Posts Tagged software

Technical Facts About Newsletter Distribution for Online Merchants

Posted by on Wednesday, 28 September, 2011

There are many different aspects to consider when distributing a newsletter to clients of your online store: categorization, definition, content, legal conditions and technical facts. In this post, I’ll concentrate only on the technical aspects.

Newsletters are emails containing information or promotions that you, as a shop owner, wish to send to your registered customers. In some countries, the newsletter recipient has to explicitly agree to receive such information through a checkbox or the so-called “double opt-in” method.

Email Format: HTML or Text
As you may know from your email client, you can choose whether (newsletter) emails should be sent in HTML or in plain text format. Usually, you will use HTML to mark up your text content as bold, italic or underlined, to use tables or to display images. This is not possible in plain text emails at all and it also depends on whether the recipient’s email client is configured to receive text or HTML emails. Thus, the MIME format was created, which sends along both text and HTML formats in the same message. Plain text will be displayed for recipients who only allow text emails, and HTML will be displayed for everybody else.

Transmission Agent: SMTP or Sendmail
Sendmail is a standard email transfer agent (client) for Unix-based systems that can be triggered by other clients on the same system to send email messages. You can install it on any arbitrary Linux machine of your choice and send messages from this server. However, it’s important to note that these days, all messages sent via this method will typically end up in the Spam folder of your recipient’s email client or may not even be forwarded by the server in between.

SMTP as a server protocol, is supposed to be a more secure solution. In most cases, the SMTP server accepts email forwarding requests coming only from localhost (the server where your online shop is hosted). Using an SMTP server on another system is nearly impossible as this SMTP could be misused as an email relay.

Filter Lists: Don’t Think Only Black and White
To avoid email spam, many different mechanisms have been developed during the last few years. One of them is the black-, white- or grey-listing method. A blacklisted server or IP range on the recipient’s machine, for example, is barred from delivering emails to the recipient at all. In the past, providers for black, white and grey lists developed and these lists are used by regular ISPs and hosting service providers.

If the server of your hosting provider has been blacklisted, you can assume that none of your emails will reach their intended recipients. Most professional email marketing providers by the way, have contracts with these list providers to ensure they are whitelisted and can transmit large amounts of email ;).

Grey lists cover everything in between. If you are not on a blacklist or on a whitelist, a filter on the recipient’s Website will put your email into a queue and check for other spam indicators (like content). If this queue gets too many requests at a certain time, your email might take a few hours or even days to be passed through to the recipient.

Email Transmission Tools
Newsletter emails, even to a large number of recipients, can be send via various email client applications and servers. You have wide choice depending on your given circumstances in respect of the above technical facts. Let me introduce you to some of the options.

Standalone Client Programs
It is possible to send multiple-recipient emails via an email client like Mozilla Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook. For data privacy, you must ensure that none of your clients can see other email addresses in the message: add yourself to the TO field while putting a list of your newsletter subscribers in the BCC field. Avoid using CC (from my own experience :-)).

As far as I know, an Exchange server will accept 200 recipients with one dispatch. Also, under this method, it is not possible to enrich the content of your email with dynamically generated data.  For example, it won’t be possible to inform your clients about cross-selling products on the basis of their previous purchases.

Integrated Shopping Cart Solutions
OXID eShop Newsletter ExampleThis is differently handled in shopping cart solutions, as they usually provide the ability to send email newsletters to opted-in customers and also to enter product data with the newsletter. Using this option, you can define personalized content using the order history of each costumer. For example (independent of any legal requirement), you could ask Mrs. Meyers for a review of the suit case “Canoono I Pak Classic” she bought on August 16th 2011, promising to raffle off a voucher of 100 EUR for the most inventive review. It’s great technology, but you must be careful that you don’t end up on a blacklist somewhere…

The OXID eShop newsletter feature can help a little bit here as it sends out newsletters in batches (number adjustable from the admin panel).  But at the end of the day, every newsletter transmission could be misunderstood by your hosting service provider, by list providers as well as by the recipient’s servers. In short, if you have too many recipients with too much similar content, it is time to begin thinking about using a professional, whitelisted email marketing provider.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the “magic number” of newsletters that will work properly from your shop server as I think it depends on your hosting provider, your monthly newsletter frequency and the number of newsletter recipients.

Open Source Scripts
There are a number of  scripts (some open source) that can apply to the same needs. However, they too will break down when faced with black- and grey- lists.

