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Poor Richard 19

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Poor Richard
 · 1 year ago

Geek-Free, Commonsense Advice on Building a Low-Cost Web Site

Editor: Peter Kent
Top Floor Publishing


  • Beginner's Column: Using URLs in Email Messages
  • The CDnow Story: Rags to Riches on the Internet
  • Distribute Your Email Newsletter for Free
  • Setting Up Shopping Carts -- Still Very Difficult
  • A Web-based Graphics Effects Generator
  • Shopping-Cart Password Theft
  • Thanks Again to Lockergnome
  • Six Degrees Between You and ... Who?
  • Want a Free Book on Internet Marketing?
  • Poor Richard's Web Site in the Press
  • Reading Back Issues
  • In Future Issues


Beginner's Column: Using URLs in Email Messages

Those of you who have subscribed to this newsletter for a little while may have noticed that I always enter URLs into the text in such a manner that no other letter or character touches the URL; Sometimes I put the URL on a line by itself, like this:

Sometimes I put the URL in parentheses, but with spaces before and after it, like this: ( ). And sometimes I'll have the URL at the end of a sentence, but with no period following it, like this:

All this goes for email addresses, too; I enter email addresses in such a way that there are no other characters before or after the address.

What am I up to? I'm trying to handle a problem with email programs the best way I can. The problem is that there are a number of different ways that email programs deal with URLs and email addresses. Some recognize one thing, some recognize another.

Most email programs these days can interact with a browser; click on a link to a Web page, and the referenced page opens in the browser. Some can also work with email addresses; click on an email address in the message, and a message-compose window opens so you can send a message to that address.

The problem is, though, what one program recognizes as a link, another program may not. For instance, Eudora can recognize this: <>. In fact this is the form that many people have become accustomed to for entering URLs. However, a number of other programs don't like to see < > enclosing a link; they _don't_ recognize it as a link.

As most programs that recognize the link when it's enclosed in < > _also_ recognize it when it's _not_ enclosed in < >, I've decided to omit the < >.

Some programs don't like other forms of punctuation around a link; put ( right before a link, or ) immediately after, or a semicolon or period right after, and some programs won't recognize it as a link. Eudora 4.5 seems to recognize just about any form of URL, as it should. Some other programs, and perhaps some earlier versions of Eudora, don't. MS Outlook, for instance, is easily confused by parentheses, periods, semicolons, and so on.

So I figure that if I place a URL in the text of a message in such a way that it doesn't touch any other character, then most all email programs will be able to display it properly and to make it "clickable"; that is, users will be able to click on the link to open the referenced Web pages. (There is one important email program that _won't_ work properly -- AOL's system -- but I'll get to that in a moment.)

Unfortunately this method doesn't always work for email addresses. Eudora, for instance, won't recognize, but it will recognize (What's mailto:? It's part of an HTML tag that is used to create an email-address link in a Web page.) On the other hand, MS Outlook, a very popular mail program _will_ recognize

I suppose I should type mailto: before every email address I enter, but it irritates me that I should have to; it looks messy to me, and it simply shouldn't be necessary. (This is what I regard as a bug. While Eudora's programmers, and the programmers working on some other programs, would say this isn't a bug because the program is working just how they designed it, my attitude is that they shouldn't have designed it that way, so it's a "design bug" -- or what the programmers who created Mosaic used to call a "bug-like feature.")

Then there's AOL. AOL's programmers, in their infinite wisdom, have created an email program that looks for HTML tags in an email message and formats them as they would appear in a Web page. That's not to say they treat email messages just like Web pages, they don't. There are a number of things that would be done in a Web browser that the AOL email program doesn't do (for instance, Web browsers ignore line breaks -- they only shift text down if there's a <br> or <p> tag -- whereas the AOL email program treats line breaks as normal).

