Client: Verizon via Campfire.
Wrote blog, ad, and other copy for campaign promoting Verizon FiOS.
You just received an email from your cousin Jane that has 50 people in the address field, contains a 10 megabyte video, and exhorts you to pass it on to everyone you know. Do you…
A) Reply to all and talk about the funny video?
B) Forward the video to everyone in your address book?
C) Pull out your copy of Switch Craft and make a voodoo doll that squirms when you poke it; put Jane’s name on it?
D) Have a conversation with your cousin about email netiquette?
The correct answer, of course, is D, but first you need to go armed with the facts before sitting your cuz down for a little chat. There were several ways her email message violated basic internet manners, but of course you can’t tell her, “Jane, you’re rude and have no concept of politeness!” because, as Miss Manners would say, that’s rude, too. Rather, what Jane needs to know is the facts behind what she’s doing and how she could be inconveniencing others. Here are the issues and solutions:
1. Not using BCC. Probably what Jane did was just send the message to everyone in her address book.
• However, she didn’t stop to think that not all those people knew each other, or were comfortable sharing their email addresses with strangers. Even worse, what if you end up like Suburban Turmoil and realize your acquaintances are forwarding jokes to your dad? I could see that going wrong in a hurry.
• Not only does this breach privacy, but if one of those 50 recipients gets a virus or malware on their computer, it can harvest your email address and start sending you even more spam.
• In addition, the other recipients can hit “Reply to All” and send a message to the 49 other people on the list saying “Oh yeah, right on, go Jane!” and then someone else will reply to all and say, “How dare you! I resent the implication!” and it just goes downhill from there. Your inbox will now be taken over for a week with Janespam.
Solution – Use BCC: Unless the list of recipients is very short and everyone needs to know who is on it, you should use BCC to send mail to several people. BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy, and anyone whose address is in the BCC field will not see the addresses of the other people in the BCC field. They can see who is in the TO and the CC field.
Alternate solution – make a mailing list: If you will be sending mail to the same group of people over and over, you might think about making a mailing list so that you don’t have to remember all their addresses every time you need to send a message. You can do this for free with services like Google Groups or Yahoo Groups (Google or Yahoo ID required), and they will archive messages and sometimes have other features, like a places to upload files.
2. Huge attachments. Unless you’re using FiOS, which has no limits on the size of incoming attachments, most internet service providers restrict how big the messages you receive can be.
• If an attachment is too big, it can get bounced back to the sender with a cryptic message saying it was undeliverable, and now cousin Jane may think she doesn’t have the right email address for you anymore.
• If you get many large attachments in a short period of time and you’re not on FiOS or another service that has a generous mailbox quota, those attachments can take up all your room and cause all the mail you receive from everyone to get bounced back to its sender.
• If you go out of town and check your mail on a dial-up connection, you will spend all day and night downloading those 10 meg attachments and never be able to hit the beach.
Solution – Put it on the web: If you’re sending someone a funny video, chances are very good that you can find that video already hosted at YouTube.com. Hit the site and do a search. If you don’t find it, uploading a video to YouTube couldn’t be easier; just make an account, hit the “Upload video” button, and go. Once it’s uploaded, the site will give you the link you can use to share it with all your friends.
If you want to share large pictures, instead of emailing them, host them on a site like Flickr, Photobucket (both require registration), or TinyPic (no registration required). They are all very simple services to use: just like a camera, you point and click. Once you upload your images, merely copy and paste the location to your email message, and your recipients can go look at your excellent pictures at their leisure.
3. Chain mail. Maybe it’s our helpful human nature, but something about the words “Forward this to everyone you know!” turns even the most reasonable person into an email forwarding machine.
• Sometimes we helpfully forward stuff that’s just not true. The website Snopes.com is an excellent resource for checking to see if you’re reading fact or fiction• It may have been true… several years ago. Mars passed very close to earth in August – of 2003. Cold medications with PPA were recalled – in 2000. Sending out an email alert about them now is a little silly.
• What good is signing that email petition really going to do? Who’s going to collect all those names and make sure they’re legitimate? Are you sure they’re getting to someone who can change policy?
Solution – when in doubt, don’t. “Forward this to everyone you know!” is a code phrase for “Please let this email die.” Unless you’re dealing with something you know to be legitimate, passing on chain letters, petitions, and urban legends really sort of misplaces what could otherwise be well-spent energy. If you want to make a change, then call your congress critter or volunteer somewhere.
With these three tips, you and Jane will be well on the way to being the politest emailers in the family. Have your own pointers or pet peeves? Share them with me in the comments!