Web Informant #223, 8 November 2000:
Remind Me


When your coffee pot starts sending you email reminders that it needs servicing (or just a new supply of grounds), then you know that things have gone to a new level of connectedness.

No, I am not making this up. Introduced this week at Interop Paris, you can read all about it here.

I remember when the Interop engineers of yore would connect a toaster to the network and manage it with SNMP software. Ah, the good old days of networking. But this is a real product from espresso maker Lavazza.

Coffee machines aren't the only things sending reminders these days. In fact, my email box is filled to overflowing with various automated reminders. I have reminders from My.Subaru.com about when it is time to service my car. My.Yahoo.com reminds me of family birthdays and other significant events. Webpartner.com tells me when my web site is unreachable to the world. Amazon.com sends me email when my favorite authors have new books, or when they think I might be interested in buying a new CD or video, based on my previous purchase history. Wine.com reminds me when they have a new bottle of wine that I might be interested in, Playbill.com sends me notices of discounted theater tickets, and MP3.com reminds me about some new artist that I might enjoy downloading a few tracks and listening to. Fedex and UPS and most of the package shipping companies can send you reminders when your package is shipped or when it is supposed to arrive, including the tracking number in the email message for easy reference. Tracerlock (at www.peacefire.org/tracerlock/) sends me emails whenever my name (or whatever other keywords I specify) is mentioned somewhere on the web pages that it scans.

In fact, I am sure I am missing a few other reminders -- I should probably find a web site that will remind me about all the various places around the Internet that I have set up my reminders!

Is this a good thing? Originally, I thought so, as I tend to forget about things and could use a little electronic nagging. And really, what are these email reminders but the real practical remnants of push technology - only the part of push that we really wanted, that didn't require any new client software or adjusting our daily computing lives. Some of the reminders are valuable, including the ones that tell me when my site connection is down or when someone mentions me on their web page.

Reminders are probably one of the best ways for any eCommerce site to insure repeat business. You might even say that these essays are reminders for you to stay in touch with me, and I certainly can point to consulting and writing business that I have booked as a result of doing these essays.

These reminders help tie you -- the customer -- with that anonymous web storefront out there in cyberspace. You may not be in the actual shopping mode when the reminder email arrives, but the message could get you in the mood or remind you to buy something else on that particular site. Some of the sites, such as Wine.com, send me HTML-formatted emails, with hidden references so they can track the effectiveness of their reminders. (I don't like these coded messages, as I have written about before in WI #192, but that is another story.)

And of course, a good eCommerce site should send out reminders that confirm the purchase and also confirm the shipping details of your merchandize. But these are more than just reminder messages; they are part of the whole buying process.

But after getting so many reminders these days, I am beginning to have my doubts. Sure, some of this can be helpful. Having a web site for my car is kind of neat, at least until I start getting spammed for the next oil change. And some of it is annoying, such as when I bought a bunch of gifts last year on Amazon and started getting reminders about the latest Britney Spears album. (To be fair, you can delete your purchase history on Amazon or turn off the reminders, but who has the time?)

I think my issue is the quantity of reminders that I now get on a daily basis. It used to be intriguing, or at least fun to show family and friends, that my car or whatever was sending me email. But now I want to turn a few of these nags off, or at least fine tune them, and I am at a loss as how to go about doing this. I guess I need a reminder of how to configure my reminders. Or maybe I should just chill out with a latte, getting it the old fashioned way: by walking down the street to my local coffee bar.

Self-promotions dep't

I have been busy writing as always. One article is the cover story on peer to peer networks for Var Business, looking at ways that corporate types can benefit from these technologies.

And an interview I did for Windows2000Advantage.com examined how healthcare servicer QCSI took advantage of Windows 2000 Datacenter products. (note, annoying pop-up window alert)

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David Strom
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