Anyway, what this means is that if you place an HTML link in an email message and send it to AOL, it works fine. For instance, type

  <a href="Top">">Top Floor Publishing</a>

into an email message, and AOL will display the text Top Floor Publishing as a link. You won't see the actual link itself. (So you AOL readers can't actually see what I typed on the line above.) This also means that not only doesn't the AOL email program work with email addresses in the form, it won't even work with; rather, you'd have to enter <a href="">Peter Kent</a>.

So why not just enter URLs and email addresses into your email messages in the full HTML format? <a href="Top">">Top Floor Publishing</a> and <a href="">Peter Kent</a>. Because in some programs those links are not going to work properly. They seem to work okay in the latest Eudora, but they won't work in Outlook. In any case, it's messy. It makes it hard to read the actual URL or email address.

There's a more significant problem, too. Thanks to a bug in MS Outlook, if I place a true HTML tag into a Web page, that page may be screwed up when it's displayed in some versions of Outlook. Outlook will see the tag and assume the page must be a Web page, so it tries to format it like one. And unlike AOL's mail program, it _does_ ignore line breaks, just like a Web browser, so all the text runs together without line breaks!

I'm not exactly sure of the conditions under which Outlook does this; sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. It may be that it only happens when the tag appears on a line close to the top of the message, but I'm not certain. (I checked this newsletter with Outlook before I sent it out, and it seems to be working fine.)

So, thanks to all these programmers playing different games, nothing works quite the same in all different programs. In order to be as compatible as possible with all email programs, my advice is that you enter URLs and email addresses into your email messages in such a way that they stand alone -- they do not touch any other character, before or after.

The CDnow Story: Rags to Riches on the Internet

I recently wrote a book with the founders of CDnow, Jason and Matthew Olim. You may know that CDnow ( ) is the world's largest online music store. Until recently CDnow sold almost twice as much music as its nearest rival, MusicBoulevard (that is, until they merged with MusicBoulevard).

What's really amazing, though, is that this company was started by 24-year old twin brothers working in their parents' basement, with very little funding (they began with the money Jason had saved to buy a guitar).

The book is currently at the printer; with luck it'll start moving into the bookstores around Thanksgiving.

If you're a writer interested in reviewing this book in the media, or on a Web site or email newsletter, email me at and I'll get a copy to you (please let me know where you will review it, and the name and contact info of your editor).

If you are interested in buying the book at a pre-publication discount, email me at -- I haven't yet put anything up at my Web site, unfortunately ... just haven't had time.

Distribute Your Email Newsletter for Free

Email publishing is booming. Many Web site owners have discovered that there's more to succeeding on the Internet than setting up a Web site and waiting for people to arrive ... and they've discovered that an email newsletter makes the perfect complement to their Web site.

How do you get started? Well, if you have a small newsletter, you may be able to run it using your normal email program. But after a while, as the list begins to grow, you'll need something a little more powerful. It starts to be a real hassle keeping all the subscriptions straight if you do it yourself; you really need a program that will do it for you. But if you don't want to spend any money, what do you do?

There is one alternative; there are a number of free email services -- you set up your newsletter (or mailing-list discussion group) at their Web site, and they'll administer it for free. (By the way, technically a newsletter and a mailing-list discussion group are very nearly the same thing. A newsletter, like Poor Richard's Web Site News, is a one-way thing; the publisher sends the message to everyone on the list. With a discussion group, all the subscribers can send messages, too. So most systems can act as newsletter servers or discussion-group servers, depending on your choice.)

Some of these systems work just like a normal email newsletter/mailing-list server -- a subscriber simply sends an email to the server, or enters his email address into a Web form, in order to subscribe. Others make the subscriber actually register at their site first, which some people may complain about. It's not a terribly onerous task though (they simply have to enter a username and password).

These are the ones I've found so far:



FindMail (This was working a few days ago, though I was unable
to get through when I tried last.)


