When the Internet was first established (as ARPANET) in the late 1960s, the researchers working on it soon realized the need for a means to coordinate their efforts by using the network. It was out of this need, in 1972, that Ray Tomlinson (one of the researchers working on the ARPANET project) created the first e-mail application. This first e-mail program could selectively read messages from a list, forward, respond to, and file messages.
Communication via the Internet has made vast improvements since then, with everything from chat rooms all the way to video conferencing taking place over the 'Net now. This section examines some of the more popular types of communication, including special detail on effective communication with e-mail.
IThe four most popular types of communication over the Internet are (in no particular order): e-mail, chat, instant messaging, and SMS.
Most of the time, when you subscribe to Internet access with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you will also get an e-mail account. This gives you an e-mail "address", to which people can send you e-mail, as well as an e-mail "mailbox" on the ISP servers, where your mail is stored until you download it to your computer.
Sometimes, you need to access your e-mail when away from your computer. Web-based e-mail access allows you to read e-mail, send messages, and manage your mail folders from any computer by logging onto a Web site. Many ISPs provide their subscribers with Web access to their e-mail.
Another very popular type of e-mail
account is the free Web-based e-mail service, such as Hotmail or Yahoo!
Mail. These sites offer users a free e-mail address and Web-based
access to it, with the bill footed by the advertisers who pay for
ads to be shown on the Web page.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) has long been a popular way for many people to get together online to chat all at once. The way that it works is simple: you log on to a chat server, join a chat room (or channel), and every message entered by a person in that room is broadcast to everyone else in the same room.
Chat servers must belong to a chat network, such as EFnet (the original IRC network), Undernet, and DALnet. All chat channels on a particular network are relayed to all the other servers connected to the same network (hence the name Internet Relay Chat).
You can easily recognize a chat channel by the # symbol before the name of the channel (for example, #chat). The name of the channel will usually give a good indication about the main topic of discussion on that channel. For instance, the channel #music-videos is devoted to discussing music videos, naturally.
Similar to chat, instant messaging (IM) uses special software to send private messages to users connected to the same instant messaging network. However, instant messaging differs from IRC in several ways:
The most popular instant messaging
clients & networks are ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, AOL
Instant Messenger (notice a trend, here?) Each has its own network,
so you can only send messages to people who are connected to the same
messaging network as you. Your choice of which network to use will probably
be most influenced by numbers: the more people you know on one network,
the more useful being on that network will be. Each instant messaging
network has its special advantages, too: ICQ allows you to send messages
to other users even when they are not connected, while MSN has integrated
the Hotmail e-mail service into their instant messaging so that you
are alerted to new e-mail messages as they arrive, as well as instant
SMS was originally developed as a technology to transfer text messages to wireless pagers, but has gradually evolved into something much more versatile. Many wireless pagers with SMS functionality allow users to compose and send messages back and forth from the same device, thereby can be used to chat with short text messages.
Currently, there are many devices
that can send and receive SMS messages: cellular phones, pagers, text
paging devices, and even PDAs. SMS messages can also be transmitted across
the Internet. For instance, ICQ allows you to send SMS messages to wireless
devices and some wireless devices allow you to send SMS messages to an
Internet e-mail address.
Trillian comes in two versions. There is the completely free Trillian 0.74 - anyone can download and use it to connect to the four IM networks as well as an IRC server. Trillian Pro has all the same instant messaging and chat functionality as 0.74, but it also allows you to send SMS messages install and use Trillian plugins (small applications that add program features), and even work as a personal address book and agenda (as well as much more). Naturally, the Pro version of Trillian is commercial (you have to pay for it), and it can be paid for and downloaded online.
Before learning effective communication with e-mail, you should know the tools with which you are working.
E-mail address diagram
To Carbon Copy (CC) a message to someone is to send them a copy of the e-mail, even though they are not the e-mail's intended recipient. This is a common practice in business communications, where many people in an organization often need to be made aware of certain communications, even if they are not actively involved in the conversation.
BCC stands for Blind Carbon Copy. Any people included in the BCC recipient list of an e-mail receive a copy of the message, but their name is not included in the message headers, and no one else who received the message knows that they were sent a copy.
The body of the message is, of course, the most important part. Everything you need to say is entered here, and this is what the recipient will be reading.
Many e-mails will end with a few lines of text containing information about the sender such as their full name, e-mail address, phone number, address, and perhaps even an interesting quote by a famous figure that the sender admires. This information is called the signature, and is usually set to be automatically added to the end of every e-mail sent by that user.
Whether your e-mail client enforces it or not, saving an attached file to your computer before opening it is actually a good security practice. Some viruses and malicious files are spread because they are named to "look" like a safe file in an e-mail, so unsuspecting users won't hesitate to launch it, falling victim to the virus. However, once saved to the computer, a virus containing malicious code is more likely to appear in its true form, and is more likely to be picked up by anti-virus software.
Independent files can be attached to an e-mail so that the recipient receives a copy with the message. How these files appear in the e-mail depends on which e-mail client is being used. Some e-mail clients will display files like images directly in the body of the message. For the most part, though, e-mail clients require you to save an attached file to your hard drive before you can open it.
