Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Email Information Management

Back in the day hearing that voice saying "You've Got Mail!" was really something of a big deal for a lot of users and not just the ones on AOL.  I know hackers who added that voice to their email notice programs just because it is both cool and rather retro!  Here we see Tom Hanks (in the film You've Got Mail) getting mail... 
Before we get started in addressing this perennially thorny issue, I thought it might be a good idea to first discuss the matter of just how do we spell let alone capitalize the word around which this post is centered?

This really is one of those issues that appears to have officially come down to personal opinion over empirical declaration, because when we finally sit down to cut bait the fact is that nobody knows officially how to spell email.

Actually would it be more correct to say “nobody knows officially how to spell email,” or would it be less correct? Huh...

The issue surrounding the question of whether it is spelled “email” vs. “e-mail” vs. “Email” vs. “eMail” vs. “E-Mail” vs. E-okay wait this is rapidly growing ludicrous...

The point to this is that the matter raises blood pressures across the world and has actually been the source of bitter arguments, some of which resulted in violence in the workplace!

If you think this is not a serious issue, consider this: as recently as 2011 in one of the semi-annual meetings of the American Copy Editors Society it was announced by the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook (the AP Stylebook is a reference source that pretty much ALL professional journalists and most of the non-professionals use daily) that they had changed their recommended spelling: "e-mail" is now "email."

The results of that announcement? 

Bitter argument by both journalists AND editors over that change. Now we in the Fourth Estate consider our editors to be the final word on questions like this, so when even THEY cannot agree? Well, let's just say that is a disturbing development.  We really don't like it when Mum and Dad fight.

I identified this issue as perennial because it is a constant and ongoing one - in fact it tends to pop up in conversation and concern almost daily when someone asks for the address to which they should address a message intended for me either as a journalist or as a member of the human race!

When a question like this grows violent the best means of settling it is to consult OTHER reference sources - but when we checked with the Chicago Manual of Style and then Merriam-Webster we found that they pretty much demand “e-mail” be used. Across the pond in Old England the Compact OED - which is generally the preferred consult of journos on-the-go gives the word as “email” so no help there...

If you are thinking that this should clarify the matter - after all we ARE talking about the OED and even Dr. Who agrees that the OED is the final word on spelling - considering the bloody-minded and often violent tendencies of the editors of the Compact OED there's still plenty of reason to be concerned.

After all, in 2010 those red-pen-wielding fiends were responsible for one of the bloodiest attacks on the English Language in recent memory when they abruptly severed 16,000 hyphens - but then we are told that on the wall of the offices of the lead editors at the OED there are Voldemort for Prime Minister campaign posters. I'm just saying...

What brought all of this up was a relatively meaningless comment that cropped up in a conversation yesterday between an editor and I with respect to their providing a small packet of information that I would require to work up a time and budget estimate for a small think piece on the effects of mobile games and mobile gaming on productivity hour estimates at companies that lack a firm policy on the use of personal phones in general, and smart phones specifically, in the work place.

I used "email" and they commented that the correct spelling is "e-mail" and there you go.  Game On!

Just because you CAN forward an email does not mean you SHOULD. And sure, Grandma may think it is cute, but really?  Really?

This is NOT About THAT

So yeah, that happened... But since this post is actually about consolidation of email and was prompted by our preparations for our annual Pre-Spring Cleaning Efforts in the office, we will leave the matter as stated above with the qualification that we are going personally with "email" and will refuse to argue that point because hey, that train has sailed!

Yesterday a sub-editor for a gaming publication I occasionally write for asked me why half-a-day had passed before I replied to their email.

My simple answer was that the email address they used for me is one of the webmail accounts I have and I only check that a couple times a day.  

If they need to get my immediate attention they would be best served using my main email address, which is POP-3 based, so I get those mail notifications pretty much instantly throughout the day thanks to the wonders of the smartphone.

They did not find that amusing.

The thing is email in this modern day comes in several flavors, with the two most popular being POP3 and WebMail.

POP3 - or Post Office Protocol 3 - works in many ways just like the physical post office but is a bit more flexible too. What I mean by that is that it has several layers of physical security that protects your email.

Layer 1: Email Service
When anyone anywhere in the world sends you email and your email service provider supports POP3 the email that they send you goes into your POP3 queue.  It is then stored there until you access and download it. So the people who send you messages will be able to verify that the message was delivered - but not read.

When you retrieve (read) the email, your local computing device basically downloads that email from the POP3 Server of your service provider, allowing you to read it immediately or later, if you don't have the time then.

The beauty of that is that you can connect to the server and download your mail in one big package and then later, when you have time, you can view and reply to any messages on your local computing device regardless of whether or not you have a 'net connection.

The next time you use your email app to check your mail the app will automatically upload (send) any messages you have replied to that are in its send queue at that time.  Isn't tech cool?

POP3 is like this guy delivering your email!  Okay not really. But then Cliffy was on Cheers back when mail did not usually HAVE an "e" in front of it.  Just saying...

Layer 2: Email Storage
If you have set your POP3 email app to both download the email messages AND leave a copy on the server, unlike the real post office it will actually retain a copy of that message for you.  

Should your local computing device be destroyed or stolen, you can still retrieve copies of any of your email messages from the server via another device.  Which makes it a sort of email message archive if you like.

You can ALSO set your email app to download your new messages and then delete the original so that it is NOT stored on the POP3 Server. It is entirely your call.

Basically the POP3 protocol makes it easy for anyone to check their email from any computer in the world, provided they have configured their email program / app properly to work with the protocol.

