Atwood: Hey, OK Joel, how long have you worked with me now? Do I strike you as the type of person who's gonna file my taxes like the first day I possibly can? Does that strike you as at all possible?
Spolsky: No that doesn't strike me, also remind me that [laughs], you're right that makes no sense.
Atwood: [laughs] sorry
Spolsky: You know, is there a date between April 15th and April 16th I can use?
Atwood: Oh that's bad. It's amateur, it's amateur
Spolsky: Also, we should remind our listeners we need an underwriter for this show. This is sort of like NPR. All these bandwidth costs and stuff are just being absorbed by The Conversations Network. If you are interested in underwriting this show, you get a little announcement in the beginning. It's really really appreciated; so contact, you know, us. Go ahead and email podcast at stackoverflow dot com and I'll forward it to the appropriate people who are of course Doug Kaye.
Atwood: Yeah, The Conversations Network has to be clear. People need to get this straight: it truly is a non-profit organization. They are doing this for the greater good of the world. It brings you this content for free.
Spolsky: And it's not really an advertisement either. It's sort of a public announcement in the beginning, like they have on public radio.
Atwood: That's right
Spolsky: Anyway there we did that in the beginning, so now on to the news of StackOverflow.
Atwood: Yes. So some StackOverflow happenings. We did roll out some email support in a very basic rudimentary way. It's working now. So the way it's working now... I am going to make some changes to this today actually. If you haven't been to the site in 7 days, we can see that. And if there has been activity on your stuff... in other words if people have responded to your questions or commented on your posts, we will email that information to you every 7 days. So that's in fact, in part, default behavior. But I do want to offer people, like at they are signing up for the first time that checkbox "notify me by email if any updates to this question" I want to give people way to opt in because I something unorthodox, I guess you'd say, with the email in that in order to test it and in order to sort of rekindle a relationship with people who haven't been to the site in like multiple months, I kinda turned it on for people who hadn't been to the site in a long time.
Spolsky: That sounds like you'd get the death penalty if you did something like that.
Atwood: Yeah. I realize it was morally ambiguous. For that I apologize. But the thing the people who have been gone in a long time, I don't think they realized they had the option, right. Plus, we are sending them stuff direct responses to them. This is in no way a marketing email from us. It is just that your activity, stuff.
Spolsky: If there has been no activity, you would not get an email.
Atwood: You would only get an email if there is activity in your stuff since the last time you had been to the site. And I do want to make it more visible so you can opt in. And we do have a one-click unsubscribe. Like literally it's one click: you click and BAM! you are done. No take a survey and... you know, have you ever got one of those emails for those unsubscribe things. Like you click on unsubscribe and it's like the form... it's like the voting ballot in Florida in 2000.
Spolsky: They want you to log on, and your like, log on?
Atwood: Do you not want to not get email ever again? You're like "what?"
Spolsky: Choices are "Cancel" and "Maybe"
Atwood: "Okay" or "Cancel" and what does this mean? I went through and I unsubscribed for a bunch of stuff on one of my other email addresses. Which does work, by the way. A lot of people say, for spam email, that if you go in and unsubscribe than that just means they send you more mail, but for most reputable companies, that is not, in fact, true. So, in order to reduce the volume, I went through and I clicked ten different companies, unsubscribe, and only one, or maybe two, had the true one-click unsubscribe. Which I thought was unconscionable, how can you not have a one-click unsubscribe? Why even make me take a survey, or figure anything out, just do it!
Spolsky: I'll tell you what happens, is that first of all there are just slime balls. But the other thing that happens, if you just have a one-click unsubscribe is you better have a re-subscribe right there, because people will just click that link by mistake, then they'll say "Oh no, unsubscribed!" And then they'll call you, because they'll panic.
Atwood: You've actually had this happen?
Spolsky: Sure. Because every Joelonsoftware email has two links, a link to the article, and a link to unsubscribe. Because people are like "yeah, Joelonsoftware" and they're just so giddy, their hands are shaking, and they click on that unsubscribe link, and they're like "uh-oh". So we do unsubscribe you on the spot, and then below that it says, if you've unsubscribed by mistake you can resubscribe right now, don't worry. And a lot of people do resubscribe right there, because they've unsubscribed by mistake.
