Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Netiquette - the Polite Art of Email part II

July 1998

By Mike Gould

Signature File
At some point you have probably received an email with the sender’s address, phone number, etc., neatly appended to the end of the message. This is called a signature file, or sigfile, and is the digital equivalent of letterhead. Here is mine:

Mike Gould                MondoDyne Web Works
mgould@mondodyne.com     http://mondodyne.com
Days   734 xxx xxxx       Eves   734 xxx xxxx
  "The Sound of One Hand Clicking..."

So when you get email from me, you know where I work, my email address, the URL for my web site, my phone numbers, and a semi-amusing motto for my company.

The mechanism for creating this varies depending on your email program, but it is usually no more complicated than typing in a text file somewhere. It is considered polite to have no more than 4 lines of info; this takes up a minimum of space on your correspondent’s screen and conserves bandwidth. Do your correspondents a favor: dig out the documentation (docs, in geekspeak) for your email program (or find it online) and build yourself a nice sigfile.

Address Books
Eudora and other email programs have a feature that enables you to save email addresses of your correspondents in a special file called an address book. Eudora is nice in that when you get an email from someone you plan to correspond with in the future, a simple key command (cmd-K on the Mac, control-K on the PC) adds their address to your book. You are prompted for a nickname ("Gramma"), and then, when ever you address something to Gramma, the program types in gramma@greypanthers.com, or whatever.

An important thing to remember: MAKE REGULAR BACKUPS OF YOUR ADDRESS BOOK!!! Your address book is your link to your friends, your customers, and Gramma herself; Don’t Lose It! Various email programs store the file in various places; again, read the docs, go where they point you, and copy the file to floppy at regular intervals. (I guarantee it: at some point in your life you will walk up to me, embrace me in a polarbear hug, stuff money in my pockets, and thank me profusely for saving your email life by reminding you to back up just before the big crash of ‘98. )

In Through the Out Box
Another important thing to remember is that most email programs save a copy of your outgoing mail for you. This is useful if someone thoughtlessly replies to one of your emails with a simple "Yes", forgetting to append just enough of your message so you know what they are agreeing to (the lunch invite, the DuHickey marketing plan, marriage, what?). You can then go to your outbox and look up the last email you sent that person and gain enlightenment. Not all email programs save outgoing email by default (you have to turn it on in Eudora); make sure yours is turned on.

BACKUP YOUR EMAIL OUTBOX! I seem to be using a lot of exclamation points this time out, but the same caveats mentioned above apply.

Mailboxes
When email arrives ("You’ve got Mail!", usually with an annoying sound effect, which you can hopefully turn off), it goes in your In Box. There it sits until you throw it away or put it away. I would urge you to never throw away any email; the files take up very little space on your harddrive and you never can tell when you will desperately need to see what the deal was with the DuHickey plan. "But Mike", I hear you say, "then my In Box will become unmanageably large, in fact, it already is!". The answer is mailboxes: most email programs enable you to create mailboxes where specific files are stored. You can create the Gramma mailbox, the DuHickey mailbox, and the Miscellaneous mailbox for everything else. The mailboxes themselves are folders somewhere on your harddrive with the actual emails in them. Find them and BACK THEM UP REGULARLY! You can also create mailboxes for specific projects, and usually print out the contents of an entire mailbox in one text file; handy for hardcopy backup. (Remember how computers were going to completely eliminate paper? Ah hah hah hah hah....).

Security
Remember that in a business situation, correspondence can have crucial value. Once you get into the flow of regular email (and make no mistake: you will), you will grow more and more dependent on it. Email is fairly secure, but don’t trust your most confidential business with it; email can be faked ("spoofed"), intercepted (difficult, but doable), mis-sent, removed from your computer by operator error or crashes, and fall victim to a variety of other mishaps. Encryption is possible, and will probably be a bigger part of email in the future, the Department of Justice’s ongoing efforts to stamp it out not withstanding.

Consider as well that your email is only as secure as your computer is: if your computer is stolen, the thief has all your files, email included. You might consider regularly BACKING UP YOUR EMAIL, archiving it to CD ROM or floppy, and removing the older files from your computer.

Next month: Bandwidth, enclosures, and more geekspeak explained.

MonodoDyne <M> The Sound of One Hand Clicking...
734 904 0659
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