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Monday, December 17, 2001
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Using e-mail optimally

It’s ubiquitous, fast, and very much a part of our lives—e-mail has transformed communications and there are over 100 million persons who use it regularly. Pardeep Dhull gives various options in selecting e-mail programs and tips on improving the way in which we use the most popular feature of the Internet.

ASK a man on the road any one use of the Internet, and the answer you'll most likely get is e-mail. This application of the Internet may today be next only to the telephone and the fax-machine as a mode of communication. Whether you are new to the Internet or have been familiar with it for years, chances are you are one of the over 100 million people who use e-mail regularly to communicate.

To those acquainted with the phenomenon, even if peripherally, the advantages of e-mail over conventional mail are obvious. Actually, one need not compare it with simple mail alone, it is one of the most revolutionary methods of communication per se. Sending e-mail does not cost you anything as long as you have access to the Internet, enabling you to reach several users at once, eliminating production and postage costs. It is also 'immediate,' comparable to telephone-travels so fast that it can be delivered in minutes to any part of the world. You have, thus, a combination of the speed and efficiency of the telephone and the written nature of the letter, preserving and recording the written word. This is what makes electronic mail the killer application of the Internet.

 


However, all this online messaging activity may create challenges for most of us. While they understand the usefulness of the facility, many people face problems in using e-mail properly and efficiently - its full potential is not realised. If you are proficient at e-mailing, you can get much more out of it.

Accessing e-mail

E-mail is usually accessed through an e-mail service. While there are various types of services, Web-based and POP3 services are the most popular. Each one of these services has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Web-based e-mail

This is the most commonly used and mostly free e-mail service, like that of Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail. The main advantage of Web-based mail is that it can be accessed from anywhere in the word through a normal Internet browser window, without the need for special e-mail software like Outlook Express or Eudora. It also does not require a particular computer to check your mail.

All the messages that you receive on your Web-based account are stored and managed on a remote server and not on your computer. However, the Web-based service has one major disadvantage, i.e., you have limited space for storing your mail, sometimes smaller than that on POP 3 service. However, the features provided on the e-mail interface by the service providers are basic. You miss out on things like message rules, flagging messages, advanced filtering and formatting that may be available in a full e-mail software as used in POP3 mail.

POP 3 e-mail

POP 3 stands for post office protocol and is an electronic mail utility. POP 3 e-mail service is the service you usually receive from your Internet-service provider when you subscribe to an Internet connection. Essentially, when someone sends you mail, it lands on the service provider's server and lies there till you access it and download it to your computer. This downloading to your computer is done through a special e-mail client (software) that has to be on your machine, of which there are many different kinds, such as Outlook Express, Eudora, Pegasus Mail Pine, ClickMail and many more.

This is a good solution for home and small-business users who typically read their e-mail on a single computer. If you do not want to maintain a constant connection to the Internet, you can connect, download messages, and disconnect. You can then read your mail, write replies or new messages, and queue those messages to be sent, in the e-mail software, all while disconnected from the network. The next time you connect to the Net, the queued mail is sent. This minimises the amount of time you are actually connected to the e-mail server and, therefore, saves connection costs.

E-mail clients

There are various e-mail programs (also called clients) like Outlook Express, Netscape Messenger, Eudora, etc. Most of these programs have common basic tools, while each also has its own advantages. A particular package is usually selected for its ease of use, its ability to keep the mail server clean, and the way it processes the messages.

In most e-mail clients, you can mark important messages (flagging) and sort messages into different folders as soon as messages are received. These e-mail clients have more robust spell-checkers than the ones generally found in Web-based e-mail services. Filtering is also much more advanced in e-mail clients.

They give you ways to filter, block e-mail messages automatically, organise incoming mail, send mailing-list messages to respective folders, address search, etc. Outlook Express is the most commonly used powerful e-mail program, as it comes with the Office package of Microsoft. It helps you manage e-mail efficiently by setting up groups for mass mailings. If you want to send the same message to a number of people regularly, the Address Book lets you name and select members of the group you want to mail. Its "Find" feature is quite efficient. It can also send your replies to messages in the same format as they were received. If you want to access and manage multiple e-mail and news accounts, Outlook Express can be handy. It also includes Hotmail integration features. You can access your MSN Hotmail messages or even configure other such Web mail services from within Outlook Express. You can use Outlook Express to print the messages, play a sound, forward it to another person, or file it in a folder.

Other programs are similar to Outlook Express and due to such distinctive features, e-mail clients have many advantages over Web-mail.

Be an efficient e-mailer

Being able to use all features of e-mail services can save you time and from the embarrassment of lost messages or miscommunication. While most services are user-friendly, going into their detail once may turn out to be very helpful.

