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software thoughts

[Screenshots] New Twitter follower email format

Looks like Twitter just updated their “following you” email format. I haven’t seen a reference to it on the Twitter Blog yet so it might be pushed out slowly. I have included screenshots of the old and new layouts above for comparison. A few things have been changing:

Informationally

  • The subject now includes the person’s twitter handle
  • Location is removed (personally I use it to determine if someone is spammy)
  • Removed the “follows x users who follow you” (think this was a good removal, no value lost)
  • No more “What’s Next?” to explain how to send an @reply or DM (is this assumed now?)

Graphically

  • Much more in line with updated Twitter homepage and overall look
  • Not sure what that check box is doing up there in the top right (it is not clickable)
  • The tweets/following/followers placement is far easier to scan
  • The large blue “View @person’s profile” is hard to miss as a next step
  • Underlines have been removed from all links. The link and text colors are a little too close for my comfort, I wonder how #a11y experts think about the change.

Overall I think Twitter is moving in the right direction but still has a little ways to go. I would love to see the location added back in, links being underlined and the addition of how many lists the user is on. I think the number of lists is a great indication of the impact the twitter has in their community.

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Inbox zero obsession reduces productivity

Always being concerned about that next email, IM or todo list item can really hinder the GTD mentality. Melitiously keeping your inbox at zero and clearing IM’s and email as soon as they come in just to feel fulfilled is really distracting.

I keep my inbox at zero pretty much at all times, the downside is when emails start to come in it is hard they are hard to ignore. They are like that one dead pixel or that zit that just came out or no where. You just want to get rid of it as soon as possible and move on.

Just when you get it moved to a task or respond here comes another one. I have decided to only check for new email every three hours and clean it to zero before another three hour block of work.

Being so efficient doesn’t always pay off, I am going to opt for the distraction less few hours during the day to see if it helps out.

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Battling massive amounts of email

Sending email from a web site using PHP’s mail() function is a pretty routine task. Contact forms, friend requests, alerts, errors… Servers hosting one or two sites the time to send an email is not even noticeable, but on a server that hosts 200+ sites the time creeps up the two to three second range.

In a shared server environment like we have at Wayne State University, we have found there is no easy way to keep track of the emails being sent through php’s mail() function. It would take an analysis of the mail server logs or a friendly sysadmin of another server to alert you if there is a bot taking advantage of a mail() script on your site.

To combat this we are developing an extension for PHPSimpl’s Mail class to instead of send out an email directly to inserts the message into a database and every five minutes a cron runs to send out all emails in the table and records them in a sent table.

This accomplishes:

  • Making pages load faster, a DB insert is faster than a mail() function.
  • Frees up server resources to host pages instead of doing sendmail’s.
  • Determines really how many emails are being sent from the web server.
  • Keeping track of what sites are sending mail from what pages and by who.
  • The ability to flag emails before they are sent with keywords like “Viagra” and “Enlargement”.

We are currently just testing the system and hope to include it right into PHPSimpl as a main class but it still needs some stress testing. So far the tests have all came back positive, we have discovered a few of our own forms that have been taken advantage of and we resolved some potential issues.

We also over estimated the amount of emails being sent out, we thought with 200 or so sites it would be ~500-700 emails a day, well it turns out once we fixed a few of the forms we are only sending out ~100 emails a day, not bad.

The graph at the top of the post is the last 5 days and how many emails have been sent out. Today the 6th there has only been 4 emails so far at the time i took the screenshot, 8am.

On the 4th we saw a spike in bot related emails, after some investigation and a few recaptcha additions we just about halved the number of emails the next day.

Next week we hope to have the system fully functional and have a better analysis and report of our findings.