Email became the driving force behind the growth of the Internet in the early 1990’s. Until websites came along, it was the only reason for it’s growth. So what is email really? Everyone has a definition in their mind but I would like you to think of it this way:
- Email is a mechanism to send and receive files with others that have an email address.
- When you compose an email and press send, your desktop program begins a conversation with it’s designated server and transfers the file to the server.
- Your server looks up the server that handles the recipient’s email and transfers the file in the same exact fashion as your desktop program sent it to it’s server.
- When the recipient opens their desktop email, it starts a conversation with it’s designated server and asks it to show the email it has not seen or that is there.
- When you select an email to read, it is shown to you. You can hit reply, forward, delete or several other things to deal with the email.
- So, what could go wrong with that? There are generally 4 and maybe more, possibly very different computers and operating systems involved in send your message to someone else. Surprisingly, not much does go wrong. Email is a very robust system. We’ll get into problems later.
- Earliest email was made up of two sections. The header is not normally viewed but has information in it about how and when it was transmitted and through what servers did it travel. The body initially was just text. People typed messages to each other and that was the body of the email. The only “upgrade” to email was in the body and it allowed all sorts of formatting of your message. It included embedded images and many are quite complicated web pages. They are built using the HTML markup language. It may also still contain a text section for folks that do not want to open the HTMLized portion. Nowadays, it is almost impossible not to open the HTMLized email. Although pretty, these emails are generally much larger in size, load slower and can have content pulled from other places.
Mail box size
So how big is your mailbox? Most people don’t know and don’t care until they exceed the allowed size. The typical business domain’s email account is 50 to 200 megabytes. The typical free email account from google or yahoo or any number of free email providers are huge! Often above 4 gigabytes. Why is that? They want you to save all of your email there so they can index it and find out more about you. They can use that information and sell that information. I’m not saying all of them do this but you have to ask yourself why are they giving you these services? Read the fine print.
To put this in perspective, all of the text in the 1975 Encyclopedia could be stored in about 125megabytes. That is a lot of text!
Remember, your mail box size in not just the Inbox. It is the Inbox, Sent and Trash and any other folders you created. Inbox, Sent and Trash are generally created by default for you. If you Trash everything in your Inbox, you may have to empty the trash as well.
IMAP vs POP
IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol. POP stands for Post Office Protocol. The difference between the two is very important:
- Both read email stored on your mail server.
- POP and POP3 all remove mail from the server and store it on your own computer. You can’t create or use folders on the server. The server is only used to move the email locally.
- IMAP by default leaves and deals with your email on the server. You can create sub-folders and move email from one folder to another. They are still on the server.
- The good thing about that is you can use different IMAP programs to access your email from different locations and different email programs.
- The bad thing about using IMAP is the email is still on the server. That is only bad when you have a relatively limited storage space on the server. When IMAP deletes something from the Inbox, it actually moves it to the Trash folder. It may not delete anything at all. To actually delete email, you have to “Empty the Trash”.
- When you are using IMAP and send email, a copy is placed on the server in the Sent folder. That is easy to forget and wonder why you are over quota on the server even if you delete everything from the Inbox. It is all in the Sent folder and sometimes in the Trash folder on the server.
- POP only gets mail from the server and stores it in your Inbox locally. As long as you “POP” or get your mail occasionally, you don’t have to worry about being over quota.
- You never have to deal with email on the server other than retrieving it occasionally.
- You never have to delete email. You can store it locally for years without filling up your local drive.
So when would you want to use IMAP and when would you want to use POP. It really depends on how you work with your email. Here are some guidelines that might help:
- If you only check your email from one computer, POP is the simplest method because you don’t have to manage the mail on the server.
- If you occasionally need to check your mail from another location and you are just looking for new messages and don’t need access to older messages, then POP is still the best bet if you have access to a web based email program that was set up by your provider. Web based email programs are IMAP and you have to be aware that if you send mail with it, then that mail is stored in your Sent folder. If you want your own local copy, move email you sent back to the Inbox so when you get back to your computer, it will move it to your local Inbox.
- If you have a Blackberry, iPhone or some other hand held that you use away from your computer, you may want to use IMAP so you will see new email, even if you leave your desktop program running at home. If you use POP, you won’t see email that it took off the server.
