Saturday, December 14, 2013

gmail says good bye to the 'show images' link/button

google and gmail, the friend to every consumer, the enemy of every email marketing professional. this year gmail announced something that brought the chicken little in each of us tabs. this enhancement to gmail boxes caused everyone to cry that the sky was was highly publicized.

recently though, they've announced another enhancement to gmail boxes, clearly aimed at delivering a better mobile experience, but at what cost to our industry? if you haven't seen the news, google is going to remove the show images button for all gmail users - gmail users rejoice, email marketing professionals rejoice...except...

removing the button isn't all their doing. they are going to cache all images on their servers and display those cached images within the gmail recipients inbox. gmail claims that most of us email marketers are actually going to see an increase in the open rates of our communications - which is good news if you're determine the success of your email based on open rates...a lot of people do see that as an indicator of success.

but in google's wisdom to deliver images faster and a better overall user experience, we as marketing professionals loose out on the one thing we all crave - data. gone is the ability to capture device type, gone is the ability to capture client, gone is the ability to capture deliver uber-customized geolocated information to our subscribers.

this is the latest 'gmail just killed email marketing' headline of the year - if not the biggest. and for all intents and purposes they may have taken a significant thing from us as marketers. we all live and die by the data we collect. something as simple as a tracking pixel provides email marketers with the information they need to make wise resource decisions. the biggest one that comes to my mind is if i need to build out an email as mobile friendly/aware or as a responsive design - responsive design taking more time and resources to construct, code, and test.

so what's driving this?
articles i've read say that google wants to provide a faster experience for their users - serving the images from a single point instead of having to rely on the speed of external servers to do the work. this in itself makes sense for an increasing mobile world. further google says that the images they cache will be checked for viruses and malware that could infect our mobile devices. both of these are valid tactics, but I think it points to bigger pieces of upcoming technology...namely google glass.

why would I think google glass?
recently I was invited to be a google glass explorer, i'll blog more about that in the coming days. it is an exciting technology but i have to admit while the possible application of this device outweighs what is currently available, there are explorers with "early adopter remorse". there aren't enough apps to fully integrate this into my life right now - sure i use it for directions, to make phone calls, to get hourly pings from my fit bit to tell me that i haven't walked enough, and for all of my music housed on google play - but just like when the first iphone came out, there isn't enough out there to make us all look like a certain star trek character.

all of that said, i had my "aha-moment" today thinking about the gmail experience on my glass. it's abysmal. remember the first mobile web equipped phones - thinking about the motorola startac which i had - the mobile web was presented to us in dazzling shades of blue back-lit 1" x 1.5" screens with black text. it was useless. guess what folks, so is email on the glass.

my email looks nothing like the beautiful emails we painstakingly we as marketers put together for our subscribers. communications are delivered to my heads-up-display as pure text messages, and in a day and age where people have started to put so much emphasis on the pretty visual aspect of email, the message gets lost - a lot of us have lost the craft of effective alt image tags to craft the ideal subject line.

want to know what else? not only do you really only get the subject line and a hint of text on glass, but only those messages that are marked as important and in my primary tab make their way to "timeline" - google's term for the "imaginary" loop of data that circles my head (basically think of the timeline as a filmstrip of images, data, and stuff wrapped around your head, and you can only see the card that is in the crystal...). that means nothing that falls in social, promotions, update, or forum tabs ever gets seen on glass (oddly enough that would include the communications from google about my glass and from the explorer's community - whoops, google might want to look at where it's emails are going in their own inboxes).

but by caching the images, google is pretty much saying that the mobile world is more important, and we own it and are going to manipulate your design to fit our devices - not your needs. if you think about this, we already see often have we come up with a great design, put it through its paces, and it winds up on our mobile device looking like crap, and we have to tap "revert auto-sizing"?

we are all finding coding hacks all the time to make our message render best in clients and it's only a matter of time before we can find a work-a-round for google, but I think the best thing to come out of all of this is that with google focused on its tech and its users, we are forced to deliver better messages to an ever connected world.


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