hile the information highway probably has opened up new avenues of communication for you, it also has its accompanying roadblocks and traffic jams. The average e-mail user now receives 25 to 50 e-mails a day. That's up from eight messages a day in 1996, according to IceGroup, Inc., a consulting firm based in Wakefield, Mass. specializing in practical applications of electronic communications technologies.
How can you control your overflowing e-mail in-box? Here are some tips for managing e-mail overload.
I receive more junk e-mails every day. Where are they coming from?
Where do "spammers" (bulk e-mail distributors) get my e-mail address?
How can I avoid being "spammed"?
I've responded to several junk e-mails and asked to be removed from the mailing lists. Is it worth my effort?
I enjoy reading listserv postings, but they overwhelm my mailbox. How can I organize incoming mail so important messages don't get lost in the shuffle?
I don't always read my e-mail every day. If I skip a day or two, I'm confronted with dozens of messages once I sign on. Is there any way to avoid this?
Am I obligated to respond to e-mail right away?
I'm never sure what I should send by e-mail. Are there any guidelines?
|I receive more junk e-mails every day. Where are they coming from?
Welcome to the world of "spam," the term for junk e-mail or unsolicited bulk e-mail (UBE). Businesses use automated programs to send out millions of spam e-mail messages a day, touting everything from investment opportunities to adult-oriented Web sites. Several of these unwanted, unsolicited messages make their way to your mailbox each day.
The term "spam" derides the messages' lack of substance. It comes from a Monty Python sketch in which the characters say "spam" ad nauseam, losing any value of the word.
|Where do "spammers" (bulk e-mail distributors) get my e-mail address?
Spammers cull e-mail addresses from several sources: subscriber lists, Usenet groups, on-line chat rooms, and "white page" directories. They also might buy lists from other sources. Some software leaves your e-mail address as a fingerprint on every Web site you visit; spammers may take it without your knowledge.
|You'd have to shun
the Internet entirely
for your mailbox
to be spam-free.
|How can I avoid being "spammed"?
You'd have to shun the Internet entirely for your mailbox to be spam-free. However, you can reduce your spam intake with a few simple steps. Many e-mail software programs offer filters that automatically delete messages with certain addresses or subject-line keywords. "Messages with triple X, dollar signs, and a lot of exclamation points are tell-tale signs of a spam message," says Daniel Janal, author of the "Online Marketing Handbook" (ISBN 0-471-29310-5).
The fewer places your address can be seen, the less likely you'll receive spam. So Janal advises against entering on-line sweepstakes or ordering products on-line unless the company promises on the form it won't give out your name. If you subscribe to America Online, don't fill out the member profile. Spammers frequently scan those for potential targets.
The John Marshall Law School in Chicago maintains a site linking to state and federal statutes and pending bills about unsolicited e-mail.
|I've responded to several junk e-mails and asked to be removed from the mailing lists. Is it worth my effort?
Probably not. Your attempt to stem the flow of e-mail might instead flood your mailbox with new unwanted messages. "The bulk e-mail distributors know that, out of the 10,000 e-mails they send, 99.9% aren't acted on," says Janal. "For that small percentage of people who respond to be taken off the list, the distributor now knows the people who are willing to read spam as opposed to just deleting it."
Also, many spammers use an e-mail address only once. After they've sent their message to the masses, their e-mail address is no longer valid. "Your response to the spam will bounce and fill your mailbox with more junk," says Paul Moniz, vice president of the Electronic Messaging Association in Arlington, Va.
Your best bet? Hit the delete key. "Unsolicited bulk e-mail can be as intrusive as the recipient wants it to be," says Moniz. "You can feel compelled to read every message, or you can look at the sender and subject and delete it right away."
|I enjoy reading listserv postings, but they overwhelm my mailbox. How can I
organize incoming mail so important messages don't get lost in the shuffle?
Janal suggests creating two separate e-mail accounts, a "public" one and "private" one. Use the private one only for personal correspondence and the public one for your listserv postings and Internet trawling. By doing so, you'll separate the wheat from the chaff and be able to delete items en masse from the public account without endangering important correspondence.
|I don't always read my e-mail every day. If I skip a day or two, I'm confronted with dozens of messages once I sign on. Is there any way to avoid this?
Ron Ploof, director of business strategy for IceGroup, recommends that you develop your own filing strategy and use the automation tools included in your e-mail software. "Most e-mail users do not use the automation tools that are at their disposal," says Ploof. "Major e-mail packages, such as Eudora or Outlook, have filters or in-box assistants that are used to automate information tasks."
These tools usually accomplish two things. They automatically can log on (at times you've designated) and download your e-mail. And they can divvy up your incoming mail into appropriate folders you've set up. For example, Ploof has created a folder for the marketing newsletters he receives by e-mail. He defined his rules or preferences so that the software automatically shunts his newsletters directly into the correct folder. "This way, the newsletters never actually make it to my e-mail in-box, which remains a concise list of 'actionable' information," Ploof says.
It's vital to clear out your in-box frequently. IceGroup estimates the average e-mail in-box contains 250 to 500 items, with the oldest message being months old.
to 500 items.
|Am I obligated to respond to e-mail right away?
"The critical issue is what information is being presented, not its format," says Lynn Lively, author of "Managing Information Overload" (ISBN 0-8144-7842-5). "E-mail is still novel to some people, and it's easy to give it a higher priority. But not all e-mail is like an express letter."
Lively suggests checking e-mail twice a day and shutting off the notice that flashes on your screen when you receive e-mail. "Why interrupt your concentration?" Lively asks. "The minute you see that screen flashing, e-mail subconsciously goes on your to-do list."
If your work involves customer service, consider using automatic response software that notifies the sender that the message was received and a reply will be given within a certain time frame. It may add another e-mail message to the sender's box, but it relieves you from having to respond immediately.
Of course, follow your employer's standard regarding customer service where your workplace e-mail is involved.
|I'm never sure what I should send by e-mail. Are there any guidelines?
Remember that e-mail is not the preferred method of communication for everyone. "If you and your associate are not both laptop people, your critical message may sit there for a few days," says Lively. So keep timeliness in mind. If you need an immediate response, try calling or faxing.
In general, you're likely to receive the same kind of information you send. If you don't want chain letters and jokes cluttering your in-box, don't send them to others. IceGroup teaches its clients these rules to establish "most favored e-mail status":
| You're likely
the same kind of
e-mail you send.
|©1998 Credit Union National Association, Inc.