You may be able to find more services in this Yahoo! category:

This category also contains links to more sophisticated systems, such as Lyris, Samurai, and Oaknet, which seem to start at $20 to $50 a month (I use Lyris for this newsletter).

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Setting Up Shopping Carts -- Still Very Difficult

A while back I did a series of articles on setting up shopping-cart systems. At the time I said it was very difficult finding a good one, and by that I meant one that had all the features you need. There's another problem, though. Many of them apparently don't work well, even if they do have the features you want.

A friend and colleague was doing some work for a fishing-lure company that wanted to set up a Web store. My friend started checking out shopping-cart systems, and after finding six he thought looked pretty good, he tried each one's demo system.

In every case, the demo failed. That is, the publishers' own systems, set up to demonstrate the great features of each system, and running on the publishers' own servers ... didn't work.

Is it any wonder that small businesses are finding it hard to work on the Internet, when this is the sort of choice of products they're given?

A Web-based Graphics Effects Generator

WebFX is a Web-based graphics effects generator. What's that? You give it the URL of an image on the Web, you pick an effect, and the program modifies the image and displays it in your Web browser. You can then save the image on your hard disk.

This is a completely free service, and it has loads of effects; Hundred Dollar Bill (puts the specified image inside a $100 bill), Magazine (puts the image on a magazine cover), Frosted Glass, Old Photo, Motion Blur, Fade, Explode (an animation in which the image explodes) and over 40 others. Perhaps the most useful is Buttonize, which bevels the edges of the image so you can use it as a button in a Web page.

Check it out at ...

Shopping-Cart Password Theft

I've seen email from two shopping-cart service companies recently -- including Yahoo! Store -- warning their clients that someone was stealing passwords. These are companies that allow Web-site owners to create a shopping-cart that runs on the service's servers -- the merchant then links from his Web site on one server across to the shopping-cart on the other server.

Apparently someone is emailing store owners, claiming to be working for the shopping-cart company, and asking the store owners for their passwords. Perhaps they're planning to break in and steal credit-card numbers, or maybe it's just a kid up to mischief.

You've probably heard this before ... but there again, many people are new to this game and don't realize the rules. Never give your password to anyone, whether they email you or call you. I can't think of a good reason why a company providing you with a service -- whether it's Internet access, a shopping-cart service, or some other kind of ecommerce service -- should ask you for your password. The company providing the service doesn't need your password; it has control over your account anyway. So the company will never ask you for your password. Remember, anyone who asks for a password is up to no good.

Thanks Again to Lockergnome

About 1,000 new readers signed up over the last few days, thanks to Chris Pirillo and his newsletter, Lockergnome ( ). Chris' newsletter is about Windows -- tips, tricks, and useful products. He kindly mentioned Poor Richard's Web Site to his 125,000 subscribers the other day, and whatdyaknow, 1,000 signed up for the newsletter, and 10 bought a copy of my book, Poor Richard's Web Site, from my Web site. As I've said before, promotions in large-circulation email newsletters really do work.

By the way, Chris has a Cool Stuff page that is very useful if you're looking for a particular tool for Windows -- a product that copies URLs and changes them into text, a good FTP or Telnet program, file-management tools, and so on. Visit

Six Degrees Between You and ... Who?

I have to tell you about an unusual new service I ran into recently. It's not directly related to Web-site creation or promotion, but nonetheless it may come in useful one day.

The system is called sixdegrees. You may have heard the theory that everyone in the world is just six people away from everyone else -- that is, everyone in the world knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows you. (I'm sure this is complete nonsense, but it's one of those "common knowledge" things that people seem to assume is true because they've heard it a few times.)

Well, sixdegrees is based on this idea. Here's how it works. You sign up for an account, and enter the email addresses of people you know -- as many as possible. You can specify that they are friends, family, business associates, and so on.

The sixdegrees computer then sends email to these people, and asks them to join, too; with luck, they'll do so and add more people to the list.