In addition to that and depending on the complexity of their POP3-capable email app, they may even be able to use a single app to download, read, and reply to ALL of their email accounts. And that is pretty much where this is headed.

WebMail on the other hand is just what it sounds like - a web-based email services.  

Examples of webmail include sites like Yahoo, GMail, and the web-based email services that are provided by a lot of ISPs and Website Hosting outfits these days.

Like POP3 the webmail server will accept email messages on your behalf, and then when you log into the webmail interface, present any messages you have received to you, in your inbox.

Unlike POP3 though, just reading a message does not make it go away from the server.  You have to personally delete the message when you are done reading or replying.

Both have different pro and con aspects to them.  For example with POP3 - assuming you have a properly configured email client like Thunderbird or Outlook - you can basically have ALL of your email in one place.  

These email clients are even smart enough to insert the correct reply to address in any email you write, and you can even configure them to use specific security or confidentiality settings based on that address you are replying from!

POP3 allows you to grab your mail from the server and read or reply to it later, whereas with webmail you have to do all of that online - so you cannot write an email message while you are offline - say traveling on a train or in a car - you have to wait until you have 'net access to do that.

One of the serious cons for POP3 - and this is usually the one that webmail fans immediately bring up when the two types of email service are compared - is the fact that POP3 often can serve as an infection point for computing devices that are not properly secured with anti-virus and security software.

Basically with POP3 you are physically downloading a copy of the mail - and any attachments - to your local device.  So if that email contains an evil payload and your security is not up to snuff, you could end up either infected, or running a hostile app.

With webmail all of the interaction takes place on some remote webmail server out there in the cloud, so if you get a nasty delivery chances are a lot smaller that it will actually succeed in delivering its nefarious payload to your local computing devices.

Another point in its favor is that webmail users never have to worry about whether they are running out of hard drive space on their local device - they only have to worry about exceeding the storage limit on the webmail server itself.

The Conveniences of POP3

Now having taken all of this into consideration, the conveniences of POP3 email are sufficient - and this is especially true if you are forced via your career to maintain a number of different email addresses - to make the efforts of properly securing your local computing device worth doing.

Actually - and I am not being mean here - you should be properly securing it anyway.  So really you could view switching to POP3 to be a bonus since it will encourage you to practice safe surfing and safe computing - which like I said, you should already be doing!

Filtering Email
One of the best aspects of using your local computing device in conjunction with POP3 apps is that, depending on the app, they can really be smart AND useful.  Specifically they tend to support some pretty useful utilities - like email filtering.

With email filtering you can set up all sorts of rules that the email that you receive has to follow.  When you get on a mailing list from an aggressive company, you can add their domain to your DO NOT ACCEPT list, and any offending email is deleted behind the scenes so you never see it.  Your app simply drops it into the round filing cabinet for you.

By using the Spam filters on your email app it will eventually build a list of the various companies, email domain names, and the like who you prefer not to receive email from, and present you everything except the email from those people or businesses.

You can also set up keyword rules - for example you can add Viagra and Penis Enlargement as either a single rule -- your app will delete any email messages that contain the words "Viagra" and "Penis Enlargement" before you ever see them.  Or you can set that up as two rules, and so never see another Viagra advertisement OR a Penis Enlargement advertisement again.  Yeah, that's a good thing.

How Popular is POP3?
Obviously using a POP3 App/Client to pull all of your mail into one convenient place will only work if you CAN pull all of your mail into one convenient place, right?

With that in mind, there are some simple steps you can take - and before you ask, I recommend using the Thunderbird Email App from OpenOffice/Mozilla because it works well, it is free, and it is easy.  You can also use Microsoft's Email program - they call it Outlook - and obtain the same results as long as you are willing to pay for it depending on the version.

Regardless of the app/client you use, you should be aware that they all treat the email process the same way - that is to say that they all consider receiving email to be ONE side of the process, and sending email to be another side.

You receive mail via a POP3 Server, but you SEND all of your replies via an SMTP Server.  So you are going to need to set up for both when you are consolidating - and I strongly recommend you test every account you have set up in the app/client to verify that it is in fact working as intended.

The Steps You Need to Take
Once you have picked the POP3 App/Client you want to use, and installed it, you will need to do the following - and this is true whether you are just getting started or you have decided to consolidate all of your mail accounts like us:
  1. Contact your ISP to get the instructions from them on how to configure your email app to access their POP3 services.  You will also need - in addition to the address of their POP3 email server and the login settings as well as any special settings they may require, such as alternate port numbers - the SMTP Server settings and login information as well.
  2. The POP3/SMTP settings for any alternate email service providers - specifically and including Webmail providers - so you can add them to your Client/App.
About number 2...  To help you out I went looking to see what commercial and personal email services actually include POP3 as part of their services, and this is the list of companies that I found DO support it:
There you go - those are the big ones that pretty much everybody uses.  If your provider is not on the list check their site for POP3 Settings.

Bear in mind that some of the free webmail services that offer point-to-point automatic encryption do NOT offer POP3 services - they can't and protect your email with encryption.

Really was not kidding about you needing to maintain proper security on your computing device.  If you make the switch to POP3 you will need to do that.  Anti-Virus, Anti-Phishing and email scanning are a given in this world today.
Email Encryption?
That noted though you CAN do email encryption AND digital signing of email using Firefox with the free Enigmail Add-On.  Just saying....  You will want to get one of the free PGP Encryption programs for your OS though, as well.

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