Sending

If you are accessing the Internet through a dial-up connection, write your mail while staying off-line, as it will save your bills. If you don't use e-mail software and access Web mail, you can compose your message in Notepad or Wordpad and then copy and paste your message into the Web mail browser window when connected. You also need to be mindful of simple details. Whatever program you are using, you need to fill certain essential boxes (fields) when you compose a message. The primary e-mail address goes in the "To" box. You can use the "cc" (carbon copy) and "bcc" (blind carbon copy) boxes if you want to send copies of the message to others, too. You simply enter the full e-mail addresses separated by commas or semicolons, depending on the software you are using, in either of the two fields. If you do not want the primary addressee to know you are sending copies to others, use the bcc box, and if you want all recipients to know who all have received a copy then use the "cc" field.

Subject line

Never leave the "Subject" field blank. Most programs warn you if the subject box is left empty before you send the messages, though they let you do it anyway. The "Subject" box should simply and briefly state what the message is about, it helps the recipient know what the mail is about and how urgent it is (You may not want your sweetheart to open a mail from you in front of others).

Composing

Always write keeping in mind your audience. In most cases, brevity is the rule. Write with the assumption that the person getting your e-mail has limited time to read and respond to the messages. If you want to send a lengthy message, compose it outside your e-mail program. You can do this with your Word processor, saving the file as a separate document and adding it to your e-mail message as an attachment. It will help you reduce your online charges. On the other hand, it also gives the recipient the benefit of reading large documents off-line at leisure. Also, in this manner the intended formatting is not lost as long as the other person has the same software as you composed in.

Attachments

These are so called as they are separate files attached to your e-mail. They are created separately in a conventional manner depending on the type of file. Once you have created the file you want to send, you attach it to your e-mail. Each e-mail program has a different routine for attaching such files. Some programs have a button saying "Add Attachment" or "Insert File," or maybe a paper-clip icon. You can select the file you want to add to your message from any drive or folder on your computer. Once the name of the file appears within your message, it is ready to send.

Most of the e-mail programs allow you to attach sound, picture and Word files to your e-mail. Remember, large attachments can inflict extra download time on the recipient.

Filters and folders

As soon as you start getting more than five e-mails a day, it is time for you to start using filters. These are found in e-mail software. Filters help you sort the incoming messages to appropriate folders. You can create a new filter by setting certain parameter conditions. Filter settings are generally found in the "Preference" section of the software. If an incoming message meets those conditions, the e-mail client takes the action you have specified. For example, you can direct repetitive or annoying messages to your Trash folder, so that you never have to read them. An interesting feature is that you can assign sounds so that each time you receive a mail of a specified kind a particular sound is played. It can help you identify the sender.

Generally, you may organise your folders by sender, by topic, or by date, depending on your preference. You can also create subfolders. Apart from automatic filtering, you can also manually move messages that don't fall in any pre-specified category into different folders-you can either drag and drop the message, or may use the "Move to Folder" button. Avoid keeping attachments on your e-mail servers to save space on them. Download and save them on your own system.

Netiquette

The commericialisation of the Internet has brought about numerous changes, some welcome, some not. It is astonishing to see how many people, who are perfectly polite in everyday life, forget their manners when they e-mail. It is good if we observe etiquette on the Net too.

  • Be polite. Do not take liberties on the Net, address people in a respectful manner.

  • Don't forget to say "please" if your are asking for something. Similarly, if someone does something for you, always say "thank you." You always did that in your daily life, didn't you?

  • Edit out broken lines or multiple brackets.

  • It is unwise to send confidential information by e-mail. You could be embarrassed if your message falls into wrong hands.

  • Do not get dragged into an online brawl. Cool off for a while before you write a message.

  • Do not use UPPERCASE excessively. It will be difficult for the recipients to read text in all caps.

  • Use spell-check and pay attention to grammar, too. Essentially, it is all about good communication, whatever be the medium. Unfortunately, people tend to take liberties when e-mailing.

  • Knowing all this may help you be an efficient "mailman," but as they say, practice makes a man perfect. Be curious, and you'll learn a lot.

Tips for using e-mail safely

Nothing is foolproof on the Net. However, there are certain ways to maintain e-mail privacy.

  • Change your password at regular intervals.

  • Do not share your password with anyone. ISPs and most server administrators never ask for your password. If you receive an e-mail asking for your password, do not respond.

  • Never save your password on e-mail software to check mail.

  • Do not open e-mail attachments coming from unknown sources as they may contain virus.Be cautious about sharing personal information with anyone you meet through the Internet.

  • Log out of your Web-mail before closing. If you are using a public terminal in an Internet café, close the browser before you leave.

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