- Anytime you deal with your email from multiple devices, you will want to use IMAP on all devices. One device such as your main computer, you can move mail from your Inbox to local folders and even set up rules to move mail to special local folders automatically. This is a good time to get creative and set up many local folders to organize your email. You could set up one for your spouse, one for the kids, one for your company. The company one may have sub-folders under it for individuals in your company. Another folder, for lists your on, could automatically move mail from the Inbox to the list folder. You can set up most local IMAP programs to place sent email locally in a sent folder instead of putting them on the server.
One of the above should fit your needs. Be aware that if you create one type, it is difficult to change. You may have to remove the account on your computer and re-create it to change from one to another. Be aware that folders on the server will be orphaned in you change from IMAP to POP and if you change from POP to IMAP, you may loose local email. Plan ahead.
Each client (a client is a local email program on the computer or device you are using) is set up differently but all have a few things in common which you will need to know. They are:
- POP or IMAP – from the discussion above, you should be able select which you will use.
- Outgoing Server – generally you use something like mail.your.domain.
- For example: mail.google.com, mail.tulsa.com, smtp.tulsa.com.
- Incoming Server – Usually the same as the outgoing mail server.
- For example: mail.google.com, mail.tulsa.com, pop.tulsa.com.
- Login name – By default email clients will try to use the first part of your email address. That is everything before the @. That will work for some of the larger mail providers where you are all something or other at the same domain name. If you have your own domain name you will likely use your entire email address as your login name.
- Password – Consider never using a password shorter than 10 characters. Never use a familiar name of your pet, child, street or anything that could be associated with you. Even if you don’t care if someone sees your email, consider the ramifications if someone sends a few thousand emails to your friends and people you don’t know advertising anything horrible you can think of. Use keyboard patterns. They are easier to remember than you think. Often easier than one of your pets. Type the following strings and you will see what I mean by keyboard patterns.
- /;p09ol.,ki8 You only have to remember /.,
- 8uhb7ygv6tfc You only have to remember 876 down to the left.
- 2wsx#EDC4rfv You only have to remember 234 down to the right and shift the middle.
- 8 characters or less for a password can be hacked in a matter of seconds. Extend this logic to all passwords you use. Our corporate policy requires 12 or more characters that do not make up a name or word.
What’s an alias. It is just like an email address but any mail sent to it is forwarded to your regular address. We have a practice of creating aliases for any email address that is placed on a website. If you have an address for any inquiries from your website such as firstname.lastname@example.org, we would set up an alias such as email@example.com and forward that to firstname.lastname@example.org. By the way, email@example.com may also be an alias to your regular email address. There are programs that spammers use to “scrape” websites looking for email addresses. They are added to spam lists and suddenly, you start getting spam. With an alias, we change it to firstname.lastname@example.org and forward that to the same place. Spam is gone when we delete email@example.com. When it starts again, we just change the alias again.
Forwarders are a lot like aliases but it is an actual email address. A copy of the email is forwarded to your regular email account and maybe several others as well. Someone still has to log into the forwarders account and delete old email there or it will fill up and stop accepting email. They are not used often.
This is one of my pet peeves because it is a security concern. They are often used in a business environment to tell a co-worker or associate that you are unavailable and when you might be back in the saddle. Some mailing lists have a problem with auto responders because they start automatically passing the email around and you get another copy and reply again, and reply again, and reply again. It is amazing how often I get an email from someone that says “I’m on vacation away from my home”. Why would you want to tell anyone who sends you an email that you may be away. Instead, send an email to everyone who should know one time telling them when you will return. You could also have a forwarder set up for the time your out to a co-worker and they can handle any thing necessary.
If you need an automated answer to a form submission on your website, you should copy the sender on the form they submitted and/or send them a thank you and information about when to expect a real reply or whatever the circumstances require.
You’ve got to have an email list. Obvious, but the most important thing is to first get a good list. The best way to do that is develop it yourself. Most likely, any list you buy will hurt your reputation and may block your email server and shutdown your website. There are consequences to sending spam even if someone told you it was a double opt in list. Just my opinion.
