Archive for March, 2008

5 ways to make sure that skimmers will read your email message

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Everyone knows at least one skimmer. Someone who doesn’t really read their email that closely, the person who reads enough to “get the point” but might miss a lot of the details.

The life of a skimmer is trecherous. They go to meetings and get asked a question “about that email that was sent yesterday” and have absolutely no idea how to answer. They never know what time the party is going to start, or who was invited, or what day it is going to be held.

Skimming causes problems. But for whatever reason, skimmers can’t stop. They might just think it’s ridiculous that people send long email messages. They might be “all about efficiency” or “impatient” or “don’t care.” The list of reasons is long.

I know some skimmers, and they are going to think this blog is about them. But it’s not. It’s about what happened to me when I became a skimmer and what I learned from the experience.

I am NOT the skimming type. I am detail-oriented, I read every word. I’m the person who explains what’s going on to the skimmers during the meetings. But with starting all these businesses, I have a lot of details going on at once. And a couple of weeks back, I forgot that my book club was meeting in a week and I still hadn’t bought a book.

My book club is a little non-traditional – it’s a history book club, we pick a different historical topic every time we meet, everyone reads a different book, and then we attempt to explain to each other what we read to try to surround the topic and get a better understanding of history. This is not because we are history buffs, but because – to put it kindly – our historical knowledge is somewhat lacking. In past book clubs, we have read about apartheid in South Africa, the time of the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong, and the Crusades. This book club topic was Cuba and Castro, which turned out to be very timely.

So I headed over to Amazon.com to search for a book on Cuba. I have learned my lesson in previous book clubs to not get a book that’s too long, or one that’s too intellectual – I wouldn’t be able to get through either in a week. I also know that the crowds are usually right, so I always go for a bestseller.

I Was CubaSo I searched on “Cuba.” The first book was a travel guide, I knew to skip that. Number 2 was a book called I Was Cuba: Treasures from the Ramiro Fernandez Collection, and it was under $20, had a 4.5 star rating with 12 reviewers. I clicked to the page to find out more. The book description said this, the full text is below. But to show you what I saw, I will BOLD the parts that I read (when skimming):

While most think of Cuba as a mythical island of rum, rumba, and revolution, period photographs reveal a more complex place. I Was Cuba is an original look at Cuban history as seen through the Ramiro Fernandez Collection arguably the world’s leading archive of Cuban photos and ephemera. I Was Cuba showcases rare, vernacular images from the nineteenth century through the revolutionary period, exploring the everyday and the eccentric. With texts from famed Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas (Before Night Falls), this captivating volume is an intimate view into a bygone era of glamour, political upheaval, and astounding visual culture.”  

I bought the book. When it came, I found that this was not a book that I could read for book club – because there were no words. The “texts” were few and far between, and were simply short quotes. This book was a collection of (random, interesting, but not even that historical) photographs.

I bought a picture book for my book club.

Cuba thumbnails

And I was caught – a skimmer!

This experience helped me realize that being a skimmer is painful. But that sometimes everyone is going to skim. However, since I don’t want skimmers to skim when they are reading something that I wrote, especially an email, I need to work to combat skimming every way that I can.

So here are the five things that that you can make sure that your email messages get read by skimmers:

1) Put the point of the message in the subject line. Don’t waste the subject line with “hey” or “hello.” Put the subject of your message right in the subject line.

2) Make your point in the first sentence. Don’t take a long time to get to the point or explain background – you can do that later. Make the point in the first sentence of the first paragraph of the message.

3) Elaborate in the rest of the email – but keep your main point in the first sentence of each paragraph. Sometimes skimmers will “read” the whole email by reading the first sentence of each paragraph – so keep your main point up top.

4) If there is something that someone must read and it’s not at the top of the message, use the person’s name, in bold. And maybe underline it. This might offend a non-skimmer just a bit, but the skimmer is sure to notice their name bolded. Skimmers look for bold and bullets – they are a skimmer’s lifeline – so use them for important points in your email message. Because when she’s skimming a long email, Melissa I need you to do this, will really stand out.

