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What is Machine Learning and how can it benefit Associations?

posted on Feb 14, 2018

Machine Learning

Machine learning is one of the biggest growth leaders in technology, giving computer systems greater ability to understand and interact with the world and with society. Machine learning has traditionally been used for things like identifying faces or other objects in photographs, automatic translation, transcribing handwriting, and data forecasting. But now it is being applied in an ever-greater range of applications and businesses.

Machine learning is a technology in which a computer system is fed large amounts of data to analyze, as well as the outcomes or goals it is expected to achieve from that data. It builds an internal model of how to process the data, usually random and meaningless at first, and then applies that model to the data repeatedly. It adjusts the model as it goes, and gradually improves its performance over time. Such systems can learn to disregard irrelevant information, and find patterns that more traditional methods can miss. In some cases, the systems can match or even exceed the abilities of a highly-trained human, or deal with volumes of information too great for a person to process.

Benefits of machine learning are increasingly finding their ways into our day-to-day lives. Our phones have better voice recognition and predictive text, services like Netflix, Amazon, and Google are giving us recommendations that better match our wants and needs, while the latest automobiles come with driving assist features to make our roads safer.

In the future, member associations will be able to use tools like these to better understand and meet their member's needs, plan and organize better events, improve marketing and member retention, reduce spam in their inbox, and benefit from better website security.

What’s this mean to Exware clients?

At Exware, our research team is actively investigating machine learning tools to find ways they can improve our AMS system and benefit our clients. Stay tuned for updates.

Tagged as: Technology

Exware Improves Email Deliverability - Free for all Supported Clients

posted on Jan 19, 2018

cpanel_iconsAs part of client support, Exware continually updates modules and servers. One of our most recent updates is adding DKIM support to the Email Distribution module. DKIM improves overall deliverability of emails sent via the Email Distribution module. It reduces the chance of these emails getting blocked, spam-filtered, or tagged as possible fraud by the receiving mail system.

DKIM stands for DomainKeys Identified Mail. It works through a system of cryptographic signatures which verify the authenticity of the emails being sent. The way it works is a bit complicated, but below is a quick rundown.

When DKIM is enabled, each email sent contains a unique encrypted signing block embedded in its mail headers. This digital signature is generated using public key cryptography, which is the same technology that keeps websites secure using SSL. When setting up DKIM for a website, a special Email Distribution DKIM public encryption key is added to the domain's DNS. Only the Exware mail server has the matching private key, which means only the Exware server can generate the correct cryptographic signature for each email. The receiving mail server can look up the public key in the DNS and use it to verify the validity of the DKIM signature block in the email. That way it knows the received email is legitimate, as its signature matches what's in the domain's public DNS records.

Since spammers don't have access to the server's private key, and have no ability to mess with another domain's DNS records, they are unable to generate DKIM-signed email. This is why DKIM-signed email is more likely to get past modern spam-filters.

To have this added to your Exware AMS, please contact us as we must set up the system on our servers and update your DNS records to match.

Another recent email change applies to clients whose email is hosted by Exware using Connex Email Manager. This improves deliverability for addresses that forward to a third-party email account. It's done using a technology called Sender Rewriting Scheme (SRS), which modifies some of the mail headers in a way that make it easier for the third-party system to understand that the email has been forwarded. Without SRS in place, some receiving mail systems might reject the forwarded email as possible spam. This improvement has been added automatically to clients whose email is hosted by Exware.

Tagged as: Exware News

A New Year -- Time for Associations to Take Stock

posted on Jan 2, 2018

hny2018As we enter into a new year, it's a good time for Associations to do a quick audit of 'what is' and make a plan for 2018. Here are some specific things to review:

1) Go through your website to:

  • double check that all content is still relevant. Make sure links to third party sites and/or documents still work. Use this link checker tool: https://www.drlinkcheck.com/
  • make sure you can easily find content that the public and your members are trying to find.
  • review your Google Analytics to see what is your most popular content and what was least popular. This can give you ideas on how to changes things on your homepage or the navigation of your site. Hide or delete obsolete content - this can also speed up your site.

