to me this subject line carries more urgency and importance. This is something I have to pay attention to as soon as possible. Otherwise, it's ho-hum, OK, a message about "website," I'll get to it when I get to it.

Frequently in my reply I'll expand the subject line with the one word leading the subject, and then add a phrase that's adds more light, such as:

Subject: website -- broken links you told me about

I think the exercise here when writing a subject line is to put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and imagining receiving your message among the many -- maybe dozens -- of messages.

Ask yourself: What is it about my message that's important to the recipient?

Then write a subject line that will catch his attention.

Better email messages Part 1: Rule of One

Edited 9.8.07 - updated these links
Part 2: One-word subject not enough
Part 3: Write useful subject lines

I read something recently that got me on a roll. Here's Part One of three that all center around writing better, clearer, more useful email messages. And for the most part, the principles apply to blogging, too.

An article in a recent issue of Excess Voice email newsletter from web copywriting guru Nick Usborne hit close to one of my email writing pet peeves. The article is titled 'The "Rule of One" for Copywriters.'

While his article deals with web copywriting, the principles apply to communicating effectively in business (and other) email messages, too.

Nick's "Rule of One" has two parts:

1. Confine each communication to a single topic
2. Write to one person at a time

Number 1 above is the one that gets me -- I hate it when I get email messages that cover several unrelated topics. I usually end up breaking them out into separate messages. Don't get me wrong. A chatty message from a friend is one thing, but business correspondence is quite another.

Usborne makes the case that your message will be clearer and stronger when you confine a single topic to a single web page.

I believe the same holds true for writing effective business email messages. One topic per message. It will make it easier for you and your intended recipient to manage the topic at hand. Trying to cover too much ground confuses the reader, I think, and distracts from each of your other messages. If you have to communicate on several topics, I find that it's generally better to break them into separate messages.

Number 2 above is a good one to keep in mind, too. If in your mind you're addressing your message to a large audience, it's easy to start watering down your message and sounding too impersonal.

Usborne's point: Imagine one person sitting in front of you, and write your message to that one individual.

As he says in the article:

This is not a "copywriting trick". This is writing pages in a way that corresponds to how they will be read. It may sound obvious, but so many people lose touch with the fact that every page you write WILL be read by individuals with unique lives and needs.

No "group" will ever read your page. No "industry" will ever read your page. The web pages you write will always be read by individuals, one at a time.

Oh, yeah. That's also something I've had to remember as I blog. In general, one topic per entry...makes it easier to follow.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Wow! Where'd it go?

Well, I've obviously missed a few weeks of being here.

A lot sure has happened since I posted here last...Hurricanes Katrina and Rita...confirmation and appointment of a new Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court...

I won't bore you with the details of my life that have kept me away. But, I'm back! I'll be adding more here soon!