5) Put a call-to-action before your signature. At the very end of the message, if there is some action that needs to be taken based on the message, remind the person at the end. “Please call me by the end of the day tomorrow.” or “I need your list of suggestions by noon.” That way the skimmer will know that they need to do something with the email, and your chances of getting a response will go way up.

And don’t follow my example and put a long personal story before the five main points in your message – the skimmers will never get that far.

Guy Kawasaki practices what he preaches

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Guy Kawasaki just formally released his latest project. It’s called Alltop and it’s getting widely panned across the Internet. Michael Arrington doesn’t like it, and neither do these people. (Although some people like it.)

Alltop basically is simply lists of blogs and publications, organized by category. Kawasaki calls it an “online magazine rack.” The most popular criticisms of the project are that it’s a redo (of popurls and Original Signal) and that the format neglects all the benefits of RSS.

The art of the startEliminating a discussion of whether the site is good or useful or worthy of attention, I find this launch particularly interesting because I just started reading Guy’s book, The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything. And it’s not often that you get to read a book about starting companies while the person who wrote the book is starting a company. So here’s my take on that aspect of the launch.

(Major Disclaimer: I am only on page 31, so my analysis of the book is going to be weak, and is not the point anyway!)

Guy says: “Make meaning – create a product or service that makes the world a better place.”

Does he do it?  I would say yes. According to the official announcement of the release, the “goal is to satisfy the information needs of the 99% of Internet users who will never use an RSS feed reader or create a custom page.” This is a pretty meaningful purpose, and one that I can really relate to as most of the people I know in my non-work life do not use RSS or even know what it is.

Guy says: “Make Mantra. Forget mission statements…instead, take your meaning and make a mantra out of it.”

Does he do it? Heck yeah. Check out this catchy mantra – “aggregation without the aggravation.”

Guy says: “Get going. Start creating and delivering your product or service….Don’t wait to develop the perfect product or service. Good enough is good enough. There will be plenty of time for refinement later. It’s not how great you start – it’s how great you end up…The wisest corse of action is to take your best shot with a prototype, immediately get it to market, and iterate quickly.”

Does he do it? YES! And I think that this is the No. 1 best thing about this launch. Guy didn’t wait until the product was perfect, refined, pretty and loved-by-all to launch. It was “good enough” and he let it fly. Now, he’s getting unbelievable feedback and commentary by everyone who is watching the launch. Love it or hate it, the feedback is real and immediate, and I bet that tomorrow he’ll be working on version 2.

Verdict: Guy Kawasaki practices what he preaches – at least what he preaches in the first chapter of his book.

Gen X & Gen Y: How can we all get along?

Friday, March 7th, 2008

I recently had this conversation with my Gen X friend (disclaimer: I am also in Gen X) that went something like this:

Friend: This intern, she would just come to work whenever she was available.

Me: You mean, she didn’t come in during her regularly scheduled hours?

Friend: No! She would call and tell me that she “Had class,” or “Something came up.” She just wouldn’t come in. She was an intern, we gave her this job, which was a pain in my butt to organize and manage, and she didn’t show up!

Me: So what happened?

Friend: She eventually asked me to meet with her and said “I’m sorry, but unless you have a specific project for me, I don’t think that I can keep working here.” I was psyched! I told her that the internship wasn’t working out, that I was sorry and that I wished her the best of luck. But good riddence!

Me: What was her deal?

Friend: She’s Gen Y.

Gen XGeneration X – Those born from approximately 1961 to 1981, 51 million people.

Generation Y – Those born from approximately 1981 to 1995, 75 million people.

There are some pretty significant differences between workers from Gen X and workers from Gen Y (just as there were differences between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers). There are also some pretty significant stereotypes and perceptions floating around on both sides. We may not always get along, but we do always need to understand each other to be able to work together.