2) Review your membership:

  • create a report of recently lapsed members and personally follow-up with them. Try to bring them back onboard or at least understand why they left
  • review your Renewal Reminders to ensure they are up-to date.
  • total up the number of new applications and renewals for the year and see how that compares to prior years - Exware clients can do this by exporting the sales summary in the Membership module.
  • create and email a member satisfaction survey - keep it short and quick for best results.
  • review your accounts receivable to ensure it's up to date -- Exware clients can do this in the Payments module.

3) Review your site security:

  • have you added SSL to your site yet?
    • if your site does have SSL, you can see if its configuration gets a passing grade by going to https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/
    • review your list of admins to ensure it's current. Archive admins no longer with you.
  • make sure you have strong email passwords, particularly for generic accounts like info@ and hr@. Malicious password-guessing bots work around the clock trying to break into email accounts, so weak passwords will eventually fail.

The final step is to make a Plan for 2018:

  • what are your membership retention goals?
  • what are your membership acquisition goals?
  • what are your membership engagement goals?

What's this mean to Exware clients?

Contact Exware to find out ways that we can you achieve your goals or how to do any of the above items.

Tagged as: Association Tips

Is your Association attracting the next generation?

posted on Apr 20, 2018

Millennials are starting out their careers

Millennials are starting out their careers. They are looking for job leads and are focused on their career. Smart associations will target the next generation of members by offering:

  • student or under-30 member rates
  • member-only job boards
  • mentoring programs
  • networking opportunities/events for this group

Exware will talk about attracting the next generation in its blog over the next few months.

Here are some very specific and immediate tactics that you can implement:

Step 1:
Make sure you understand the age demographics of your current membership. Do you track birth date or age range so you can understand where your at? If your membership is older in age, you need to figure out how you can attract the next generation.

Step 2:
An easy 'win' -- offer a student or under-30 rate; however, make sure you track second year retention rates

Step 3:
ffer a members-only job board that incentivizes this generation to join. Most millennials will change jobs frequently.

Step 4:
Leverage your experienced membership base by offering a mentorship program.

Introducing a Mentorship Program

Yes, this may sound daunting so let's start with the basics:

  • Ask your members if they want to be a mentor. If yes, in what areas.
  • Ask your student members if they need mentoring. If yes, in what areas.

Before you match your mentors/mentees, it's important that you provide guidance. For example, ask the mentees to list potential areas they are hoping to work on during the course of the mentorship. Each mentor/mentee can then discuss their list during the initial meetings. From there, the mentor and mentoree can agree on a set of reasonable mentoring objectives.

Make sure you actively follow-up with the mentor/mentee to find out how it's going. This is invaluable feedback and will help you grow the program as well as use the results and feedback to attract new millennials.

In addition, you may want to track some basic member demographics so you can monitor change. For example, age range of members and age range by membership type. This will allow you to track membership acquisition by age group -- with the goal to increase your 'under 30' stats.

What does this mean for Exware clients?

Ask Exware to how you can start tracking your membership age stats and what programs will fit with your association's goals and objectives.

Can Canadian Associations now reap the benefits of cloud computing?

posted on Dec 5, 2017

With cloud computing becoming common-place, many Canadian Associations have not been able to take advantage of it due to The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) which is a Canadian federal law that applies to the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information in the course of commercial activities in all Canadian provinces. It requires that all personal data is stored and hosted in Canada.

This goes against the nature of cloud computing where the specifications and the location of your servers is immaterial. The benefits of the cloud computing approach is that you do not need to concern yourself with low-level IT details like server hardware and hosting facilities, and related issues like hardware maintenance and server migrations. But the very abstraction that makes cloud computing attractive also makes it problematic when you do need to state with some specificity where your data is located.

Cloud vendors are starting to allow some flexibility in their services. Starting a year ago, Amazon has allowed their cloud customers to confine their instances to their Canada (Central) Region, which means that stored data and cloud servers will be located in the Toronto-Montreal region, and will be geographically isolated from other Amazon facilities in the U.S. and abroad. Amazon claims to have two availability zones in Canada, meaning that even if one of their facilities suffers a serious problem, the other can pick up the slack and ensure continuity of service.

What does this mean for Exware clients?