So how do you create your own marketing list? Blogging done right will get you a very good list of opted in people. You have to give them worth for free along with trying to sell them something. I don’t mean give away the farm, give them information that has value along with helping them understand that purchasing the product, service or information will get them the rest and they should feel they made a good purchase. A list from blogging doesn’t come easily. It is work, but, you are an expert in what you do. The list you develop is mostly a 100% fan base and worth more to you than any purchased list.
We will have more on how to go about creating a fan base from blogging and posting on twitter and facebook.
Yes, spam is awful. Spam is also a huge industry. Spam is email marketing gone too far. Some spam is from people who were told that the list they purchased was a clean list of people who want your information. Some spam is just a numbers game for the spammer. Some spam is often considered a wild success if they get a response of around 0.0001 percent of the email they send out. That’s one in 10,000 emails sent. It may be trying to sell you something or send you to a website where they sell you something or it may be “phishing”. That is psychological fishing for information. They may be trying to trick you into providing personal information that can be used to do whatever with. You may have your bank account emptied or credit cards created in your name or complete identity theft. They may want you to go to a website and allow it to install programs on your computer. Then your complete email list is sent to them and possibly your computer is used to send spam. It may just sit quietly and record your keystrokes and send that to someone. They all of the logins you just did will be open to them. That will likely include your bank account and other things you would really prefer not to share.
There are a number of ways and practices that will help keep you off the spammers lists. None are guaranteed to work. Here is an incomplete list:
- Don’t use your email address on your website to facilitate your clients ability to contact you. Use an alias instead. Change the alias when you start getting spam.
- Use a free email account to subscribe to lists and have it forwarded to your regular email when you start getting spam, change the account and drop the first public one. Re-subscribe to the ones you want.
- When you register for anything, use an alias instead of your real account.
All of that helps to keep you from getting spam in the first place. What if you are getting spam at your real email account and it is on all of your correspondence and business cards and everywhere else. Here’s another list
- Don’t ever unsubscribe from any email you didn’t expressly subscribe to in the first place. By unsubscribing, you are telling the spammer that you are a real individual that opens spam and reacts to it. You are now a more valuable target than ever before. This will dramatically increase the amount of spam you get.
- Conversely, if you did subscribe to it, don’t complain about receiving stuff from them. Unsubscribe first. You should do the right thing to get off a list that you got yourself on. If that doesn’t work, then complain to the owner of the list.
- Consider using an email client that can deal with it. Thunderbird is my favorite email program because it takes care of spam for me. More on this below.I get between 50 and 150 email spam messages a day. It takes no more than a minute a day for me to deal with it using Thunderbird. What you are looking for is an email client with an adaptive junk mail filter or a “bysan” filter. You teach it what is spam and what is not. It learns well in Thunderbird. It always misses a few and early on, it may declare good email as spam. Correct it and move on. Make Thunderbird move spam to a local folder. Review the folder periodically to be sure your aunt’s email is not getting stuck in there. Thunderbird is completely free to download and use.
Outlook and it’s Microsoft cousins have plugins for spam filtering but I found no free ones. Bummer. Check that, do a search for “outlook spam filter”. There is a free one for non-commercial use.
Take this with a grain of salt, this is an email administrator talking…
As an email administrator, I get blamed for the amount of spam my clients get and that is simply not fair. Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time and effort to write programs that block and manage spam. A year of work can be erased, and should be, when one customer calls and says that I am blocking Aunt Hatti’s emails to them. I found that I really can’t risk blocking any spam because it just might not be spam to them. I changed my spam programs from blocking email to adding the word SPAM to the subject line. I encourage them to create filters that move any email where the subject has SPAM to a spam folder for their review later. I block nothing! I don’t even virus scan email anymore on the mail server.
Spam is as much your problem as it is mine or more so. You have to take the initiative to deal with it. Find out what you can do and implement some practice. Reading this might be the first time you have been exposed to an answer to your spam problem. Don’t just blame someone else for your problem. Do something about it. Spam is what it is because someone responds to it and made it worth their while to send more of it. Surely that wasn’t you.
Major Internet providers could stop 90% of it tomorrow by implementing a simple rule: No one sends email out of their network without permission or going through their mail servers. It’s that simple. Cox Internet is an example of a company that does that. If you could trace spam, you would find that none or very little of it comes from their network. If other major providers would implement the same practice, spam would go away quickly!