A lot of people have signed up -- 1.3 million, I think it was last time I looked. So now this computer has a huge network of relationships, showing who knows who.

Here's an example of how it might work. I was talking on the phone with someone who works at a software company in California. She mentioned the name of the owner of the company, so while I was talking I typed his name into sixdegrees. Within seconds I discovered that I knew someone who knew someone who knew him.

A friend in Boulder, it turned out, knows the owner of a different software company, a well-known publisher of children's software. And that person, it seems, knows the person I was checking on.

I haven't quite figured out how to use sixdegrees yet. Or perhaps I should say, I haven't yet had the need to use it. But I can imagine a situation in which I want to talk with someone who I've never met ... but who, it turns out, I can get an introduction to through sixdegrees.

This is a fascinating system, well worth checking out. They seem to be having intermittent server problems, unfortunately, but take a look at

Want a Free Book on Internet Marketing?

The next Poor Richard's Book is going to be "Poor Richard's Internet Marketing and Promotions: How to Promote Yourself, Your Business, Your Ideas Online." It's going to be written by me and Tara Calishain, a friend with a lot of experience in promoting products both online and offline.

This book should be in the bookstores in February 1999; in the meantime, we're willing to give away a number of electronic copies. Here are the conditions:

  1. We're only going to give away a limited number, first come first served. So please don't request a copy unless you're sure you have time to read it within two or three weeks.
  2. We want feedback and testimonials. If you've seen Poor Richard's Web Site, you know it has five pages of testimonials just inside the front cover. We're not "buying" these testimonials; if you don't think it's a good book, fine, you don't have to say it is. But please, only ask for a copy if you are willing to respond after reading it by telling us, in a paragraph or so, what you thought of it -- good or bad.
  3. You must agree not to pass the book on to anyone else without permission.
  4. The book will be in Word for Windows format, so you must have a program that can open those files.
  5. We'll be sending files out periodically, a few chapters at a time.

If you're interested, send a blank email message to, from the email account at which you want to receive the files (we're sending them out via email). You won't get a response, unless you're one of the ones who will be receiving the book -- in which case you'll hear from us in a few weeks, when we begin sending out the chapters.

By the way, Tara Calishain has a newsletter you may find useful. It's called ResearchBuzz. I'll let her describe it ... it's a "Weekly roundup of new Internet research resources, from the changes in your favorite search engine to the best in new meta-engines and resource listings. Also coverage of research topics in the media."

For instance, the recent issue contained information about the Thomas Regional database of 480,000 industrial suppliers, The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) going online next year, an online calendar service, a free service called Company Sleuth, and more.

If you're interested, visit

Poor Richard's Web Site in the Press

I haven't seen the reviews yet, but I'm reliably informed -- by people who have bought books at the Poor Richard Web site -- that Poor Richard's Web Site is mentioned in Windows Magazine and Home Office Computing this month. In addition, it was in Keyboard magazine recently ...

"If you follow Kent's common-sense approach, your experience as a Web entrepreneur will be less of an ordeal, and you'll have the best possible shot at actually getting some benefit from promoting your music on the Web."

Jim Aiken, Keyboard magazine

For many more reviews and testimonials, visit ...

Poor Richard's Web Site is in many bookstores, and can be ordered by others; it can also be ordered on-line, through the mail, by fax, or by phone.
See ...

Order direct from the publisher, and you'll get a 100%, 1-Year Guarantee. If the book doesn't help you set up a low-cost yet effective Web site, send it back for a refund!

Reading Back Issues

If you need to refer to back issues of this newsletter -- and search the archives -- you can find them at the following location:

In Future Issues ...

All sorts of things too numerous to mention ... just keep reading, and forward the newsletter to friends and colleagues!

(c) Copyright 1998, Top Floor Publishing
All Rights Reserved

If you like this newsletter,
PLEASE FORWARD IT to friends and colleagues!

Please retain this copyright and subscription information; you may want to remove your e-mail address from below.

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