Exware is researching cloud hosting options to determine the specific pros/cons for our clients before introducing new packages. For those not ready for cloud hosting, Exware will continue to offer its traditional physical server options.

Understanding the Pros and Cons of Cloud Hosting

Tagged as: Technology

What is your Membership Retention? Five Ideas for How to Improve it.

posted on Nov 21, 2017

Almost all organizations would like to increase their membership, and according to the 2017 Marketing General benchmark report, far more are seeing increases than decreases - 46% compared with 25%. This has been the case for nine consecutive years. Membership retention is an important part of that, with the report showing a median retention rate of 84%. Challenges most frequently cited by organizations trying to retain and grow their membership include insufficient staff, an inadequate member database, difficulty maintaining younger members, and providing sufficient value to members.

Here are ideas that can improve membership retention by providing greater convenience and value to members:

  1. implement auto-renewal
  2. introduce multi-year renewal plans - 1 year, 2 year and 3 year rates
  3. personally follow-up with recently lapsed members and try to win them back. If you can't, find out why. This is valuable information that can be used to refine your retention and member engagement strategies.
  4. offer members an incentive to renew by a specific date. This can be done by offering an 'early bird' rate or a discount towards a future event or course offering.
  5. offer a discount to archived members to get them back -- CAUTION: you don't want people to "archive" because they know you'll offer an incentive. This may be a good 'one-time' promotion to clean-up your archived member list.

How easy does your association make it for members to stay current?

Tagged as: Association Tips

Website Style Guide, Part 4 - Writing Style

posted on Oct 27, 2017

Our 4th and last installment of our style guide series will touch on the things covered by regular style guides: how to write for your audience. Your language style choices will help to define your "voice". Keeping it consistent will help to convey professionalism and authority.

There are many things you might want to decide on a set of standards to use for, such as:

Spelling: Are you using American, Canadian, or British English spelling conventions? Make sure your work computers are configured with the correct language choices, so that their built-in spell checkers will give you consistent results.

Abbreviations: Do you include periods or not? (For example, USA or U.S.A.) Some abbreviations have multiple variants; which ones are preferred on your site? (For example, USA vs US.) Pay particular attention to the abbreviations that are commonly used in your field.

Numbers: Numbers, especially larger ones, can be written numerous ways. For example, "one thousand" vs "1,000" vs "1000" (or even "1.000" in some European styles). Style recommendations on this point sometimes change depending on the size of the number. For example, numbers below 20 should be written out, but higher numbers should be numeric. Also consider whether ordinals should be spelled out or abbreviated, such as "fifth" or "5th" or even "5th" if you want to get fancy. Should you write #1, or Number 1, or No. 1?

Locations and Addresses: Should states and provinces be spelled out, or abbreviated? If abbreviated, should you use standard two-letter postal abbreviations? How should phone numbers be written, especially when area codes are included?

Jargon: Some terms are not widely understood outside their specialized fields. Try to avoid jargon in areas that may be outside your audience's regular experience. At the same time, have a list of approved jargon that they should be comfortable with, and feel free to make use of it if it helps to make your writing more concise.

Writing Style: What is the likely reading level of your audience? Should you write in first or third person ("I" vs "we") or avoid personal pronouns entirely? Should you avoid passive sentence constructions and vague attributions (such as "It is felt that...")? Should you use a conversational tone, or a more formal tone? Should contractions be spelled out fully (such as "cannot" vs "can't")?

Credits, Footnotes, and Captions: How do you give credit to sources? As a byline before the article, or a footnote after the article? Do you credit image sources in the image caption, or the article footnote?

Linkiness: Do you link often or very little? A "linky" website will try to link relevant terms (such as organization names) to their websites. This helpful for readers who want to find more information without having to pay a visit to Google, but it also risks diverting them away from your website. If you do not want to divert your readers in mid-article, you can place the relevant links in a "More Info" section in your footnotes.

While you may need to come up with a few standards and rules that are particular to your organization and website, very often you can simply defer to one of the industry-standard style guides that are used in the publishing industry. Here are some samples to get you started:

Website Style Guide, Part 3 - HTML

posted on Oct 12, 2017

In our third style guide, we will look at some HTML formatting issues that commonly arise, and how to deal with them in a consistent and user-friendly fashion.

