For those who just do not get the message, hold off on junk e-mail

Let me preface this column by noting that no GCN reader committed any of the
breaches of e-mail etiquette I am about to describe.


Please keep writing for advice and help, or to send me feedback about my last column.


I enjoy reading your e-mail whether you agree or disagree with me. But I don’t
enjoy some of the e-mail that arrives from other sources. You probably don’t like
everything in your in box, either.


This is not about spam advertising, which is relatively easy to control. If you
don’t know how to set filters, simply start a free account at some Internet site and
set your browser to give that out as your return address when you answer UseNet newsgroup
questions.


Virtually all spam results, from replying to a newsgroup thread or starting your own
thread, not from merely reading the posted messages.


Aside from spam, annoying e-mail can usually be blamed on carelessness or a lack of
consideration for recipients.


Recently my e-mail space on one server went from half-full at 300 messages to
overflowing and dropping important messages, all because someone sent me an advertisement
that had more than 1.5M of press releases appended.


Like most busy people who receive several hundred messages per week, and unless mail
comes from a GCN reader, I usually only read the first few lines. But lately, strangers
have begun sending me gigantic messages without any notion as to whether I’m
interested in what they have to say.


That’s a waste of everyone’s time and bandwidth.


Another kind of junk e-mail comes from people who enjoy mailing complete Web pages that
open links automatically when you try to read the mail.


A third kind of junk e-mail might not seem annoying to the sender. It is the
“courtesy” e-mail reply to a reply, usually followed a day or so later by
another query about whether the thank-you message arrived.


I’m not talking here about a meaningful follow-up that clarifies a point or asks
another question. The kind I’m talking about comes from people who would never
consider phoning or stamping an envelope to send a one- or two-word acknowledgment.


But because e-mail is fast, easy and above all free, they just keep sending tiny,
meaningless messages, usually with several pages of old messages appended.


Those acknowledgments really pile up. I did a brief audit of about 250 e-mail replies
before deleting them, and more than 90 percent were acknowledgments. I know from
experience that if I don’t answer the most banal messages, I will be bombarded with
more asking whether I received the first copy.


Any office that has used e-mail for more than a few months is familiar with this
chain-message phenomenon. Workers are wasting valuable time looking at each message to
decide whether it’s meaningless.


It’s gotten to the point that I have to send postal mail to get someone’s
attention.


Agencies need to find a way to conserve e-mail electrons now because the situation will
only worsen as they do more of their purchasing over the Internet.  


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.

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