Does spam... work?

A friend's email account was compromised, and this morning it sent out the following to everyone in his address book:

hi!
I find a good website: www.icbcshop12..com
On this website ,you can find many new and origianl electronic products .Now they are holding sales promotion activity, all the product are sold at a
low cost and good quality ,and the delivery is on time .
It is a good chance that you should not lose.
If you need some, visit this website .
Let us enjoy the happiness of shopping.
Greetings!

Now, before you run off to that website looking for great deals, please note that something about this seems, uh, shady. Spam usually attempts to look somewhat legitimate, but this one doesn't even try. And even if you're one of those people—presumably such folks exist—who compulsively clicks whatever blue text you see, that double-dotted .com would crash your party real fast, perhaps giving you time to think about what you're doing. This really is a stupendous piece of work.

But it got me to wondering... does this stuff work? Now, this isn't the Federal government, which freely spends money it doesn't have on things that don't get results. Somewhere behind this email there's some sleazy organization or business or... something... that's paying people to write this stuff, hack email accounts, and put some kind of site or malware on the other end of that sloppy URL—and, oddly enough, is turning some sort of profit. True, avarice motivates some strange and cynical doings, and the kind of undiscerning malice at the heart of most internet scams could care less about looking attractive. Still—somehow, someone is getting something out of this, and it's probably money.

All that spam in your junk e-mail folder, all those Viagra/Acai Berry/Weight-loss pop-ups, all those dodgy animated loan offers—those most hated and reviled features of the internet, loathed by everyone we know of (including, especially, us)—they're of a piece with this poor little email because, for some reason, people will go for it. It's a depressing thought, but something about spam... is working.

Baffling.

Our new release: New Profiles, Communications, Google Apps, iTunes U, and lots more...

We stayed up late last night to push out what's probably the biggest one-time update we've ever released. We've been previewing this release for a few weeks—check out our posts on the Profile, Communications, and the Activity Feed—but there was a lot more stuff we didn't mention ahead of time...

...like Google Apps integration. If your school uses Google Apps, Populi's brand-new Single Sign-on capability will let you log right into your school's Google Mail and Calendar accounts right from Populi.

And iTunes U integration. Link to your college's iTunes U site from Populi, and even link your courses directly to their own content.

Besides Google Apps integration, we released a few updates to Email. Giving someone an email address when you add them as a user is now optional, and new visibility settings let you plug emails right into the Activity Feed (or keep them private).

Academics got some love, too: Custom Transcript Layouts let you use a custom Page Layout (see above) for your Official Transcripts. Contact Populi support to get started. The new Schedule view shows you the Term's master course schedule in a week-view Calendar. This replaces the slow, boggy Enrollment report (that's now an export option in the Students Table). And we've simplified how you add Grade, Transcript, and Financial Locks on student profiles.

In Admissions, the new My Prospects view lets Admissions Staff keep track of specific Prospective students. The Activity Feed and new Communications features will also enhance Populi Admissions.

Courses have some new features. In addition to iTunes U integration, we updated Forums to included nested replies and added a new Teaching Assistant user role. A few new things now make some previously pesky tasks a lot easier on course instructors. For instance, you no longer need to unfinalize a course to enter grades for an incomplete student. You can now reset tests for students who need to re-take them or missed them due to illness, etc. And, in the midst of fixing an Internet Explorer bug, we updated the text editor in Lessons; it does a much better job of just about everything than the previous editor.

After the jump, there's more detail about what's new with Profiles and Communications. And all the details are available for our users to read about in our help desk.

People and Profiles

We gave the Profile a complete overhaul... new navigation, improved presentation of information, social networking, and lots of other things. 

Overall: Tab navigation, accessible via top-level navigation (alongside Home, Files, etc.), improved presentation and handling of Roles and Tags, Utility button for exports (like ID Card, Transcript, etc.).

Activity Feed: Shows Scheduled Communications, Notes, Sent Emails, and person-specific To-Dos.

Bulletin Board: Upgraded to become a light social networking feed. Post and leave comments on others' bulletins; follow people and have them follow you.

Info: Contact info, basic information (gender, race, etc.), and relationships.

Faculty: Instructor Profiles (Faculty and Teaching Assistant) get course histories and some basic course stats.

Student: Complete student academic histories, including Transcript, Degree Audit, Course Mapping (GPA by Program); courses, degrees, student info, awards, and discipline.

Registration: We moved the Registration interface to a student Profile tab; we also simplified Registration Locks.

Admissions: We moved the Admissions interface to a tab; it works more or less the same. Don't forget that the Activity Feed was designed to help Admissions staff with Prospects.

Advisor: The Advisor interface is now a tab on Advisor profiles.