Links

Try to be consistent about using "open in a new window" - for example, only use it on links that leave your site. Inconsistency with this feature creates a confusing navigational experience for your visitors.

Links can be made to look like buttons, but the extra padding and spacing around buttons means they don't work well embedded in paragraphs or other blocks of text. Only use this effect on short links that are on their own line, like this:

Register now

Link anchors (the text that you actually click on) should be descriptive of the link destination. Do this:

download the brochure

not this:

click here to download the brochure

It is a good idea to avoid "click here" language in general.

Images

Avoid using high-resolution images, which are very slow to download. Upload images to your photo albums, and choose the recommended resizing options.

Pay attention to the aspect ratio and orientation of the image and its intended placement. For example, portrait (vertically-oriented) images don't work well in horizontal carousels, and elongated images don't work well as thumbnails, especially if the latter are usually square on your site.

Tables and Floats

Use tables for presenting tabular data, not for laying things out side-by-side. Use caution with tables, because the more columns you add, the less well the table will work on small screens like mobile devices.

"Floats" are things like images and sidebars that are moved to the left or right so that they are displayed side-by-side with other content. When inserting images, you have an option to align the image left or right, which accomplishes this effect. But beware of over-using this layout effect. It only works well on larger screens like desktop computers that have lots of horizontal display room. On smaller mobile screens, there is no room to move things to one side, and the results could be unpredictable or sloppy. Getting floats to work well on all types of display can be a complicated problem that may require a graphic designer.

Importing Text

When pasting formatted text into your website, you might end up copying a bunch of styles that are not compatible with your own design. Use the "clear formatting" tool to wipe these foreign styles clean so that your own design can assert itself.

Email Addresses

Do not insert email addresses directly into a public page, as it makes it easy for spammers to get new addresses to send to. If you want to make a MailTo hyperlink (that opens a compose email window when you click it), use the MailTo applet, which will disguise the email address.

If you just want to post an email address somewhere and don't want it to be clickable, a simple trick is to write it out without the @ character, for example: your-name AT gmail.com. The reader must replace the "AT" with a @ character, which is a mild inconvenience. If you don't want to burden your readers with that inconvenience, use the MailTo applet instead.

If you are putting MailTo links onto private (eg. member-only) pages, it is safer to just make a regular MailTo link, because spambots cannot read those pages.

Website Style Guide, Part 2 - Text

posted on Sep 29, 2017
The special characters tool gives you access to punctuation marks that might not be easy to type.

In our second style guide, we will cover the subject of the text itself.

There are some formatting styles that cannot be automatically applied using CSS, and only come into play as you type. Keeping consistent on these points will help to convey a sense of neatness and professionalism.

Headings

Try to use a consistent headline case. For example:

  • Our new website won an award (sentence case)
  • Our New Website Won an Award (title case: important words capitalized)
  • Our New Website Won An Award (capitalized)
  • OUR NEW WEBSITE WON AN AWARD (uppercase)

CSS settings can help with some of these (all-caps, or capitalized, for example). But if you follow a different convention, you will have to do your heading capitalization manually.

Try to use heading numbers consistently. HTML headings run from H1 to H6—these are not simply sizes as you might think, but sub-section levels. In other words, h1 is a document title, h2 is a section heading, h3 is a sub-section heading, and so on. When adding events and articles, the title will usually automatically be turned into an h1, so you should stick to h2 and h3 in your text. This may help to visualize it:

This is the main title (h1)

1. This is a section heading (h2)

1.1 This is a sub-section (h3)

2. Another section (back to h2!)

2.1 Another sub-section (h3 again)

There should not normally be more than one h1 heading on any given page—and you usually don't need to provide it, since in many cases, the CMS automatically converts your title to an h1 heading.

Do not start your articles with a heading, because that heading goes right under the article title, which means you would have two headings in a row. It is rare to use h4 and lower unless you are writing a very long and complex document with many sub-sub-sections. If your article is not too long, avoid the use of headings altogether, since your title is probably adequate.

Alignment

Your website styles already define how to align, justify, and center text in your headings, paragraphs, and elsewhere. Generally speaking, avoid use of text alignment tools unless you absolutely need to achieve an irregular effect.