Summary

As your customers grow in number, you certainly will have to think about a professional (white listed) solution for your newsletter emails. This solution should ideally provide an interface to your shopping cart to compute the opted-in addressees as well as product items and order details. There are already a number of solutions available but there should definitely be more… right? :-)

Please write to the email marketing provider of your choice and ask if they provide an interface to OXID eShop. Also, please feel free to contact me personally – I would be happy to support you from this end with contacting the channel marketeers of those services.

Recap of the Developer Meet-up in Leipzig on Friday, March 11th

Posted by on Thursday, 17 March, 2011

As earlier announced in my blog post on oxid-esales.com, Friday, March 11th, was our first local developer meet-up in Leipzig, Germany.

I personally was really surprised to see 16 people attending, including developers from our partners D³ Data Development (Thalheim, Saxony), GN2 netwerk (Coburg, Bavaria), marmalade.de (Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt), dotSource GmbH (Jena, Thuringia) and Ontraq Europe (Augsburg, Bavaria). Dirk Senebald (Gera, Thuringia), Gregor Berg (Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia) and Alexander Thomas (Berlin) also took part, together with my personal friends and (former) co-workers Mathias Fiedler (Leipzig/Berlin) and Erik Kort.

OXID Developer Meet-Up Leipzig 2011 - Christian Zacharias explains

Christian Zacharias explains

OXID Developer Meet-Up Leipzig 2011 - Joscha Krug is proud on his OXID Commons shirt

Joscha Krug proudly shows off his OXID Commons shirt

OXID Developer Meet-Up Leipzig 2011 - The guys found something really interesting

These guys found something really interesting

Our host, Hannes from Geyserhaus, worked really professionally to ensure that everything was set up for us. The projector and the screen were already installed, together with the tables and power cords. Fortunately, there was no Internet connection; this allowed us all to concentrate on  Christan Zacharias‘ talk about the OXID eShop framework, the OXID eFire platform, how to write extensions, and news for developers in OXID eShop 4.5.0.

The entire talk took about six hours including interposed questions, laid-back discussions and straight comments to OXID’s (Erik’s and mine) point of view. We also had an interesting four-person discussion about the pros and cons of Open Source Software. Through the process, I picked up at least 25 points to be “injected” into OXID’s product management cycle. Thanks for all the comments, mates!

At the end of the day, I think the aims of a meeting like this – namely, getting to know the faces behind forum or mailing list posts, learning about the experiences of others and bringing coders together for collaboration chances – were absolutely fulfilled, and that it was an enjoyable and learning experience for all.

I’m curious now about upcoming meetings in other cities like Berlin, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Munich (in progress), Cologne and Frankfurt. Are any of you keen to take over the organization of such meetings? Drop me a line or post a comment if so!

Switching to Ubuntu Part III: Working with VirtualBox

Posted by on Wednesday, 10 November, 2010

After publishing my last blog post about switching to Ubuntu, I took a short break for a while. I had a few problems:

  • I couldn’t get the VPN running as my company was using a proprietary protocol.
  • I couldn’t find a good Exchange client replacement under Linux.
  • My company had bought me an iPhone and iTunes was not available on Linux.

I came up with a solution to bypass these problems. I installed Oracle’s (Sun’s) VirtualBox OSE from the sources on my Ubuntu installation, and then added Windows 7 to it. Everything worked well, except for the USB connection. Googling the problem, I found VirtualBox OSE doesnt support USB on the virtual machine.

I decided to try the proprietary version of VirtualBox. VirtualBox OSE didn’t de-install at first attempt, so I had to remove it via the command line:

$ sudo apt-get remove virtualbox-ose

After that, I downloaded and installed the proprietary version of VirtualBox. Hooray! It supported USB and recognized my iPhone as a USB device. All systems were now go!

The process of switching over to Ubuntu continues…stay tuned for more of my experiences.

Configure the Language Sites of your OXID eShop Installation

Posted by on Wednesday, 3 November, 2010

Daily, there are more and more new online stores using OXID eShop. Some of these shops are supposed to be available in just one language (e.g. German), nevertheless they tend to forget to disable English, which is enabled as an additional language in OXID eShop by default.

This issue rears its ugly head if for example a browser’s standard language has been configured in English and the shop is supposed to be available in German only and the administrator forgot to disable English. Then, visitors will see a English version of the shop that looks rather strange. All looks good in a browser with German as the language identifier. Then OXID eShop will show the nicely crafted German content as intended.

If you don't use English in your OXID eShop

Above screenshot shows the English version of a supposedly unilingual German eCommerce site. Looks creepy, doesn’t it?

