E-mail etiquette

Someone (who shall remain nameless) in my Windows Live network recently included me in a mass e-mail message that contained lots of pictures. I’m pretty open with my communication preferences, so I don’t mind getting direct e-mail from anyone in my network and beyond once in a while, but like most of you, I’m primarily interested in receiving e-mail from my family and personal friends.

We’ve all gotten very accustomed to the convenience of a lightning-fast connection and scads (technical term) of storage space in our mailboxes, but sifting through loads of (how can I put this delicately?) “less relevant” messages is still time-consuming and an all-around pain.

Dealing with all this junk e-mail has forced some folks deep underground to the point that they don’t share their e-mail address with their own mothers, much less anyone on their network. I really don’t want create a wall around my digital world by keeping my e-mail address under lock and key, so I’ve taken proactive steps to control my inbox with strict junk filters and blocked senders lists in Hotmail. It works surprisingly well for me. Most of the time, the stuff I want is delivered directly to my inbox, and the rest goes into my junk folder for a few days, then into the great digital void. That said, I’d rather that my e-mail program not have to work so hard.

In this case, I don’t think the mass e-mailer was being intentionally malicious (some of the photos were really cute, after all), and I didn’t want to slap down someone who was new to Windows Live, so I decided to turn it into a learning opportunity (and a shameless plug for other WL services). I sent her some tips, and I’ll share them with my faithful readers here:

  • Don’t use e-mail to broadcast. Don’t just grab everyone in your address book. No matter how cute your kids are, or how funny you think a joke is, people in your extended network probably don’t care. It’s a harsh truth we all must learn in our own time. E-mail is great for sending personal messages to smaller groups of relatives and close friends, but as a broadcast medium, it kind of sucks. It’s on par with sending out flyers through the mail (why do you think they call it junk mail?). Suppose you want to make a change or add something new…once it’s sent, you can’t. If you’re trying to broadcast content, then a far better strategy is to use your WL Spaces blog, and let those interested in hearing what you have to say come to you. Syndicate your blog and let them follow you via an RSS feed.

  • Embrace contact categories. Most e-mail software platforms provide a distribution list mechanism, which makes group messaging far simpler and consistent. In the Windows Live universe, your contacts can be added to one or more categories. Not only does this help you find related contacts more quickly, but the category can be used as a recipient when composing a new message, and everyone on the list gets a copy. If you’re sending a message about "mom’s surprise party," and you want to include everyone in the family except mom, then you can expand the category as you’re addressing the message and delete individual recipients. It’s a far better option than blasting your entire address book.

  • Make appropriate use of BCC. When you’re sending a message to a large group of people, particularly those who don’t know each other, use the BCC: field instead of just pasting everyone’s address in the To: field. BCC recipients can’t see each other’s email addresses, so it provides a measure of anonymity. Plus, if a recipient accidentally clicks the Reply To All button, their reply won’t bounce around to everyone else in the distribution list.

  • Use SkyDrive instead of sending large attachments. SkyDrive is a better way to send photos or other large attachments to large groups of users (whether they’re WL users or not). Instead of using attachments, upload the photos to your personal SkyDrive and send the link to the shared folder (and don’t forget to set the folder permissions correctly). As a Windows Live user, you’ve got a whopping 25 gigabytes of free storage space there; that’s more than some hard drives from just a few years ago! SkyDrive displays the link on the photo album’s folder page and provides links to send the link via e-mail directly from SkyDrive. Instead of pushing content to your recipients’ mailboxes, you’re letting them view and pull content on their terms.

All for now. I’ve got some incoming mail to read (and plenty of work to do).

– Greg

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8 thoughts on “E-mail etiquette

  1. This is a wonderful page, Greg and hugely appreciated. Thanks, for instance, for describing the BCC thing. I ought to tell my Radio mates about that particular feature, now I understand it better. I wish I could save this page somewhere. Best to make it a Favourite, if you don’t mind?You’re writing tons today. I thought I had a lot to say recently, giggle!

  2. @ J – I love it. I wasn’t familiar with "Thanks. No." but I’ll keep it in mind for future use. And no worries, the grammar police are around the corner at the donut shop, so you’re safe.

  3. Thanks J for posting a link to Thanks No. You have performed a great public service! Oh, boy! I just put a link to Thanks No in my favorites. I’m going to be sending that link a lot. Xhttp://X-Evolutionist.spaces.live.com/

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