Who Sets the Standard? Email Newsletters Could Fail the "Test"

Meryl K. Evans

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The buzz word “standards” may cause an eyeball-rolling response, but without standards, we would have to buy specific media to work with our DVD, VCR and music player. Remember the software buying days, when you had to look for compatibility in terms of Mac versus Windows? Imagine having to do that with Web pages. This Web page is for Macs only … this one is for Windows. Thanks to W3.org, a body that sets recommendations for HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and other markup languages, we don’t have that issue.

Some sites, however, do look better in Internet Explorer than in Mozilla or Firefox. That’s because such sites use an Internet Explorer-specific markup language that is not standard. Let me explain. Let’s say the dreaded blink element is proprietary to Internet Explorer only (it’s not, but this is just an example). If an HTML page has it, and you try to view it in a browser other than Internet Explorer, nothing blinks on the page (not that we would want it to). This is a very simple example of what happens when a browser maker creates proprietary elements that works only with its browser.

Playing well with others

Creating proprietary markup code is much like DVD makers producing hardware that works only with a specific brand of DVDs. On one hand, it may encourage people to buy their DVD products. On the other hand, customers refuse to buy something that has such limits. Which would you rather have? A customer buying your product because it works with everything, not just item A, or a customer not buying your product at all because it works only with item A, which is also your product?

That’s the kind of thing we’re seeing with those popular single-cup brewers. I have a Home Café, which I received so I could review the product. The instructions explicitly say to use only Folgers or Millstone pods with the machine because using other brands will damage it. Yet, if you look at pods from Coolbeans.com or Starbucks, companies that don’t produce a machine, they are compatible with Home Café and other brewers such as the Senseo and Melitta.

I don’t like Folgers, period. So would Black and Decker rather me not buy its product because I dislike its partners’ pod brands, or buy it because I can use it with other standard pods? That’s why standards play an important role. They benefit all companies.

Does this mean a company can’t get creative? Not at all. Home Café, Melitta and Senseo look different. Two only brew one cup at a time while one can do two cups. The set up and usage are also different. The look and feel are distinctive. I’ve heard comments from people who prefer one brewer over another. If all single pod brewers work with any pod brand, then we have a choice based on which best meets our needs, just like with the standard coffee machines. Some love their Bunn. Some love their Braun. Some love their Krups.

Cars are the same way. The distinctive features, look and style separate one car from the others. But most of them run on unleaded gasoline. Imagine if we still produced cars using leaded fuel.

Standards for newsletters

So what about newsletters? Before sending this newsletter to you, we test it. Not in terms of beating it up and throwing it around like in the gorilla and suitcase commercials. Or running it into the wall with crash test dummies to test its safety.

Instead, we check for spammability as well as readability. How clean (or not) is the newsletter? Will it pass through the filters? Such a check looks at the fonts used, words and the markup code you don’t see unless you do a “view source. ”

Once while doing a test on a newsletter, we received a warning that it had “shouting markup. ” Wow. Not only do we have people who shout by capitalizing their text in email messages or instant messages, but we also have markup that yells. And apparently, it’s a bad thing in terms of filters.

When I write about Web design, I encourage using XHTML markup standards with CSS for layout. XHTML requires all markup uses lower case, as in Meryl K.Evans is the Content Maven behind meryl's notes , eNewsletter Journal, and The Remediator Security Digest. She is also a PC Today columnist and a tour guide at InformIT. She is geared to tackle your editing, writing, content, and process needs. The native Texan resides in Plano, Texas, a heartbeat north of Dallas, and doesn't wear a 10-gallon hat or cowboy boots.


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