Hence, if you don’t need a language, please

  • deactivate it (see below screenshot) and
  • clear the cache (/tmp/ folder)

de-activate English in your OXID eShop installation

Hope this helps to avoid creepy zombie multi-language sites :)

First Open Source Meeting in Leipzig Recap

Posted by on Thursday, 26 November, 2009

Awesome, awesome, awesome :-)

I never expected 35 (!) people bringing together after this very short-term announcement, I was really surprised! Obviously, most attendees did not even see the direct announcement but heard it somehow as a rumor from their friends: “Did you hear about that Open Source Meeting? I cannot go but you ought to… “. And this is how it actually shall work. Hey, Leipzig was over the Munich line of “Attendees of the first OSS meeting”!

Although the aim of this kind of meetings is to bring users together with the “makers” of open source, of course, mostly the enthusiasts took part this (first) time. Another aim is the comprehensive exchange of experiences over the different projects. Interestingly, there was no convention like this before. However, we happily welcomed Linux users, system administrators, guys attending the Open Street Map (OSM) project, a hand full of freelancers and developers of the zope project.

The talks were pretty interesting and full of requests: Carsten spoke about the Mozilla project, Kai about working with DTP applications on Linux, Florian about OpenOffice.org (told us some secrets :-)) and Volkmar about the OSM project. Of course, in conventions like that the requests go like: What is your business model?, Where do you get your salary from?, What does the project do with your committed data? Interesting enough, isn’t it? The atmosphere thankfully was very laid back.

We thank Jan from GET AG for attending and sponsoring the rides of the long-distance attendees, also MaFi for the canvas an Henrik (yasni.com) for the projector. Not to forget Karsten (SPIZZ) for the location, the Internet connection and the nearby bar.

As we agreed, the next Open Source Meeting Leipzig will take place in about quarter a year (Feb?). And yes, you are allowed to bring your proprietary friends then :-)

ost_000 ost_002 ost_005
DSC05715 DSC05719 DSC05727

See more pictures of the event here:
http://picasaweb.google.de/floeff/OpenSourceTreffenAm23November2009InLeipzig
http://picasaweb.google.com/carstenbook/OpensourcetreffenLeipzig231109?feat=directlink#

Rewritebase OXID eShop

Posted by on Sunday, 22 November, 2009

Again and again I see my website being found with the key word “rewritebase oxid eshop”. Obviously this seems not to be a clear case. Let me explain it:

The OXID eShop strictly uses so called re-written URLs, known as “permalinks” in WordPress. In opposite to e.g. WordPress, you cannot choose between “regular” URLs and re-written URLs, it’s use is assumed and this, absolutely makes sense: Who wants to run an online store without wanting to be ranked on top of the known search engines?

An example:

  • Until OXID eShop Version 4, URLs where build like this:

    http://www.yourshop.com/oxid.php/sid/f1abc0556fc27ad9a023d453793edfd8/cl/details/anid/29b49c9e2db7bc7c7.33407713/Genelec-8020/

  • Now, this URL (built up by the program code) by default is re-written to another URL this style:

    http://www.yourshop.com/category/product.html

Nice, isn’t it? In a matter of fact, your product details page will rank much higher in any search engine!

To achieve this effect, your webspace or server has to fulfill some requirements before you can set up OXID eShop:

  1. The component “mod_rewrite” has to be installed. You can check this easily with a simple file – let’s call it “check.php” – that you can load onto your server via FTP contents the following: <?php phpinfo(); ?>. Fire up your browser and insert http://www.yourstore.com/check.php now, search for “mod_rewrite”. If you cannot find anything, turn to your hosting provider. Don’t forget to ditch this file once you saw it – the information provided opens doors to all the hackers.
  2. Check, if you really uploaded the delivered file .htaccess. Files with a leading dot are marked as hidden in the Unix world, so at a MAC, and will not be uploaded by default.
  3. Some hosting providers do not allow an own .htaccess file. Request it!
  4. Some hosting providers request an additional entry into the .htaccess file, called “RewriteBase”

In this case, replace

Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine On

by

Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteBase /
RewriteEngine On

or use

RewriteBase /oxid/

if you run a sub-folder.

If there still problems remaining, turn to the forums, I’ll be there ;)
http://www.oxid-esales.com/forum/

First Open Source Meeting in Leipzig

Posted by on Friday, 20 November, 2009

On November 23th at 7 PM the First Open Source Meeting in Leipzig will take place in the cellar of Cafe SPIZZ. Florian Effenberger from OpenOffice.org Deutschland e.V. and Carsten Book from Mozilla Corporation will attend and speak about their projects. This evening will be held in a similar style to Webmondays.

