E-mail efficiency Part 2

Written and published October 13, 1999

There's a lot to cover regarding email because I don't want to just give you a list; I want to give you the why and how-to as well. This week I've got two new email tips for you, then some more details on last week's bits.

Decard that Vcard

In its version 4 browsers, Netscape introduced something it calls a "VCard," intended as the email equivalent to a business card. But the bottom line is that it's an attachment -- and unsolicited attachments often annoy recipients. (They clutter up the download folder and any downloaded file contributes to the fragmenting of your hard drive.) VCards have long been on my personal list of annoyances and now I know I'm not alone.

If you're sending email from a Netscape browser, many of your fellow readers and probably everyone on any email list you're on, will greatly appreciate it if you'd turn off this preference right now. To do so, in Netscape Communicator 4.6.1, go to Edit->Preferences->Mail & Newsgroups-> Identity, then uncheck "Attach my personal card to messages (as a VCard). (Thanks to Jeff Ford for tracking down that Preference for us.) If you're using another version 4 Netscape browser it may be in a slightly different place.

Wondering if you're got any VCards hanging around? Check your Downloads folder (or the folder where your attachments land) for ".vcf" files. If you have them, feel free to toss them all into the Trash. Whenever I see one in the attachments portion of a message (in OE), I drag it straight to the Trash.

Name that Message

When you send a new message, do you give your message a descriptive subject? If not, now's the time to start. When you reply to a message, do you check the subject line and change it if you're changing the subject of the message? If not, it's time to start doing that too. Subject lines are not just there to create extra work for you. People rely heavily on the subject. In fact, if you don't use it properly your message may not even be read.

The more a person uses email, the more that person relies on subjects to:

  • Identify reading priority
  • File or filter the message
  • Sort by subject and read messages in sequence

We'll get into how to handle email traffic in the near future. For now, though, you can start with being a subject-savvy sender.

  • When you create a message, make sure the subject clues the recipient into the content.
  • When you get a message and send it on to others, the subject may have made sense to you, but may need changing to mean something to your own recipients.
  • When you reply to a message the subject remains the same with "Re:" added in front of it.

In many cases it's preferable to keep that "Re:whatever" so the recipient can track the conversation.

BUT if you're on an email list and hitting reply as a way to post your own messages, BE SURE to change the subject so it identifies your question.

If you're receiving list messages as a Digest -- please, please, please always copy the subject line from that message in the Digest and paste it into the subject line. There may be a feature in Eudora and Netscape to do this. For OE 4.x there is an extra script At the Unofficial OE page, but there may be a built-in feature in OE 5.

Hopefully we can get the word out to a few zillion people and get them to use correct subjects. But you're still probably going to get the stray message that has no subject or an inaccurate one. Or you may just want to change the subject line as your own way of identifying the message.

If your email program doesn't enable you to change the subject of a message once it's received (as Emailer allowed), Redirect or Forward the mail to yourself. I use OE and forward the message to myself because while forwarding I can change the Subject. The original subject remains intact within the body of the message in case I need it for reference. (There's an AppleScript that is supposed to enable a subject change but it errors for me so I'm just waiting for OE5.) Robert L. Hartley, Jr. redirects email to himself so he can type in whatever he needs to add in order for the email to be identifiable in his archive files. (You'll find Redirect and Forward commands in the menus.)

Lingering and looney lines -- more enlightenment

Last week I mentioned that I set my line lengths at 80 characters. I chose the longest possible length so I wouldn't cause that ugly odd wrapping. (The long line followed by a line with just a few straggly characters.) But I forgot to take something into account, and, as a result I am the cause of that yucky wrapping I so dislike. I forgot the actual quote characters! Steve Sell wrote to me to point this out:

The problem is that if you send an email to someone with the lines wrapped at 80 characters long, when they reply or forward that email, a '>' or other quote character is pre-pended to the line making it 81 characters. If they have their program set to wrap at 80, then their program will wrap the lines that are 81 characters long, thus creating the long-line short-line problem.

So, you see, having your email program set to wrap at 80 will reduce the number of times _you_ create mis-wrapped messages, it increases the likelihood that people replying to or forwarding your mail will generate mis-wrapped messages,

The most common practice is to have your email program set to wrap at 76 (I've even seen 72, as is shown in the default preferences in your column) lines. This way your email can be replied to or forwarded 3 to 4 times before it will exceed the 80 character limit.

So, thanks to Steve taking the time to point this out, I am back to a shorter line. I sure wish all email programs would use the same default so we'd have less of a mess.

Date and Time

Here's a bit more about setting the date and time, too. Dan Knight asked me to remind you that when you set your Date and Time Control Panel, to be sure to set the Daylight Savings Time (AKA SummerTime in some places) correctly too. In 8.5 this became very easy with the simple check of an option that says "Set Daylight-Saving Time Automatically" and the setting of your time zone by clicking the "Set Time Zone" button.

For those of you on a pre-OS8.5 system, Dan recommends a simple, effective freeware called "Daylight!" that automatically toggles DST. Additionally, although I never got down to proving this, I was told long ago that you should set the Map Control Panel to your correct location as well, because it also effects the time reported.

URL Tech Spec

By the way, I said the brackets around a URL are "instructions." Leonard Rosenthal adds that, "technically, they are part of the URL format specification (RFC 1738) and are used to differentiate URL's from other things around them." And, "the <>'s help the mail client (or whatever) to find the true start & end of the URL and ignore the line break as the start/end of URL."

Next Week

Our email excursion continues. Many of you have sent some great comments, feedback, and things to be shared. In the next weeks we'll look at message composition: Rich Text (HTML) formatting, attachments, and quoting and forwarding messages. Ideas and subjects for this series are always welcome. When you write, let me know whether I can use your name.

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