The following interview is with Abs Farah: one of the founders of Get Fractal, a UK company dedicated to making your life better. The way they do it is by taking your html and css you designed as a regular web page, and put it through the blender, and out comes email client friendly html and css. Yaay!
Here’s the interview:
Remy: Tell us a little about how did Fractal get started: the idea, the goals, the challenges.
Abs: Like most startups, the best problems to solve are those that you’ve experienced yourself. “Scratching your own itch”, so to speak. This was the case for us when we started Fractal. Whilst studying computer science at University, my brother and I did a lot freelance work in our free time. Mostly web based applications. However, at one point a particular client asked us if we could create an email marketing campaign for them, something we hadn’t done before. But we thought sure, it’s only HTML and CSS, how hard could it be?
Looking back now, it was a silly assumption! So we designed the email, coded it up and it looked great in Firefox. We thought we’d send it to a few email clients just to double check before sending it out and what we saw in Outlook 2007 and Gmail were not what we designed! We thought, what is going on? Why is this happening? After some research we found the reasons why this was happening and that these problems still affect email designers and email marketers today. We knew the email marketing industry wasn’t a young industry so we thought somebody should have solved this problem by now but we were surprised to find there were no solutions!
What existed were lots of tools that tried to help the email designers and marketers solve their problem manually. We thought this isn’t good enough, we need to automate this completely and Fractal was born.
Remy: Since your service has started, what have been some of the responses from the email designer community?
Abs: The response has been very positive which is really exciting, especially to find out after we’ve been building the Fractal application for just over a year now. A favourite comment of ours is similar to the popular internet meme of Fry from Futurama like this tweet that made our day.
Remy: You support the major email clients with Fractal: which one is the most difficult to prep code for?
Abs: Oh it’s definitely Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010. It’s a nightmare when it comes to margins, line heights and many other CSS properties. All thanks to the terrible Microsoft word rendering engine.
Microsoft has dropped the ball on this one twice already and they’ve done it again without Outlook 15. Let’s just hope at least that the background image shenanigans are solved.
Remy: Do you have upfront knowledge / insight into pre-releases of email clients (like Outlook 15) to prepare your platform for its behaviour?
Abs: Outlook 2013 was recently made available publicly to be tested and what we’ve found so far is that it’s almost exactly the same as Outlook 2010 and 2007. Outlook 2013 is using the word rendering engine so the CSS support is similar to its troublesome predecessors.
Remy: Does Fractal take spam scores into account, like broken html, font/background color the same, that stuff?
Abs: We don’t take spam score into account at the moment as what we produce is clean HTML/CSS. However, we do make suggestions to improve HTML emails in things we can’t change like notifying users when an image is missing an alt tag, when there is no unsubscribe link and when the link to text ratio is too high.
Remy: Do you have an API already, or maybe planned, for Fractal, so you can connect it with ESP platforms?
Abs: Yes, we have an API. In fact, the Fractal application makes use of our own API! We’ve had several ESPs already approach us and we have been given out API keys to demo our service. Hopefully, some of you will be using Fractal silently in the background in some of your favourite ESPs!
Remy: Will your service be expanded to landing page optimization, as the number of browsers, screen types and resolution types is increasing?
Abs: We won’t rule this out but the most important thing for us is to keep our focus on the automatic fixing of and conversion of any HTML code into code that works across all the major email clients. This has been a big challenge so far and we are nearing the 100% success rate.
Remy: Are both classes and id’s supported in CSS by Fractal?
Abs: Yes, we do. To make sure Fractal works for any HTML code that’s thrown at it; we’ve spent a lot of time coming up with the perfect CSS inliner from the basic class and id selectors to the more complex CSS selectors.
Remy: Does Fractal take Gmail’s quirkiness into account of not supporting classes, hence moving styles to cells from classes which refer to those classes?
Abs: Yes, Fractal takes this into account. In fact, we inline the majority of CSS whether it’s referred by classes or ids. Having as much CSS inline as possible will improve compatibility across the major email clients.
Remy: What do you think of the future of email marketing: will marketers have a better, easier life or will there be more challenges?
Abs: We hope its gets better but with new mobile and tablet devices being released ever year and the uptake of HTML5/CSS3 by browsers and email clients may present more challenges to email designers. Hopefully, Fractal will be there to automatically solve the problem for email designers and marketers!
Thanks to Abs from Get Fractal for his time and effort spent answering the interview questions.