Atwood: This begs the question, why not just include the article, why make them click through, at all?
Spolsky: What do you mean?
Atwood: It's not like you guys sell advertising.
Spolsky: Why isn't the article in the email?
Spolsky: I don't know, it's always sort of... You know, the article might have pictures... I guess I could send HTML mail.
Atwood: You can do that, that works works. You would just have an extra click to enable HTML images. It totally works. That's what I would recommend, just send them the article. Particularly because you guys aren't really selling advertising, so you don't really need them to go back to the site.
Spolsky: If they go to the site, they might hang around, click on some of the other links.
Atwood: Oh I see, now you've become one of the scamming! It's a very fine line.
Spolsky: You're the one who's force subscribing all kinds of innocent people.
Atwood: I did do that, and I apologize. But, you know the funny thing is, I didn't get a single complaint, which was good. It was a one-time thing, to be clear, I'm not going to go through and turn anybody else on. It was just these people who hadn't been in a long time. And plus, to be honest, I wanted to test.
Spolsky: They did sign up with their email address. You could have tested it with me.
Atwood: Well we did, obviously, we tested it with ourselves.
Spolsky: I think that if you have provided your email to a website, in order to sign up for an account, that getting an email from that site is not really spam. You did sign up, you gave us your email, and you're getting something about the website that's not spam.
Atwood: Well I think it's like so many things. Like advertising, if you do it in a tasteful way, I don't think people mind. It's just that so many people screw up, and they do it in the most obscene, horrible way possible.
Spolsky: Yeah, but there are general principals of what consitutes spam. And I think having a relationship with the organization, having provided address to them. Getting a notification about something about the organization, not trying to sell you something else, are all mitigating factors, so that's why you didn't get complaints. Plus it didn't matter, because it went right in their spam folders.
Atwood: Well, speaking of that, we did have to enable - Jeff Daleges taught me about this - the reverse PTR record, which is something at the ISP level. You have to actually call your ISP, or email them.
Spolsky: You shouldn't have to, it's a DNS thing, it's just in DNS isn't it?
Atwood: It's at the ISP level, though, you don't have access to their console.
Spolsky: The ISP has to do work to DNS. So your IP address has to be reverse-lookupable into some thing the DNS says is indeed yours. Most ISP's, our ISP certainly has a console where you can just plug in that information.
Atwood: Oh cool, but I didn't know that. And it sounds like that's the number one thing that sets you apart from the average spam mail. So you actually have a valid reverse-PTR record that can be looked up and validated. To say that, okay, you actually did send this email.
Spolsky: There's a lot of people, there's a whole industry called the "deliverability" industry that specials in all the tricks you have to do to get your email through spam filters.
Atwood: Right, and it's not easy, the whole spam war, and there's a lot of collateral damage, to put it mildly.
Spolsky: One thing which I do, especially when you're emailing programmers, to get through filters, put a keyword in the subject that's unlikely to be a keyword in spam. So, in my case, it's joelonsoftware, in square brackets. Something that people can write regex, so they can whitelist you, or so that they can train their Bayesian filter.
Atwood: Right, so that's why we title our's Viagra.
Atwood: People can help each other; on a one to one basis. Let me give you a crappy example from high school, but I think it totally emphasizes the human factor here. We were sitting in this high school English class and this girls says: does anyone have any gum?
Atwood: Right, she is just asking the room. She is not asking a person. And of course, nobody steps up and gives here any gum.
Atwood: Then she turns to the person next to her and says: Joe, do you have any gum? And he's like: here is some gum. This is what I am talking about. Like you have to have that personal relationship cause people don't ignore each other. They ignore...
Spolsky: That's a principle. That is a psychological principal called the "diffusion of responsibility". Because she was asking the whole room, the responsibility to answer was diffused.
Atwood: Yes, exactly. And I think that's what: If you give them a couple of copies of "Code Complete" and it's like "read it whenever". You know - maybe I read it, maybe I won't . But if you sit down and actually go through the code, the principles. You take your code and you say here in the book: we talk about "don't repeat yourself" and here in the code we have the same code in two places. It is a much more interactive and much more helpful on a one to one basis. I think that is really the only way to help programmers like that.
Spolsky: You know, this is sort of an interesting question. Because it sounds to me like the problem is that this person is not really motivated.