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Microsoft Releases Study on Email and Online Communications Habits

3/14/2013 4:00:00 AM

Mashable.com recently released an interesting infographic created by Microsoft on the past, present and future of email.

Zendio Email Tracking v Microsoft Email Read Receipts

2/5/2013 5:00:00 AM

A common question we get is how Zendio email tracking differs from an email read receipt in Microsoft Outlook. We first addressed this question about a year ago in this blog post, but thought it might be time for a refresher. As we will explain, Zendio offers a far more robust and reliable service when it comes to tracking emails.

My Software Isn't Creepy

Posted Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Guest post written by Robert Dodd
Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2012/01/04/my-software-isnt-creepy/

Robert Dodd is CEO of XL Technologies, creators of Zendio, an email productivity tool.

Back in the 1990s, I walked a beat as a New York City street cop in Harlem. Let me assure you that during that time I saw a lot of genuinely creepy things that I’ll just leave to your imagination. Today, after leaving the public safety profession for the adrenaline rush of technology startups, I run a software company. We focus on solutions that help businesses communicate better with their customers, and one of our products, called Zendio, simply lets you know when someone has read your email or has clicked your enclosed hyperlinks. To my surprise, several reviewers recently called this useful feedback capability “creepy.”

Now, based on my prior career, I guess my definition of creepy might well differ from what other people think is creepy. So I’ve been trying to parse it out. Is creepy the same thing as unsettling? Is it a sense of alarm – that raising of the hairs on the back of your neck? That queasy feeling in your stomach? The things I saw during my NYPD career certainly produced such visceral responses, but Zendio is just technology! So I began to wonder – what exactly does it mean when a technology makes us feel “creeped out?”

I did some research and I’ve concluded that “creepy”seems to be a contemporary metaphor for invasion of privacy. More to the point, it’s that uncomfortable feeling that we have unknowingly given up our privacy and that someone (“Big Brother?”) is watching us without our knowledge.

Dr. Timothy Cahn, Ph. D. in Seattle says, “What constitutes privacy is constantly being redefined. What one society considers to be ‘private information’ another may not. Technology is also redefining privacy. And that redefinition is sometimes is prone to being influenced by the perception that the information is not being held private by peers and disclosure is now the norm –’if someone else is okay with revealing a certain amount of information, then I am okay with it too.’ Often times the very concept of what someone considers to be private may not be known until it’s too late, after the information has already been revealed.”

But as I reviewed the many examples of people saying they are “creeped out” by technologies they view as incrementally intrusive, I wondered why so many of us are simultaneously volunteering vast amounts of personal information, surrendering every last vestige of our personal privacy. We announce where we are while Tweeting or checking in on Facebook, or Foursquare. We give out our social security numbers when we forget our charge cards while shopping, and use supermarket loyalty cards that log our buying habits into giant data warehouses. Is that creepy?

In fact, I’ll bet we probably trade away little bits of our privacy every day in return for some kind of technology-enabled convenience, entertainment or expediency. Modern society has amply demonstrated its willingness to abandon its convictions for the sacredness of privacy whenever the usefulness of a service, technology or reward outweighs the perceived creepiness of the associated privacy intrusion.

But sometimes there are privacy choices we don’t even know we are making. When we surf through a cable operator’s program guide and use on-demand programming, the cable company monitors and records our actions, as does TiVo and other DVRs. Or the way our cell phones keep constant tabs on our locations, what texts we send and what phone calls we make and receive. In fact, the cell phone has become the greatest single way ever to quietly track an individual’s movements, thoughts and actionsr. The news about Carrier IQ software has shown the level of information that can be garnered. Yet each day we carry our phones everywhere without even giving it much thought because we are willing to trade value and convenience for our privacy.

Our product, Zendio, was created solely to solve a pressing business problem – to notify you when your sent e-mails have been opened. With it users have been able to close more business deals and increase the response rate to e-mail. The desire for people to know about the business correspondence they’ve sent existed long before Zendio was created. The USPS has long provided senders with a return receipt option. There are countless CRM and automated sales solutions that track the efficiency of their services by letting you know when sent e-mails have been opened. In fact two such services, YesWare and ToutApp, have launched since Zendio was introduced. And email has long offered “read receipts” (in fact Google Apps for Business was faulted for not including the feature until earlier this year).

So with the demand for insight into business correspondence well documented, what made multiple Zendio reviewers independently arrive at the adjective “creepy?”

Well, it seems that some people just don’t want others knowing about their e-mail reading habits – when they’ve read an e-mail, and where they were when they read it. Maybe some people feel that’s too much private information. Or perhaps they want to retain the right of plausible I-never-got-it deniability as a way of not responding to an e-mail message. Really, who among us hasn’t claimed some version of denial – including “must have gone into my spam filter” – to avoid an e-mail they just didn’t want to discuss right then (or maybe ever). I know I have. Zendio does take that possibility off the table, but does that qualify as “creepy?”

Clearly, when it comes to technology, today’s creepy often becomes tomorrow’s well-accepted, must-have technology. It seems there are few technologies that don’t evolve from creepy to cool or necessity – and the jump from creepy to cool can be fast. The iPhone 4S, for example, has been around for less than 60 days and if you do a Google search on “Siri” and “creepy” you find 3 million results some of it because Apple’s Siri servers also get your GPS location in addition to specific details on your e-mail, contacts, etc.

On the other hand, Apple has sold 4 million units. Clearly any degree of creepiness hasn’t put a damper on the market’s enthusiasm for Siri and the remarkable utility she brings to iPhone 4S users.

Customized news feeds that send you news based on your location and interests, Facebook’s automated face recognition, and the seemingly clairvoyant “if you like this, you’ll like this” features of Netflix, TiVo and Amazon are all examples of services that were once regarded as creepy but are now pervasive. So are those technologies creepy? Or is it just how people use them that is creepy? Does the possibility of nefarious use of virtually any technology outweigh its potential value?

I’m reminded of what former Facebook president Sean Parker once said about this very topic, “There’s good creepy and there’s bad creepy. And today’s creepy is tomorrow’s necessity.”

But I think it goes beyond just an evolutionary process whereby creepy becomes cool. I don’t think creepy is simply intrinsic in new technologies. I think perceptions of creepy are the result of assumptions and objections about how new technologies will be used for bad rather than good. For example:
  • Twitter can be used to change governments, or to embarrass a couple breaking up in a Burger King.
  • Cell phones can save people’s lives by helping public safety officers find you in an emergency, or to stalk people.
  • Transponders for highway tolls can speed a morning commute, or automatically nab you for speeding.
As I provide Zendio to grateful business users who want to do a better job following up with their customers and prospects, do I pay attention to their accolades or do I fret about the possibility of someone using it to be “creepy?” I guess I’ll ask this question: “Does a hardware store owner focus on the wonderful things that get built with the hammers he sells, or the person who might use the very same tool as a deadly weapon?”

Even though some are predisposed to seeing new technologies as being creepy, I certainly believe that technologies can ultimately improve the way we all live, learn, work and play. And given the well-worn path from creepy to cool, I intend to tune out the naysayers, and focus my efforts on the latter instead of the former.