Financial: Three tabs: Dashboard (formerly Current), By Term, and History, which shows a filter-able list of all of the student's past transactions. Now you can pick and choose which pending charges to invoice, plus some other minor improvements and bugfixes. Also, a new Financial Lock.

Communications

We split out Communications from Admin and gave it its own tab. Now mailing lists and templates are all found in Communications... in addition to a few new things.

Communication Plans: Structure your correspondence with anyone in the system (we had Prospects in mind, but you can do this for Donors, current students... anyone, really) by gathering Email, Printed Letter, and To-Do templates into Communication Plans. You create them in Communications and add them to people in the Activity Feed. 

Mailing Lists have been improved, and now feature a History which shows what you've sent them and when (and for Emails, how many people opened it). You can also send Printed Letters to your mailing lists. Quick Lists work the same, but are now called One-time Lists.

Templates: Improved templates for Email, and new Printed Letter and To-do templates.

Print Queue: A filter-able list of all pending print jobs, plus reprint options for past jobs, and envelope and mailing-label printing.

Page Layouts: Customize your Printed Letters with your own Page Layouts. They work with Open Documents (which work with MS Word and Open Office), so you can make your Populi-produced printed materials look however you want them to.

New Features: the Activity Feed and the Bulletin Board

We have some brand-new new contact relationship tools and social networking feeds. They're designed to help keep the people at your college connected to what’s going on—at your school and with each other.

The features center around the Profile. The Activity Feed shows a stream of Notes, Emails, Printed Letters, Uploaded Files, and Completed To-Dos from Staff and Faculty. As people interact with this person, you’ll see updates in the person’s History, as well as upcoming To-Dos and Communications. The Activity Feed is designed so your staff can see what’s happened with any person in Populi, as well as what’s going to happen.

Bulletin Board & News Feed (Student Tutorials) from Populi on Vimeo.

The Bulletin Board is a social networking tool, sorta like Twitter. You can follow other people in Populi, and they can follow you. Post a bulletin or a comment and it appears on your followers’ bulletin boards; meanwhile, bulletins from people you’re following show up on your own.

And the Home page now features the Feed, which shows you bulletins from people you’re following as well as Populi News. Populi News is now open for comments, and you can even “pin” articles to the top of everyone’s Feed to make sure people see the important stuff.

The social networking features are totally public, so there’s no need to worry about anonymous users abusing the system or harassing people or sending out spam. And even if out-of-line comments are deleted, Staff users can still see them in case they need to look into something. The idea is to keep the conversations polite, focused, and relevant to the life of your college.

These new features just went live, so try them out and see what they can do.

Coming soon: Communications

Our upcoming release includes a number of new Communication features—they're even gonna get their own tab. In addition to upgrading existing features like Mailing Lists and Email Templates, we're also adding some new items, like Printed Letters and Custom Page Layouts.

And, the centerpiece of Communications: Communication Plans. These gather Email, Printed Letter, and To-Do templates into a series of automated events that structure how you correspond with your contacts.

http://vimeo.com/12374136

Say you're in touch with a prospective student. On his profile's Activity Feed (another new feature), you add a Communication Plan, and a whole series of emails, letters, and tasks are instantly scheduled. On Day 1 of the Plan, it sends an introductory Email. On Day 2, a Printed Letter goes out (via the new Print Queue), accompanying some additional materials about your college. On Days 7 and 14, follow-up phone calls hit your To-Do list. And so on. Plans help ensure that all the steps get covered, that no student falls through the cracks, and that your communications stay consistent and focused.

While we built them with the admissions process in mind, they'll be just as useful when you're working with donors, current students—or anyone else you can think of.

Two other things coming up in Communications: Mailing Lists will keep a history of what you sent to them (Emails and Printed Letters), including stats on how many people opened a particular Email. And Page Layouts will let you upload an Open Office template so you can customize the look and feel of your Printed Letters. You'll be able to upload templates for normal documents, mailing envelopes, and mailing labels.

These features are just around the corner. We think they'll make Populi even more useful to your college.

The new profile: a preview

As we mentioned recently, our upcoming release features a pretty substantial re-design of the Profile. The new Profile improves how information is organized and presented; further, it accommodates some new features (and some other things we'd like to do down the road). We think it's pretty magical and revolutionaryat an unbelievable price, to boot.

Many things spurred the re-design. The original profile was built around the functionality that Populi had at the time (pretty much just Academics and Admissions in the early days). But Populi's subsequent expansion filled the Profile to bursting, and it just wasn't as simple to navigate as we wished. Further, there were new features we wanted to introduce that just wouldn't fit in the old Profile. And, of course, we've had a good look over the past few years at how our users employed certain Profile features as workarounds for what they really wanted to do. For instance, almost everyone used Profile notes to store email correspondence. We really needed to make that easier on our users—and, we hope, more useful and enjoyable.