Once a message is read, you will most likely want to write a letter back to the sender. Instead of just starting a blank e-mail from scratch, most e-mail clients allow you to execute a Reply command, which will usually carry out the following tasks:
Replying to an e-mail does not include attachments from the original message. After all, the person to whom you are replying sent the attachments in the first place, so it's safe to assume that they have a copy of the same files.
When composing a reply message,
you should always answer direct questions or comments by typing your response
below quoted text with the original questions. That way, the recipient
of your reply will know easily to what you are referring.
To forward a message is to send
a copy of that message on to someone who was not an original recipient
of the message. Forwarding a message quotes the e-mail in its entirety,
and includes attachments from the original message.
is the nickname given to any unsolicited e-mail. Most of the time, this
type of e-mail consists of unsolicited advertisements for Internet Web
sites or other products. Typically, it is considered annoying because
it can sometimes be offensive, and often comes in large quantities. By
extension, the term spam has now come to mean any type of e-mail received
in large quantities, or any message that was unlooked-for and is bothersome.
A flame is the nickname given to any incredibly harsh and often insulting personal attack through e-mail. The term came about on the USENET newsgroups, where participants would comment that a particular post was so hotheaded and insulting that the message was on fire. Hence, the use of the term flame. Flaming, or to flame, is to write and send an emotional personal attack in an e-mail. This is most commonly found in e-mail mailing lists, but by extension any extremely critical and harsh message is now called a flame.
Effective e-mail communication, like any composition, is the result of many different influences. Try to strike a good balance between all the following factors, and your messages will always be well received.
Very often overlooked, the subject is a very important part of your message. The e-mail's subject line is both a title and a summary all in one. Because of this, it is extremely important to keep subjects concise, but pertinent. Many people who receive a large number of e-mails will decide which messages to open and which to set aside based on the subject. A message with an unclear subject is likely to get overlooked or, worse, deleted without being opened. Conversely, if someone is pressed for time, the knowledge that your message can be put aside for later will make them more receptive to what you have to say, instead of being resentful for having to read the e-mail just to discover its intent.
In the latter case, it is clear that the e-mail is about an outline, but nowhere is it mentioned that the message is time-sensitive. Unless the recipient is more or less expecting to discuss the Outline, he or she may not even understand what is being referred to.
Generally, it is always preferred to add RE: to the beginning of any subject line in a message reply, and to include the subject from the previous message. This tells the recipient that the message is a continuation of a previous topic, and not something new. As mentioned earlier, most e-mail clients will do this for you automatically when you reply to a message.
However, use your judgment when it comes to the subject. Again, in a case where time is of the essence, it might make more sense to use a new subject line in a reply with the word "Urgent", or something to that effect.
To make the purpose of a message clear, only use the addresses of the people to which it is directly intended in the To field. Put the addresses of anyone else you want to see the message in the CC field. That way, they know that no direct action or reply is required on their part, and that the message will simply to keep them "in the loop". By the same token, if you intend someone to reply to an e-mail, never place their address in the CC field, or they might misinterpret your intentions.
Most people consider their e-mail address to be private knowledge. Just like most people don't go advertising their personal phone number to everybody they meet, so do they like to make the decision about who they give their e-mail address to. If you want to send an e-mail to a large number of people, never place everybody's address in the CC field. You could be inadvertently revealing their address to someone from whom they've been keeping it.
Like any other form of writing, the main point to an e-mail is to get make sure that your reader understands the message you are trying to convey. Keep the following points in mind when composing your message.
This is more along the line of common sense, but it is doubly important with e-mail to use the appropriate style that corresponds with the type of communication. Because e-mail messages are electronic, and thus easily deleted, many people have a tendency to not assign the same importance to an e-mail message as they would to a paper letter.
Making your business e-mail as business-like as possible should keep the reader from easily disregarding it. Just because you are not seeing someone face to face, you should not drop the usual conventions of politeness.
As mentioned previously, flaming is when someone sends a message that is (often deliberately) insulting and carries an extremely angry tone. Flames are never well received, no matter how deserved you might think the recipient is. The following are a few simple tips to avoid writing flames when discussing a delicate subject (and to avoid being flamed).
On the Internet, people judge you most often by the way you write - after all, they can't see you or hear you. If your message contains many spelling or grammatical mistakes, your reader is likely to assume that you don't know what you're talking about, or even that you are uneducated. This may be the farthest thing from the truth, but if you have something important to say, people will stop respecting your opinion the instant it becomes hard to read what you wrote.
Always state that you are expressing your opinion, and back it up by facts. Saying "just because" or "this is how it goes" never wins an argument. More importantly, when someone is angry, an attack on what they are saying is often interpreted as a personal attack. By making it known that you are expressing your opinion and how you came to that opinion, your statements will seem less confrontational.
Swear words are immature, and that's how readers will view you if you use that type of language. It might be all right for messages between peers, but when exchanging thoughts with strangers over the Internet, it's never a good idea.
