Acoustic Mac

Getting a Handle on Email

Beverly Woods - 2001.08.30 - Tip Jar

Email: a wonderful new technology with the potential for taking over your life. Over time I have evolved various strategies for dealing with the ever-increasing flood of email, and I offer some ideas here in hopes that they may be helpful to others.

First off, I decided early on to get several email accounts, so besides my regular ISP email address, I have some other accounts at free online services. I use these when I'm dealing with online businesses, especially when signing up to receive newsletters and the like. My original idea with this was to minimize spam - or at least concentrate it in certain mailboxes that were not my "personal" email and could be filtered to reject unwanted content.

As a new Mac user, I hadn't yet figured out Hotmail was run by The Dark Side, so I got a Hotmail address, among others. I found the filtering concept didn't work as well as I'd hoped. Hotmail, for instance, allows each user 250 blocked addresses and 36 filters. I soon had the blocked addresses full and all the filters in use ("If message subject contains 'viagra,' deliver to Trash Can.") Vast amounts of obnoxious spam still made its way to my account.

I started reporting spammers to their ISPs in my spare time. Of course, no one has enough spare time to really make a dent in this stuff. Particularly unsettling is the recent trend in spam which invites me to become a spammer myself ("Your message delivered to 10 million addresses!"). No wonder we can't keep up.

Just when I was ready to give up on my Hotmail account, Hotmail offered an increased level of spam filtering and instant emptying of the Junk Mail folder. I took those options and have seen hardly any spam in that account the last few weeks. If I'm losing any "real" email to those filters, chances are it wasn't important anyway.

Meantime, an advantage of using online email for company newsletters is that many of the newsletters do not have an option of plain text. I dislike HTML email, and one of my pet peeves is the tendency of our computers to automatically dial in to the Internet in response to some HTML mail. Since we have three computers and one phone all trying to use the same telephone line, this is disconcerting at best and can cause crashes as well, especially if one of us is already online.

By having the HTML email sent to online services, I'm already online on purpose when I'm looking at content that might make my programs want to connect. I can do this when I choose, since I don't have any of my urgent personal or business mail coming to these accounts.

A further use of such accounts is for receiving attachments that you know are going to be fairly large. Having them sent to an online email address means you can choose when to download them, which can be a significant advantage if you have a slower connection. (Of course, this only works as long as the attachments don't exceed your allowed mailbox space at the online service.)

So much for my "impersonal" email.

For my personal email, I finally got tired of having all my messages come into my Inbox. I have separate folders for different subjects, and I had been sorting through all the mail to decide whether to save it and, if so, where to put it. This was okay before I started getting the volume of email I have lately. I moderate one fairly prolific email group and receive email from a number of others; even in digest form, this can add up quickly. Buried in between are messages from friends, family, and people who would like to hire me to do something.

So I finally set up some filters in my email program. These allow you to sort your incoming mail into different folders according to sender, subject, or other criteria you select. They're fairly straightforward to set up: look for "Message Filters" or "Mail Rules."

Now when the mail comes in, it sorts itself, and I can decide which category I want to deal with first. Only high priority items or unexpected communications show up in the Inbox. My ISP, EarthLink, also manages to filter out some of the spam that would otherwise reach me.

So far, so good. My current sorting system is far from flawless, but it's better than nothing.

What are your favorite methods of dealing with email? Send me a letter . . . I mean drop me an email at Beverly Woods , and I will include your best suggestions in a future column. LEM

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