Electronic MailThe purpose of this lesson is to introduce you to electronic mail. You'll find out how you can use it and learn its associated social etiquette. You'll also learn how to cope with unsolicited email.
How do I email?
Use Web-based mail
If you are not familiar with Unix nor Unix-based mail systems available (and you don't want to become familiar with Unix), I highly advise that you use Web-based mail.
- Your organization may supply you with Web-based mail.
- You can sign up for free, Web-based mail at sites such as http://www.mail.com or others.
To use Web-based mail, all you have to know is how to use your browser and follow the directions at the mail service's Web site to send and retrieve your email messages.
If you are willing to learn Unix, check out this lesson in using mail or look for documentation on Unix based mail. The support staff who runs your organizations computers will likely have documentation online or on paper available to you for learning how to use mail.
You can read the article on "How Email Works," from HowStuffWorks.com to familiarize yourself with the general principles involved.
What is Email Etiquette?
Don't let the fact that in email you are working with software on machines make you forget human nature. Human beings are behind every single thing online, and human beings with feelings and emotions are behind email that you send or receive.
Read the section of this document on email etiquette.
Be careful not to send email messages inappropriately to large numbers of people. This is called spamming and is perhaps one of the most socially-forbidden acts you can do on the Net. Don't send unsolicited messages to people on a mass scale. Unsolicited email on a mass scale is called spam.
Fighting Email Spam
You will get plenty of unsolicted email, however. By 2002, the Internet has become chuck full of spam that arrives by email, so you'll need to have some strategies to deal with it.
- Avoid opening any email message you get with an attachment. If the email has an attachment, delete it. Attachments are a common way that email viruses spread. You can help stop the spread of computer viruses by never opening any mail with an attachment that you did not expect to get. It is generally an unacceptable practice to send information by attachments in most business situations. Many sites refuse to accept email with attachments.
- Consider getting an email client that allows you
to filter your email. One such (free) client is
Using filtering, you can sort your email into folders based
on the subject line, email address of the sender, or
You can then use a scheme like this:
- Sort known friends and family member's mail (based on their email addresses) into a folder called Friends.
- Tell business associates, clients (for example: students, if you are an instructor) to use a special subject line when addressing email to you. You can sort these messages based on this subject line into a folder called Business.
- You can create other criteria for other folders. For example, sort email from mailings lists that are important to you into folders named with the name of those lists.
- You can automatically delete email from specific senders (or even email originating from specific domains) that you don't want to ever see.
- Sort any email that is not specifically addressed to you (the recipient is not your email address) into a folder called Junk. This is a common ploy of people who send out mass emails--the actual recipient field of the email may not even be set to your email address. You can then quickly go through (or ignore) email in the Junk folder.
- Allow the email that is left to fall into a folder called Unsorted. You can devote your best attention to the named folders like Friends and Business and then quickly skim through the Unsorted folder when you have time. Save the Junk folder for last.
- Regularly update your filtering rules so that email from people you care about gets sorted into a folder that gets your best attention.
- See if your Internet Service Provider has built-in spam-fighting software. For example, Earthlink offers its customers the use of a Spaminator service which gets rid of spam before it reaches your mailbox.
- You can sign up for the Direct Marketing Association's Email Preference Service. This will get you off of the mailing list of honest companies that use the DMA's list to purge their mailing lists. I doubt if this has much value, but you can sign up for it in about five seconds or so, and this could pay off in the long run.
- If you need a temporary email address (to register at a site, for example), use the Spam Gourmet service.
- If you own a domain name, you can use the Spam Gourmet to "eat" all the spam you will get directed to non-existent users at your domain name. Redirect all this email to email@example.com. For example, I own december.com. My domain gets email address to: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc, etc, etc. All of the email addressed to anyone except a few email addresses @december.com gets sent to the Spam Gourmet before it ever even gets to my email reader software.
- Even if you use filtering and a "spaminator" service, realize that you will never, ever be completely free of spam. It is part of the medium of the Internet. Get to know how to use your email software well so that you can quickly look through email by subject line and sender, and then delete immediately what you know is spam.
- Be sure to use your Information Literacy skills to avoid hoaxes. Do not get taken in by hoaxes and myths, and do not forward them to anyone else.
- Make it a policy to never do business with any services that arrive by spam. If we all did this, spam would disappear from the Internet.
- Don't respond to spam to complain or to get yourself off their mailing list. Your response can be used to identify yours as an active email account. Your response could therefore get you even more spam!
- Some people like to show their email address
in discussion forums or on Web pages
something like this:
john@NOSPAM.smith.orgThe idea is that automated email address harvesters, working from Web pages or from Usenet or Web-based discussion postings, will not be able to easily add your email to their list, while participants in the forums will be able to figure out your email address by leaving out the NOSPAM part. I don't know if these schemes of cloaking or keeping your email address a guarded secret work all that well. Eventually, spammers can generate your email address using software, and they will find you. I've made my email address publicly known very widely (printed in books, articles, in front of thousands of people at conferences, etc.) for nearly a decade, and I don't believe this has made me all that more vulnerable to spam.
- Take a deep breath and avoid getting too worked up about spam. Use your wits to do what you can to avoid it, and then move on. Avoid spending an obsessive amount of time campaigning against unsolicted email or demanding that someone do something about it. Do support your ISP in its efforts to crack down on spammers and cooperate in any investigations that you can. And, definitely don't send spam yourself!
Exercise: Practice email
Send email to yourself to test out your email software. Reply to yourself to test how to reply.