Jun 13, 2007

Zeldman’s Rant Against HTML Email

When someone pointed out Jeffrey Zeldman’s rant about HTML email to me a couple days ago, I thought, "Great. Another nut-job like this guy over here."

See, when we first started MailChimp back in 2001, anybody who Googled "HTML email" would get a link to our free email design guide for web designers—after
the link to that nut job who proclaimed HTML email as the work of the
devil. It bothered me back then, because we really saw HTML email as a
potentially useful tool for business. The fact that people saw his page
before ours pissed me off to no end. I tried everything to get my page
ranked higher than that guy. I even tried making a page called, "7
reasons HTML email is a good thing" where I tried using the
same META-tag tactics, but sort of in an opposite-dimension kinda way.
Didn’t work. Thankfully, Google (and Father Time) decided that guy’s
web page is no longer relevant (kinda like Zeldman’s rant) and that
content showing people how to actually do it right and get work done
should float to the top. Oh yeah, and the invention of Google AdWords helped, too. Anyways.

Some people have pointed out
that Zeldman’s rant was a bit ironic, considering MailChimp had an ad
running right there on his website. I got an email asking me if I was
mad about the whole thing. Meh, we enjoyed the traffic. Truth is, we
saw an uptick in signups from web designers who wanted to learn how to
properly code and then check their HTML emails.
I even got a few emails from people who were thankful for the rant,
because that’s how they discovered MailChimp. So all in all, the post
was good (and a big thumbs up to The Deck).

Zeldman has since posted a followup, but it’s not really worth reading
if you’re experienced in any way with email marketing. Basically,
"Don’t spam." And if you’re a good designer, there’s nothing new for
you, either. Basically, "Don’t do useless stuff." If you’re a web designer, and you’re interested in seeing some common mistakes that web designers make with HTML email, read this instead.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had my own "nut-job" moments. There was a time, long ago, where I called any designer
who used Flash in any way whatsoever a "Flashole." To my defense, back
then Flash was primarily used for those annoying website intro pages
(which I still believe was the single cause of the dot-com fallout). Nowadays,
I quite like Flash, because it’s being used for all kinds of useful
stuff. I hate to admit it, but I’m even reading "Flash for Dummies" in
my spare time.

I also called CSS a "pipe dream" back when it was first
introduced, because it didn’t work in all the browsers, and it was more
work coming up w/hacks than just using friggin’ tables and font tags.
And I don’t care what you say, but having a CSS file that’s hundreds of lines long
is not gonna help you maintain a website any faster, or save you time
on redesign. Nowadays, I quite like CSS too (I still suck at it, but I
like it). I should probably get myself a copy of Zeldman’s book (cough).

If we’ve learned anything from all this, it’s that posting silly rants only results in: 1) web traffic, and 2) showing people what an angry old fart you’ve become.

But XML—that’s just plain stupid. Mark my words. It’ll never, ever, ever catch on.