Many thousand programmers in the world code free software in their spare time or supported by their companies. They follow the principle of Richard Stallmann, who proclaimed already in the early 60th that program code is nothing else than thoughts and thoughts are free. From this, the GNU project evolved that produced the first open source applications. The most prominent examples are the operating system Linux as well as the Mozilla project with the Firefox browser or the office suite OpenOffice.org.

Today, open source software is stable, secure and functional. More and more public and private organizations in many countries are keen using it. Also the European Union as well as several German Federal Ministries support the usage of open source software and thus boost the competition between the software producers.

Hashtag for Twitter: #osstreffen
Wiki: http://ostle.musterdenker.de/
XING: https://www.xing.com/events/opensourcetreffen-leipzig-431162
facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#/event.php?eid=184149739903

Switching to Ubuntu Part II – how to install Twhirl

Posted by on Monday, 2 November, 2009

Of course, you have to announce your new blog posts over Twitter. A cool twitter client is not the worst idea – I personally decided to run Twhirl for this purpose because Twhirl is able to run multiple accounts.
As Twhirl is based on the platform Adobe Air, you first have to install this one.

  1. Go to http://get.adobe.com/air/, download it to your /home/ folder.
  2. Open the command line and type chmod +x AdobeAIRInstaller.bin
  3. Type chmod +x AdobeAIRInstaller.bin
  4. The Adobe Air installer will open up now in a new window. You will have to confirm the terms and conditions.

Time to install Twhirl:

  1. Go to http://www.twhirl.org/ and click to the install button on the right hand side.
  2. Again, an install routine opens up (inside Adobe Air). Choose your options for the Twhirl installation here.
  3. A twhirl instance now should pop up. Enter your Twitter name(s) and your password here and you are done.

Switching to Ubuntu, Part I – how to install Skype on Ubuntu

Posted by on Monday, 2 November, 2009

If you are in business, your companies’ IT policy is perhaps to run Microsoft products like Windows OS only. Although you might have a bit of freedom in this manner (let’s say because you are presenting on Open Source software fairs and need to run a Linux for this case) the switch might be not that easy thinking about Microsoft Exchange, Skype, VPN, Microsoft Office and so on. For me, it is really fun working on Linux and I would like to switch over completely as soon as possible. That’s why I ran Kubuntu as a parallel operating system.

Somehow, I got rid of running KDE on my Ubuntu installation and so I decided to install the Karmic Koala (Ubuntu 9.10) on a Gnome basis and I was really surprised about it’s simple handling. By the way: Gnome was suspect to me all the times I tried it before. Today I believe it was only about a simple and stupid marketing effect: I didn’t like the combination of brown, purple and orange on the desktop…

So now, let’s beginn with the Skype installation.
As you might know, Skype is proprietary software but obviously everybody in IT uses it. Nevertheless, the installation on Ubuntu is possible even including the update services. First of all you have to implement the Medibuntu sources to your sources.list file running this command on the terminal:

sudo wget http://www.medibuntu.org/sources.list.d/$(lsb_release -cs).list \
--output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list &&
sudo apt-get -q update &&
sudo apt-get --yes -q --allow-unauthenticated install medibuntu-keyring &&
sudo apt-get -q update

As a next step, install the Skype application:

sudo aptitude install skype

Despite Skype is only provided with version 2.1 on Linux, you are done mate! Somehow you will be connected to your colleagues, friends, etc. in this first step. More to follow.

OXID Partner Day 2009

Posted by on Thursday, 22 October, 2009

After my one-week-trip to Barcelona (maybe another blogpost will follow about it) I will go to Freiburg next week, gladly taking part in OXID’s Partner Day 2009 on October, 27th. As usual, a lot of OXID partners will come presenting themselves, discussing about OXID eSales news and attending the so called “Best Solution Award”, an award for the best shopping cart software implementation split up into different categories like design or technical implementation.

Actually, the most valuable events will happen between the talks: Getting in touch with the guys implementing OXID shops day by day and face to face with the clients, will bring more insights during the coffee breaks and in the smoking corners. As I feel that some of our (esp. old-established) partners did not get the Open Source strategy yet I, as the community dude, hope to can bring over this spirit mostly in personal conversations.

Looking forward to see all that mates I know mostly from telephone or Skype conversations, especially our foreign partners to come from Czech Republic, Lithuania, Saudi-Arabia and India.

Alright, you’re not registered yet? Here we go [German]:
http://www.oxid-esales.com/de/partner/partnerworld/anmeldung-oxid-partnertag