Most e-mail windows don't have the same size and range as the printed page. Use shorter paragraphs to better get your point across. It will be easier for readers to scroll through your message, making it easier for them to absorb what you are saying.
As mentioned above in How not to flame, the presentation of your message is extremely important to how the reader perceives you. If you ignore the general rules of punctuation, then they will perceive you as either ignorant, or inconsiderate.
Creative punctuation can also help a lot in emphasizing your points. The following table demonstrates a few examples of creative punctuation. Generally, creative punctuation will be used in more informal e-mails.
E-mail smileys (or emoticons) are probably one of the most unique developments brought about by the Internet. In order to convey emotions, people started using combinations of certain punctuation to create little caricatures of the human face. These emoticons can be used to indicate whether you are grinning, frowning, upset, or kidding, just for starters.
A lot of popular e-mail clients,
like Microsoft Outlook or Netscape E-mail, allow you to add all
sorts of character formatting to an e-mail message. They do this
by marking up the text in HTML or Rich Text format. This is great
if the person receiving the e-mail has the same type of e-mail client,
but many people do not. In that case, it is recommended to use Plain
Text as the message format whenever possible. For example, the following
paragraph in an e-mail client that supports HTML would look like
this to you.
Using e-mail effectively is not only about sending messages that look and sound good. It's also about carefully organizing the messages you receive. Storing all your messages in the Inbox can get quite disorganized after a while, particularly if you are the type of person who receives ten or more messages daily. Some of the e-mail management techniques below require certain functionality on the part of the e-mail client. Not all e-mail clients may perform these features, though the majority should.
The first thing to do is
to sort any e-mails you plan to keep into properly named folders. If
in six months time you need to revisit the details of a certain aspect
of a project, it is much easier to simply open the folder that contains
all the messages associated with that project, then to hunt through
an Inbox of 1000 or more messages to find the right one.
There is no questioning that spam can become very annoying. So what can you do about spam you are receiving? Here are a few measures you can take, both preventative and proactive.
If spam offers a Web site to visit to unsubscribe you from their list, don't use it unless you know you were the one who subscribed to the spam in the first place. All this does is confirm that your address is live, and encourages unscrupulous advertisers to send you more spam. Be careful not to use your actual e-mail address when signing up for free online services from untrustworthy sources, or when posting to public forums (like USENET newsgroups). Unscrupulous spammers have programs that routinely scan public sites for e-mail addresses, and automatically add them to lists. Instead, try spelling out the e-mail address ("joe_user(at)hotmail.com"), or adding the word NOSPAM into your address (joe_userNOSPAM@hotmail.com).
For example, you could create a
rule that displays all e-mails from the same sender in red text. Every
time you receive a new message, the e-mail client looks to see who
the sender of the message is. If the specified sender is found, the
message is highlighted in red.
Mailbox Rules: Outlook Express
A mailbox filter is similar to
a mailbox rule, except that filters generally delete messages that
match specified criteria, or collect them in designated folders. Some
e-mail clients treat rules and filters as the same thing. Many e-mail
clients will have specialized filters for dealing with spam and junk
When you send an e-mail, many clients will also allow you to activate certain flags, such as Urgent or Low Priority, to help your recipient more easily sort the received message. Never overuse flags such as Urgent, or your recipients are likely to stop believing that your urgent messages as truly urgent.
Some specialized e-mail clients
(such as Lotus Notes) will also have other more specialized flags, such
as "Personal" or "Joke" to further help e-mail recipients
know at a glance what the content of a message is about. These are useful,
but like text formatting, only work if your recipient is using the same
e-mail client. Use these only in cases where you know for sure that
the other person can read the flags.
If you often send e-mail to the same person, you will save yourself a lot of time by adding that person's name to your e-mail client's address book (almost all clients have an address book feature). This will give you two advantages.
You can assign a nickname to somebody's address, so that when addressing a message to someone you just need to type in the nickname, instead of their full e-mail address (which could be quite long, and is most likely difficult to memorize).
Keeping somebody's address in your address book means that you never lose their address. Never assume that leaving a message from that person in your Inbox means that you can always refer back to it for the address. Messages can be deleted by mistake.
Many e-mail client address books
will allow you to create a contact list (sometimes also called groups).
A contact list is a list of contacts in your address book, stored
as an entry in the address book. Any e-mail addressed to a contact
list is sent to each member of that list. If you regular send out
e-mails to the same group of people, creating an easy-to-remember
contact list with all of their addresses will save you time when
you send e-mails to the group. It also lowers your chances of forgetting
who needs to be included as part of the group, if you don't send
e-mails to that group on a regular basis.
Flags: Lotus Notes mail delivery options
E-mail messages take up space on
your hard drive, especially if they contain file attachments. After
a while, you may need to make more space on your computer. It is for
this purpose that many e-mail clients have archiving features.
An e-mail archive is a folder full of e-mail messages, but which has been compressed to save disk space. Compressing archives means that many more e-mail messages can be stored in a smaller amount of disk space, but it also means it will take your computer longer to uncompress and open the messages stored in an archive.