E-Mail (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
Electronic mail, or e-mail, developed as part of the revolution in high-tech communications during the mid 1980s. Although statistics about the number of e-mail users is often difficult to compute, the total number of person-to-person e-mails delivered each day has been estimated at more than ten billion in North America and 16 billion worldwide. Faster and cheaper than traditional mail, this correspondence is commonly sent over office networks, through many national services, and across the INTERNET.
E-mail is less secure than traditional mail, even though federal law protects e-mail from unauthorized tampering and interception. Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), Pub. L. No. 99-508, 100 Stat. 1848, third parties are forbidden to read private e-mail. However, a loophole in the ECPA that allows employers to read their workers' e-mail has proven especially controversial. It has provoked several lawsuits and has produced...
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E-Mail (Encyclopedia of Business and Finance)
Electronic mail, or e-mail, is a method of communicating whereby an individual uses a computer or other electronic device to compose and send a message to another individual. Messages may be sent through computer systems linked by a network, through modems using telephone lines, or, in some cases, through wireless transmissions.
While some systems provide links only within a company's particular e-mail system, the prevailing trend is for e-mail users to be able to send e-mail to anyone in the world. In order to send an e-mail message, each party must have an e-mail address. The address is composed of an identifying name, an @ sign, the name of the fileserver where the account is located, and a domain name. Typical domain names are com (commercial), gov (government), edu (schools), and org (organization). An example of an e-mail address would be firstname.lastname@example.org. In order to send a message outside the company e-mail system, the complete address must be used.
Address book: Most electronic mail systems offer an address book feature. The address book provides a place to store e-mail addresses, which can often be complex and difficult to remember. The address book can also be used to develop mailing lists. For example, if six friends frequently communicate, a user might list all their addresses in a folder in the address book. The folder would have a name such as "My Friends." Then the user could quickly send a message to all six friends at one time by addressing the message to "My Friends" rather than to each individual user.
Attachments: While the majority of e-mail messages are composed of text, e-mail users are sending increasingly complex messages with accompanying attachments. Users can send documents by using an attachment feature of the e-mail package. The attachment feature allows the user to specify where an electronic fileuch as a text document, a spreadsheet, or a graphics presentations located and then to send a copy by e-mail. Attachments can also be sent to a list of people in one e-mail message. This feature has greatly enhanced the ability of people at a distance to work together. For example, if two people are planning a presentation at a conference, they can attach outlines of the presentation as well as slides of the actual presentation and transmit them for revision or review.
Photographs can also be attached to e-mail messages, in the same way as another file can. One caution is that multimedia files including photos can be quite large and take a longer time to send. With the additional use of digital cameras and/or scanners, photographs that are valuable to business are easier to send than ever before.
Deleting a message: After reading an incoming e-mail message, the reader may decide that the message does not need to be saved. All e-mail systems have a feature to allow for quick deletion of messages. However, many systems convey the deleted message to a trash file that will allow the message to be recalled. To delete the message from the individual computer, the message in the trash file must also be deleted. Even after this double deletion, the message may still be accessible. Large computer systems periodically back up all mail, so the message may be floating around in the organization's computer memory backup for a much longer time.
Forwarding a message: At times, the reader of a message may decide to forward a message to a third party. The person sending e-mail has no control over what the receiver will do with the message. The receiver can easily forward the message to one individual or a list of individuals.
Replying to a message: If the reader wishes to respond to an e-mail message, the reply feature provides a quick way to answer the message without keying in the e-mail address of the person who sent it. There is a common e-mail faux pas, however, that should be avoided. If a message has been sent to a list and one reader replies to the person who sent the message by using the reply feature, that reply may be sent to everyone on the list. For example, a conference coordinator sends a reminder message to a list of 500 people who will be attending a conference. One of the respondents has a question about whether his or her registration has arrived and replies to the message using the reply feature. Since the original message was sent to a list, it is quite possible that using the reply feature will result in that individual's message being transmitted to all 500 people on the list instead of only to the original sender. This is a common violation of "netiquette," a term that refers to using courtesy on the Internet.
Netiquette: Using the correct etiquette helps people respond correctly in their environment. For example, eating peas with a knife, interrupting a speaker, and not introducing people are examples of poor etiquette. Poor etiquette can also exist in the electronic environment. A few things that could be considered violations of netiquette are flaming (sending an immediate, angry overreaction to an e-mail message), shouting (typing a message in all capital letters), forwarding personal messages without permission, and sending a personal message to an entire list. Other problems include preparing a list that includes individuals who have no interest in the topic and bombarding them with e-mail, sending e-mail messages that criticize others, and using emoticons (typed symbols to indicate expressions) in business e-mail. Just as an understanding of good manners helps one move effectively in society, so an understanding of netiquette helps one perform effectively in electronic communication.
