CeePrompt! Computer Connection
Originally Published:  May 28, 2001

E-Mail requires some etiquette

Electronic mail has revolutionized the way we communicate and do business. No business card or brochure today is complete without an e-mail address. So dependent are we on this instantaneous communication mode that we're actually peeved when a request for an e-mail address is met with, "I don't have e-mail."

Human nature being what it is, however, abuses do occur in the electronic post office. The most obvious example is the millions of unsolicited spam messages generated daily by unscrupulous marketers. Most people agree that spam is contemptible and a serious abuse of the e-mail system. Fewer realize, however, that everyday folk unwittingly tax the e-mail system with the "pass it on" mentality.

Whether it's a good joke, funny picture, tidbit of gossip or a dire virus warning, people just can't help but click the Forward button and pass it on to their entire address book with just one mouse click. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, as long as a few guidelines are followed.

Before passing on that dreadful virus warning, take a moment to check whether or not it's a hoax. 90% of all virus warnings circulating the Net today are documented hoaxes. These are just chain letters in disguise designed to incite fear and panic among recipients. If you click the Forward button, as a humanitarian gesture, you're perpetrating the hoax and inadvertently passing on spam.

Go to the experts and check either McAfee or Symantec's website for a complete list and description of all hoaxes. The latest legitimate virus alerts are also posted at these sites so if the e-mail warning is official, you can pass it on with confidence.

If you're forwarding a message that's already been forwarded more than once, be considerate and clean up the header information. No one likes to scroll down forever before finally getting to the meat of the message. Highlight the extraneous text and delete it before sending. This keeps the file size to a minimum as well.

When you're sending messages to many people, it's courteous and a good privacy consideration to enter their addresses as BCC: rather than CC: The blind carbon copy works just as the carbon copy does, except none of the recipients will see each other's e-mail addresses in the message header. This protects not only the privacy of the recipients, but also the privacy of your personal address book.

Formatting is very attractive in word processing documents or for desktop publishing, but in e-mails it bloats the size of the post and is often difficult for many e-mail clients to handle. While not pretty, plain text is more expedient and reliable. Save HTML for web pages and Rich Text Format for word processing. Set your mail preferences to use plain text for faster, more efficient e-mail correspondence.

Lastly, be very careful and choosy when attaching graphics or multimedia elements to e-mail messages. If the recipient is expecting the file, that's fine, but it's downright rude to send someone a large, unsolicited graphic file regardless of how funny or appropriate you think it is. Attached large graphic files can routinely choke a mail program, necessitating third party intervention to unclog the pipes. Also remember that not everyone has a high-speed connection, such as cable or DSL. Some messages with attached graphics can take an eternity to download using standard modems.

E-mail systems can only handle so many messages simultaneously and can get overloaded at times, causing delivery delays. Keeping your messages slim and trim will help insure the steady flow of electronic mail. Sidebar: Check for Hoaxes: Symantec: McAfee

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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