In the spirit of teamwork, here are some generalizations about each generation that may help. (Remember – these are generalizations, which means that they will not apply to everyone!)

Generation X: 

  • Move in and out of workforce to accommodate career and kids.
  • Practical and pragmatic.
  • Self-reliant, individualistic.
  • Want flexibility & freedom.
  • Don’t trust institutions.
  • Want to learn and have new work experiences.
  • Value relationships over work.

Gen YGeneration Y:

  • Pampered, nurtured and programmed with a slew of scheduled activities since birth.
  • High-performance. High-maintenence.
  • Believe in their own worth.
  • Question everything.
  • Like to work on a team.
  • Want a structured and supportive work environment.
  • Tech-savvy.
  • Financially smart.
  • Think work-life balance is essential.
  • Line between work and home is blurred.
  • More than half move back home after college.
  • Friendship is a strong motivator.
  • Searching for meaning.
  • Internet super-users.
  • Incredible multi-taskers.

So how does this all combine when Gen X and Gen Y are working together (which is fairly standard these days)? Here are some great resources that are must-reads for understanding the dynamics of working with someone outside your generation:

The Rising Rift Between Gen X and Gen Y
Gen Y, Gen X and the Baby Boomers: Workplace Generation Wars
Generation Y Rules: The Flexible Workforce Revolution
Management Techniques for Bringing Out The Best in Generation Y

If you have a favorite article on this topic, please leave a link in the comments.

X photo by PixelFixer
Y photo by exfordy

What is Twitter?

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

I have been wanting to write about Twitter for quite awhile, to try to explain it to all the (many, many) people who I know who don’t use it (and probably haven’t even heard of it), but now I don’t have to thanks to this video by Common Craft.

If you want to know what Twitter is, watch the video. You still won’t really get it until you join, but at least you’ll have more of an idea as to why people sign up.

I currently use Twitter to find out what’s going on in the industry. I would like to use it to follow friends and business partners, but when I initially checked to find out who in my address book was on Twitter, only one person showed up.

Of course, I have “met” many other people through Twitter, and I am able to follow many of my favorite bloggers who use the service. I also find that Twitter is a great way to stay informed when something big is going on, or when I want to find out specific information about a city I am visiting, or if I need to get feedback about a story that I’m working on. But it would be really cool if I actually knew people who used the service.

I kind of doubt that is going to happen anytime soon.

But if you read my blog and use Twitter, add me and I’ll follow you! @mchang16

And if you don’t know what the @ symbol means, don’t worry – you’ll catch on!

Ziff Davis MEDIA files Chapter 11

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Ziff Davis Media logoI just read the news that Ziff Davis Media is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. I worked at Ziff Davis until July 2007, but on the Ziff Davis Enterprise side of the company, as opposed to the Ziff Davis Media side of the business, a distinction that I’m sure the enterprise folks will be working hard to make in the next few weeks.

Ziff Davis Enterprise – which was spun off from Ziff Davis proper at the end of July 07 when it was sold to Insight Venture Partners – is made up of the Web Buyer’ s Guide, eWeek and the eSeminars groups. Ziff Davis Media is comprised of the Consumer (PCMag.com, ExtremeTech) and Gaming (1Up) sides of the business.

It’s too bad that this day came, but I doubt that many people at the company (or in the industry) are surprised. Ziff Davis Media has had trouble with its debt for a few years now, and the selling of the Enterprise group was seen by many as the last chance for Willis Stein to salvage some money it invested when it bought the company for about $780 million in 1999. As the consumer and enterprise groups were splitting, those of us on the enterprise side of the company almost had the feeling of abandoning a sinking ship, that the Enterprise Group was taking the one opportunity it had to get off the boat before it went down for good.

Cara Austin back in stock

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Just a quick note for those of you who read my take on Cara Austin’s debut CD and asked me to let you know when the CD was back in stock at Amazon.com – they are available now. Or you can find it at the Web site: www.CaraAustin.com.

Get one while they last!