Listening to Your Questions

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

July-August 2004


I love feedback!  Even negative feedback.  I answer all e-mail messages personally, but periodically, I like to put my answers in this column.

Q:  Your article on readnotify.com angered me.  How can you applaud a product that violates our privacy?

A:  My article on e-mail trackers obviously upset some people.  I got several e-mails similar to the one above.  I do understand that having e-mail surreptitiously tracked may be a violation of privacy.  I also understand that there are times that it is important to know that someone has received your e-mail.  For example, I e-mailed a student the other day in answer to his question about taking a make-up final exam.  I don’t allow make-ups since I teach upwards of 250 students a semester and make-up exams create extra work and are often ploys to find out the questions and answers prior to taking a test.  I e-mailed this policy to the student and when he showed up at my office ready for his make-up exam he protested that he had not received my e-mail and that it wasn’t fair to penalize him for a lost message.  I pulled up my readnotify screen and lo and behold he had received and read my message. He left chagrined.

I use readnotify sparingly.  Often it has saved my life on a major project.  Just last week I e-mailed a client a copy of his website with my critique.  When I saw that he had not opened it a day later I called and discovered that his spam filter had decided my message was spam.  After he changed his spam rules to allow my readnotify message through he was able to receive my web files.

Can you block readnotify messages?  I have not tried any of these options but several techie colleagues tell me that you can do several things.  First, you can set your e-mail program to receive only text messages.  This will eliminate the readnotify messages which use HTML (web-based) format.  Second, you can configure an autoresponder to send a message back to anyone who uses readnotify that states that you do not accept e-mail messages that include this function.  Third, you can set your spam filter to move these messages to a special folder where you can deal with them later by simply sending a message to the person informing them of your policy about e-mail tracking programs.  Fourth, you can use an “e-mail tracking blocker” program.  One such program (which I have not tried) is available for free at www.wizard-industries.com.  By the way, Wizard also has a free program called SureDelete that permanently deletes files so they cannot be retrieved later by any advanced techniques.  This is important if you are deleting sensitive material.

There are several other popular e-mail tracking programs including DidTheyReadIt.com and msgtag.com.  It is a different world out there and this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Q:  What can I do about the huge number of spam messages that I am receiving?

A:  Spam is a major problem.  PC Magazine estimates that more than 75% of all e-mail messages are spam.  My own recent study found that nearly 9 out of 10 e-mail messages are garbage.  I searched my usual reliable review sites and found out that there is no consensus at all about the best spam filter.  PC Magazine really likes SpamNet by Cloudmark.  In their rigorous test, SpamNet identified 98% of the spam and only made false positives (identifying a real message as spam) for less than 2% of the messages.  SpamNet costs $4/month and actually collects data from how their 900,000 users to continually update their definitions.  However, ZDNet liked Norton Internet Security’s built-in spam filter and also liked McAfee’s SpamKiller.  Spamfilterreview.com liked Spam Inspector.  These all cost between $30 and $40 list and can be found for much less online.  Before you make your decision, check which e-mail programs work with each filter.  All of them work with Outlook and most work with Eudora, Hotmail and online e-mail servers. 

Q:  I want to build a website for my practice.  Can you give me any pointers?

A:  I have built and maintained three websites for nearly 10 years.  To most people they seem like magic, but the reality is quite the opposite.  A basic website can be created in a matter of hours.  All you need is a web design program and you are ready to go.  If you have a word processing program you can create a website.  All you need to do is to type what you want and then save it as a web or HTML file.  You can also get a specialized program to create websites like Front Page or Dreamweaver.  They are easy and intuitive for the most part unless you want to do something fancy.  Regardless of how you create your site, you need someone to host your site which costs about $30-$40 per month.

I mostly use Netscape Composer to build my sites and to teach students.  Why? Well, the best reason is that it is free (go to www.netscape.net and download Netscape 7.2).  Also, it is easy to use, although it is limited in its ability to do anything fancy.

So, what do you need in a website?  Keep it simple.  Limit your material on the homepage to what can be shown on a normal browser screen.  Eliminate fancy backgrounds and graphics.  Have buttons on each page to help you easily go to other sections of the site.  For good advice visit Jakob Nielsen’s website at www.useit.com. 

The bottom line is to figure out what you like.  Visit other sites similar to your business.  What do they have that you want? How do they present the information?  What do you find difficult about the site?  The last question is really more general.  When I visit websites I get annoyed by certain things.  Slow loading large pictures usually convince me to use the back button quickly.  Large pages with lots of links drive me crazy.  Bad color combinations make my eyes water.  It makes me sad when someone asks me to review their site where they spent thousands of dollars and I have to tell them that it will drive customers away.  Don’t spend lots of money for bells and whistles you don’t need.

POSTSCRIPT:  If you have e-mailed me in the past month and I have not responded it is because my e-mail address no longer works.  It is a long, sad story, but e-mail me at LROSEN@CSUDH.EDU.


Copyright, 2004, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.