When Normal Becomes Frustrating
12/20/2011 16 Comments
It’s amazing the things people live with because they think “it’s just the way it works.” Becoming frustrated with email, Internet connections, and applications is accepted as normal because users believe these shortcomings are built into their systems, so there’s no way to get around them.
I’m here to tell you that in 99% of cases — this is completely untrue.
A frustrating experience with technology usually comes from 3 sources:
- Inappropriate use
- Improper configuration
- Trying to adapt outdated products to do modern tasks
The top product people seem to have issues with is email, so today I’m going to focus on making email-life easier. Follow these simple tips to keep your blood pressure down and your messages sending.
Downsize Your Message Flow
Receiving so much junk mail you can’t find the messages you actually want to see? Spam filtering is essential for mailboxes, otherwise email would be a useless form of communication. Many have accepted the fact that opening your email means you have to download 70 messages you don’t want and 2 that you do want.
After all, spam is normal, right?
Absolutely not! It is actually illegal for a business to send you email without your consent. The way they get around this is through mailing lists: if you sign up for a contest, fill out a rebate form, give your email address to a store during checkout, or even shop online, there may be a stipulation in the transaction saying “I agree to let a list of vendors contact me.” The next thing you know your inbox is full of “20%-off Sales” and “One-Time-Only Events”. Once a month, I like to go through my inbox and unsubscribe to these messages. Email that comes from a legitimate mailing list will always have an unsubscribe link on the bottom of the message. Sometimes the unsubscribe request takes a few days to go through, so be patient. It makes a big difference in cutting down inbox volume.
Illegitimate messages are of the “buy pharmaceuticals” or “send me money and you’ll get a lot more in return” variety. You won’t find unsubscribe links of the bottom of these messages, and it’s important that you don’t reply to them. If your email provider is for some reason not able to filter these messages out, you’ll want to use the spam blocking tools available to you in your email application. TOAST.net email users have tools in webmail that allow you to mark messages as spam on the server level. This allows the system to learn the patterns of new undesired messages and filter them in the future.
If you run your own mail server, spam is a difficult problem to handle. I’ve even heard some IT people give up and say “eh…spam happens…deal with it.” This attitude of acceptance not only makes the IT person’s job more difficult, it causes productivity loss and can even be dangerous. It only takes one person to respond to a fake “Your password needs to be changed” message to expose your network to hackers. The easy solution to this is a mail protection service. Mail protection puts another layer in front of your mail server to cleanse your mail before it hits the mail server. The idea is essentially the same as the guy with the clipboard that lets people in at nightclubs: if an email wanting to get in looks shady, it’s not allowed in.
I like to prepare for the future instead of trying to relive the past. Email clients fall in this category. Fewer and fewer people are actually installing software on their computers. High speed Internet and web applications are doing away with the need for local software. I know there are still people out there where we’ll have to pry Outlook from their cold, dead hands, but the very thing they love so much is also causing a lot of problems.
Ever have an error message saying “mail server can not be found?” How about “This program as performed an illegal operation.” Did you ever lose your email because of a damaged .PST file? Having trouble installing service packs? Information not syncing correctly?
…these problems plague all Outlook users, and they have nothing to do with your email system directly. It’s why I push people to use web mail as much as possible. Using a web interface gives you a pure email experience — you’re working directly on the mail server so nothing has to synchronize, you see the same information from any computer, and often you have more tools and options available. On top of this, it just works. There’s no mail server settings to set up, no software to install, and no updates to worry about. If you insist on using an email client, it’s like you’re saying “I like to make things more complicated.” TOAST.net features some of the most advanced web mail systems available; if you’re using our email, head over to the Start page and give it a try.
Doing It The Wrong Way
Attachments are a hairy issue. Everyone loves sharing pictures, and everyone knows how to use email, so logically people try to email pictures to others. The problem with that is today’s cameras are a little too good to do this. Ten years ago, a 1 megapixel digital camera would make a 100K photo, so emailing them was not really an issue. Today’s 10+ megapixel cameras take high-resolution pictures that be as much as 5-10MB each! TOAST.net’s mail systems usually allow around 20MB attachments, but many others are limited to 2MB.
It’s not a good idea to send something that large anyway. Sending large attachments is considered rude in the Internet world…especially if the recipient has a slow Internet connection (it ranks right behind typing IN ALL CAPS). Upload the file to a 3rd party service and you’ll make all parties involved much happier. Photo sharing sites like Picassa, video sites like YouTube, or file sharing sites like Dropbox allow you to put your files on the Internet, then send a link to the files. This way you can email anything you like without worrying about size limits, and the recipient can decide when it’s convenient to download it.
So, normal is NOT supposed to be frustrating. If something about email is driving you crazy, there’s probably a reason for it. Hopefully these tips will save some hair follicles from being ripped out.
I’d be interested to know what drives you crazy about your email? Drop me a line and I’ll see if I can get you set straight.