Without further ado, here's a brief video introducing the new Profile.

http://vimeo.com/11870432

And, should you care to have this in writing...

Basics

Wherever you are on the new Profile, you'll see the person's ID Photo, Roles, and Tags, as well as a quick Email link and a phone number so you can easily contact the person. Along the top are tabs to the information you’re looking for—Academics, Admissions, Financial, and so on. The basics are right there no matter which tab you’re on.

Activity Feed

The new Profile starts on the Activity Feed.

On the left side is the past: a complete history of your interaction with this person—notes, emails, letters, files, and to-dos that you or others have added. You can filter the Feed down to show particular items and people.

On the right is the future: to-dos and scheduled communications coming up with this person. It’s a complete summary of what you need to do and when you need to do it.

Speaking of communications, the new profile incorporates Populi’s new Communication Plans—scheduled emails, to-dos, and printed letters that help structure your interaction with your people. This’ll be really handy for Admissions staff who want to keep up with their prospects.

Bulletin Board

The Bulletin Board has been upgraded to a simple social networking tool for everyone at your school. Post updates on your board, leave comments on other people’s boards, and follow other people to get their updates fed directly to your bulletin board.

Info

Info shows basic personal and contact information—address, hometown, relationships, and so on. The new utility button which lets you do things like Reset a Password or Export an ID Card.

Academics

Academics gathers up all of a student’s academic information. On the left, the big-picture stuff like the Transcript and Degree Audit. On the right, the details: student information, courses, degrees, awards, discipline. Use the Utility button to export a grade report, schedule, transcript, or lock the student’s grades and transcript.

The new layout gives you all of the student’s academic information on one screen. Now you can do things like check the Degree Audit and compare it side-by-side to the student’s upcoming courses without changing pages.

Registration

Online Registration is the same familiar interface; the Utility button lets you lock a student’s Registration.

Admissions

The main Admissions screen hasn’t changed much. But don’t forget the Communications Plans on the Activity Feed; we built those to enhance other important Admissions workflows.

Financial

Financial’s generally the same, too, but we’ve improved a few things. The Current screen is now called the Dashboard—it gives you the overview of the student’s financial picture and lets you record payments. By Term still zooms in to the Financials for individual Academic Terms. The new History screen lists all of the student’s past transactions and lets you filter down to see particular transaction types.

Two other improvements: the Utility button lets you apply a Financial Lock to the student’s account. And invoicing lets you select individual pending charges to include on the invoice.

The long and the short of it

The new profile lets you track more information on people than ever before while at the same time making that information even easier to find.

The sales process noise

We started Populi because small colleges didn't really have anywhere to turn for good software that doesn't slaughter the budget. Over time, we've tweaked and tuned our business to reflect our other principles—principles we formed in part just to be contrary to the way business is done in the college software industry. We hope that we're cultivating a simpler, more honest, and even refreshing way of doing business.

For instance, we've always believed in just telling you what we charge. No nonsense, no mystery, no "sit-through-a-pitch-first" hoo-hah. To our knowledge, none of our competitors publish their prices (most of them won't even publish pictures of their software). From what many schools have told us, you have to get deep into the sales process to get a basic price quote. And then the sales process wears on as the quotes get modified and the options get haggled over. The fine print and terms of service sprout as many configurations as the software. You need lawyers and consultants to figure out what you're actually buying.

We self-consciously decided long ago that we wanted no part of this. We just don't want to contribute to the sales process noise colleges must endure when they look for new software. Our website reflects that principle. If you want to find out  what we offer, what we're up to, how to get a hold of us, how the service is holding up, or what our Terms of Service are (among other things) you can, easily. And if your curiosity's piqued, you can just as easily sign up for a live demo.

But we still have to contend with how laborious the industry has made procuring college software. Recently, one college went with Populi not just because it was the best software they had seen, but because other vendors wouldn't cough up a price quote without weeks of the sales process din. Even though some of their prices came in lower than ours (outsourcing support and development overseas is cheap), the work it took to get a number out of these companies told the college what it needed to know about them.

Another school told us that a competitor—one of the big guys with all the big-company overhead—had "underbid" us by a pretty serious chunk of change (when projecting the cost over the minimum five-year contract the competitor required). Of course, our competitor was leaving a few things out that the college still had to negotiate for. Things like a user interface, which, last we heard, would run the college around a hundred grand. That attractive five-year price quote wasn't for an actual information system so much as it was for a database with no way for the average user to... well, use it.

Maybe we're just being naïve, but we honestly do think that if we're daring enough to ask you to pay us to handle your sensitive data, we ought to earn your trust. And so we figure that simply telling you about us upfront seems to be the best way to start that.

Populi makes college management simple. Hopefully we can help make the sales process simple, too.