Use the blockquote tag if you want to pull out a section of text with altered margins, such as a quotation or excerpt. Here is a blockquote example:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

–Antoine de Saint-Exupery

If you need to line up individual characters on different lines, you will need to use a monospaced font. Or, use the preformatted tag, which accomplishes the same effect, as shown here:

YES     #####################################
NO      #######################
%       1        10        20        30        40

Punctuation

Try to be consistent in your use of punctuation conventions like smart quotes, Oxford commas, and dashes. If you are going to going to get fancy with your dashes, know the difference between hyphens (-), en-dashes (–), and em-dashes (—), and don't mix them with typist shorthand like double-dashes (--).

If you don't know how to produce the correct punctuation marks from your keyboard, the special characters tool gives you access to a variety of additional punctuation marks and other characters.

Emphasis

If you need to emphasize text, it is usually okay to use bold and italic, but try to be consistent. For example, use bold for important words, and italics for titles, quotes, or extracts.

Avoid these bad practices:

  • underlined text (it looks like links)
  • ALL CAPS (it looks like shouting, and makes you seem angry)
  • making text larger (it changes your line-heights and looks messy)
  • using coloured text, especially red (which looks like an error message)
  • using background colours (it makes your page look like an unfinished draft copy)
  • DOUBLING OR TRIPLING UP ON EMPHASIS (yikes!)
  • using headings for emphasis

    (just plain wrong!)

Pasting Text from Other Sources

Often you will have your article or text in another format, such as a PDF or Word document. The easiest way to get it into your website is to copy and paste the text into the CMS.

But when you paste formatted text, you will also be pasting the text styles of the original source document, and those might not match your own style guide. Even worse, you might end up pasting cosmetic styles like fonts and colours. The clear formatting tool in the HTML editor will help to clean out those cosmetic styles so that your own style sheet can take over, but it will not make the text itself conform to your style guide. You will have to manually proofread and correct your headings, punctuation, and other text issues.

Website Style Guide, Part 1 - Visual Style

posted on Sep 6, 2017

Developing a style guide for your website will help to maintain consistency and a professional appearance as your website evolves and grows. These in turn will improve usability for your readers.

There are several different areas that your website style guide should touch on. In the next few blog posts, we will go over some of the more important ones to take into consideration, starting with Visual Style.

Visual style is an aspect of your web design, involving layout, fonts, and colour choices. Visual style is often the easiest type of style to get right—you can usually nail it by following one simple rule:

DO NOTHING.

This is because your website already has built-in rules for how things should be styled. It already knows what fonts and sizes to use and where, it knows how to colour your text, headings, and links, and it automatically lays out everything according to pre-defined templates. By doing nothing at all, you allow these rules to take effect, and your web designer's best intentions can be realized. All you need to do is decide what the functional role of your text should be. For instance, what is a heading, what is a list, and so on. In the editor, your text will be shown using a generic functional styling, but after you submit it, your website styles will take over and show you how it will appear to visitors.

Colours: In some special cases, you might find it helpful to break with the rule of not setting colours. For example, when quoting from an extensive set of rules and regulations, you may not be able to alter the formatting to highlight the passages of interest. In that case, you might choose to use colour to highlight the important words. Avoid colours that will make the highlighted text look like links.

Fonts: Your website already has its preferred fonts set up. Don't override those settings, or your pages could end up looking like a ransom note. But there are cases where you may find it helpful to override those settings. For example, technical text (like code) often works best using a monospace font. (Note that there is a code tag in HTML that makes this easy for you.)

Layout: Be very cautious when playing with your text layout. Multi-column layouts, floating images, and other such effects will work on one type of viewer (eg. computer desktops), but not on others (eg. mobile phones). Do not even try to get text placements or line breaks exactly right, because there are a wide variety of viewing devices and they will all lay out the text in completely different ways. In the end, you may find that you are only managing how the text appears on your own screen. Best practice is to keep it simple so that those different devices can understand what purpose the text serves, and do something reasonably clean and consistent with it.

In short, follow the K.I.S.S. principle, and keep it simple! The whole point of a good graphic design is that you should not need to think about your visual style at all when making website updates.