Privacy of e-mail: One of the controversies surrounding electronic mail has been the issue of privacy. The term "mail" seems to imply the same safeguards that one has when using the U.S. Postal Service. These safeguards include the right to open your own mail and legal protection from those who would tamper with your mail. Electronic mail, however, may not include these safeguards.
Courts have upheld the right of corporations to review the e-mail of employees who use company resources such as hardware, software, and/or company time to compose and send e-mail messages. It is the court's position that a company has the right to read the e-mail of employees is especially strong for those companies who have an e-mail policy in place.
Employees should be judicious in their use of e-mail and should not put in electronic writing anything they would not write on paper for public distribution. Both individuals and companies have seen their e-mail communications come back to haunt them in the media and in court. For example, some plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases have used negative e-mail messages sent by company employees to establish the legal definition of a hostile working environment. Others have seen their e-mail admitted in court as proof of their beliefs and actions that may disagree with their sworn testimony.
Electronic mail policy: Many organizations have implemented e-mail policies in the workplace. A good policy clearly defines an employer's expectations about how e-mail should be used by employees. If personal e-mail is acceptable, conditions for its use are outlined in the policy. In addition, a process should be developed so employees can indicate their understanding of the e-mail policy in place.
Volume of electronic mail messages: A concern for many employees is the large number of e-mail messages that they receive and are expected to respond to on a daily basis. Some e-mail systems allow the sender to assign a priority rating to the message. In this way priority messages are flagged. Other systems rely on the subject line. For that reason, a concise subject line that clearly defines the message is an asset when a reader reviews the message. The subject line will help the reader decide when the message should be read. A message from an unknown sender with no subject line may not be evaluated very quickly.
Organizing electronic mail messages: As e-mail messages arrive, the reader can reply, forward, or delete them. The reader can also save or store messages. E-mail systems allow the reader to set up filters to organize incoming messages and folders to organize messages that should be stored. The reader then merely transfers the message to the appropriate folder. This action will clear the inbox of messages and provide a logical arrangement to locate messages by sender or by topic.
Response speed: Just as it is easier to send an e-mail message than to mail a letter or, in many cases, to attempt to phone someone, the amount of time allowed for a response has also decreased. While a letter may take two to three days to travel to its destination, an e-mail message is transmitted almost instantaneously. Few would expect an answer to a letter within a week of sending it. However, the tolerance for a slow e-mail response has dwindled. Seldom would a person sending an e-mail message expect to wait two to three days for a response. If the first e-mail message elicits no response, the sender may send follow-up messages or attempt some other means of communication if a timely response is not received.
Junk mail or spam: Junk mail, or spam, can arrive in the inbox in the form of chain letters, unsolicited advertisements, warnings (usually not founded in fact) about viruses or files, and other non-business information. The difference between the junk mail received via the U.S. Postal Service and the junk mail received through e-mail is that the former can be quickly discarded. The junk mail received via e-mail, however, is more difficult to get rid of and ties up the company's resources as well. Some corporations use procedures to block junk mail, or spam, from entering their e-mail systems. Some users find that friends or acquaintances can be the worst violators and are too willing to pass along unnecessary information they have found on the Internet.
Bicknell, David. (1999). "E-Mails That Could Cost Millions." Computer Weekly January 28:26.
Flynn, Nancy, and Flynn, Tom. (1998). Writing Effective E-Mail: Improving Your Electronic Communication. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications.
Gleeson, Kerry. (1998). The High-Tech Personal Efficiency Program: Organizing Your Electronic Resources to Maximize Your Time and Efficiency. New York: Wiley.
Hartman, Diane B., and Nantz, Karen. (1996). The 3 R's of E-Mail: Risks, Rights, and Responsibilities. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Publications.
Levin, John R., and Baroudi, Carol. (1997). E-Mail for Dummies, 2d ed. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide.
Mead, Hayden, and Hill, Brad. (1997). The On-Line/E-Mail Dictionary. New York: Berkley Publishing Group.
Overly, Michael R. (1999). E-Policy: How to Develop Computer, E-Policy, and Internet Guidelines to Protect Your Company and Its Assets. AMACOM. Boulder, CO: Net Library, Inc.
Schwartz, Alan, and Ferguson, Paula. (1998). Managing Mailing Lists. Cambridge, England: O'Reilly and Associates, Inc.
Tuten, Tracy L., Urban, David J., and Gray, George. (1998). "Electronic Mail as Social Influence in Downsized Organizations." Human Resource Management 37(3,4):249-261.
