ISSUE 454: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE- July
E-mail is the most useful part of the Internet
despite the growing load of time-wasting spam
The Web may get all the media hype, but in many
ways, plain old e-mail does most of the work. After the thrill of
browsing the Web wears off, e-mail is there, day in and day out,
keeping users connected to one another.
But for many users, e-mail is on the verge of becoming
too much of a good thing. Part of the problem is that there's getting
to be too much of it.
How many messages a day do you get? I'm averaging 50
to 100, but some people are receiving several times that number -- not
after a week's holiday, but every day. That includes personal messages,
mailing lists, spam, and more -- a combination of wanted and unwanted
messages. Even deleting the unwanted ones takes time. I average about
an hour a day working through my mail.
Already, more messages are sent via e-mail than
through the post office -- what e-mail fans refer to as "snail mail."
And estimates from the Electronic Messaging Association suggest
total messages will have grown by an additional 75 per cent by 2000.
So-called "spam" accounts for much of the growth. Spam
is unwanted, unsolicited junk e-mail, the equivalent of junk faxes. As
with fax numbers, spam mailers can purchase lists of e-mail addresses.
And it's easier to send 1,000 e-mail messages than the same number of
faxes. Resist the temptation to reply to unwanted junk e-mail, as it
only confirms that your address is accurate. And, too often, spam-mail
is sent with a bogus return address anyway.
Many e-mail programs include optional filters that can
be set to check received messages and, for example, delete any from the
addresses you list. Or you may want to automatically delete messages
with spam-like key words in the title.
The U.S. Senate passed an anti-spam bill on May 14,
but it may have little effect. Already, messages with a disclaimer,
"This is not junk e-mail," have gone out, presumably making them in
compliance with the legislation, which still needs to pass the House of
Representatives before taking effect. Ironically, by providing a
mechanism to legitimize junk e-mail, the bill may simply result in more
I don't get too much spam (maybe I'm just lucky). Much
of my e-mail load is the result of my subscribing to mailing lists that
send out monthly, weekly, even daily messages, most complete with
hot-links to Web sites with more information. I suppose, at some point,
I thought each one might be valuable, but I've really got to take the
time to figure out which ones are actually useful and unsubscribe from
Too much unwanted e-mail, however, comes from users
who just get carried away with its potential. This seems to be
especially the case with internal e-mail systems running on large
corporate networks. It's just so easy to send the joke of the day or an
internal memo to every one
of your coworkers. (And, of course, the message load multiplies each
time a recipient responds and uses the 'Send to All' option.)
Then there are e-mail attachments -- perhaps a
graphic, a spreadsheet chart, a word processor document or an actual
program sent along with an e-mail message. Send a 15-meg video clip to
each of a hundred recipients and there's now gigabytes of data clogging
up the network. For recipients using a modem to access their mail it
gets worse. Typically, they can't get the rest of their messages until
they download your multimeg attachment, which can take half an hour or
Resist the temptation to send out large attached
files. Instead, post a single copy on the Web or on your internal
corporate network, and send out a message letting all and sundry know
where they can access it -- if they want.
Despite the dark side of e-mail, it can be a powerful
business tool. Expect to see more and more use of mailing lists. Print
line publications that send out a summary of the contents in the
current issue are increasingly popular. Some even carry advertising.
Smaller businesses, too, can make good use of mailing
lists, replacing printed brochures and newsletters with the electronic
equivalent sent out to past and potential customers or to visitors to
their Web sites. These mailings are cheap to produce and send, and are
convenient for the readers.
The electronic mailings are different from spam in a
critical way: mailing list recipients have all asked to be included,
volunteering their e-mail addresses. Every business with a Web site
should consider including a link allowing visitors to leave their
address behind. Just make sure to include a way for readers to get
their addresses off your mailing list, if they choose to opt out.*