Electronic Mail (Encyclopedia of Small Business)
"Electronic mail"r "e-mail," as it is commonly calleds the process of sending or receiving a computer file or message by computer modem over telephone wires to a preselected "mail box" or "address" on another computer. E-mail can also be sent automatically to a large number of electronic addresses via mailing lists. E-mail messages can range from the simplest correspondence to business presentations, engineering blueprints, book chapters, or detailed contracts. Graphics, files of artwork or photography, can be transmitted via this technology as well, though text messages comprise the vast majority of e-mail transmissions. Today, e-mail stands as a central component of business communication, both within businesses and between business enterprises, because of the many advantages that it offers over regular mail in terms of efficiency, speed, and 24-hour availability. These characteristics have made electronic mail a truly ubiquitous presence in the United States. Indeed, in terms of sheer volume, more than 536 billion pieces of e-mail were delivered in the United States in 1999, according to the eMarketer Internet research firm. Moreover, eMarketer estimates that in 2000, the number of active e-mail users in America reached 111 million.
Since e-mail has emerged as such an important method of business communication in recent years, it is important for small business owners to know how to use this technology effectively. Toward that end, consultants generally recommend that small business owners and entrepreneurs select and shape e-mail packages that emphasize convenience and ease of use. "Look for an e-mail package that lets you select specific settings and preferences that affect all your e-mail activity," wrote Calvin Sun in Entrepreneur.
ELECTRONIC MAIL SYSTEMS
Today's companies are able to customize their e-mail services to meet their own unique communication needs. E-mail management tools on the market can help entrepreneurs and managers address a wide array of issues, from excessive volumes of e-mail and/or excessively large file attachmentsoth of which can clog e-mail gateways or create network storage burdenso virus detection, spam blocking, and searchability of e-mail data stores. E-mail services can also be augmented with offerings that address content management, which Computerworld's David Essex noted, can help to ensure "that e-mail isn't used in a way that could subject a company to sexual harassment suits and other legal challenges. Homegrown software and policies and the e-mail systems' built-in features are also typically part of the management mix."
Many small companies choose to incorporate these various e-mail management tools into their communications grid themselves. But business owners also have the option of utilizing the services of one or more of the dozens of performance-monitoring companies that have emerged in recent years to meet the demand for e-mail management services and software.
OPTIMIZING PERSONAL E-MAIL USE
Experts in the fields of business and electronic communication agree that managers and small business owners can take several steps to maximize the efficiency of their company's e-mail systems. These tips extend from patterns of personal e-mail use to guidelines for companywide e-mail policies.
Professional appearance and content are paramount. Many members of the business community have commented on the fact that many e-mail messages reflect a casual attitude toward grammar, spelling, and tone that would never be tolerated in regular business correspondence. Users of electronic mail are encouraged to adopt the same standards of professionalism that dictate the tone and appearance of postal correspondence. Indeed, proper spelling and grammar, coupled with the ability to frame correspondence in suitably diplomatic language, are essential components of electronic mail. Consultants also caution small business owners to be circumspect in their use of "emoticons," a set of symbols that have been developed by e-mail users to denote various non-verbal reactions, such as smiles, winks, and laughs, to supplement the included text. While use of these symbols is fine in some settings, inclusion of a flurry of such symbols is apt to confuse e-mail recipients who are unfamiliar with the meaning behind them, and they are, again, inappropriate for most business correspondence.
Separate the personal from the professional. Many entrepreneurs maintain separate electronic mail addresses, one for personal correspondence, the other for use at the office. "Everybody needs time to decompress at work, but mixing personal correspondence with professional correspondence can diminish one's focus," wrote Bob Mook in Denver Business Journal. "At the very least, a personal e-mail account gives you a way to delineate between the work-related stuff and the extracurricular stuff."
Monitor size of distribution lists to keep them manageable. Huge distribution lists can slow down e-mail systems. One way to address this problem is to continually cull your list. Another is to limit the size of attachments that are sent to large numbers of employees, clients, or vendors.
Establish policies for receiving attachments (and know the preferences of your clients in this regard). Many businesspeople dislike receiving attachments except when absolutely necessary, due to system slowdowns and vulnerability to viruses.
Augment your e-mail address to ensure accurate identification. E-mail users can ensure that recipients of their e-mail can easily determine their identity by including their real name in their e-mail addresses and including telephone number and mailing address information as a standard part of any e-mail. This information can be incorporated through "signature files" that are standard on most e-mail packages.
Promptly respond to e-mail messages of any significance. Small businesses and employees that do not promptly reply to electronic mail send the signal that they are either disinterested, incompetent, or disorganized. The business world is an often hectic one, and most people who participate in it recognize that delays in response do occur for a variety of legitimate reasons. But people who let e-mail messages go unacknowledged for several days or more are in essence informing the sender that delivering a response is not a priority for them.
Establish efficient daily e-mail practices. Recent studies indicate that many executives spend almost two hours a day attending to their overflowing electronic mail, and that some business owners and managers spend even more time on such activities. In most instances, this is not time well-spent; instead, it keeps the owner or manager from addressing other, ultimately more important, business issues. To minimize this particular time drain, experts urge owners/managers/executives to 1) delete old messages that can clutter e-mail inboxes; 2) review incoming e-mails only at two or three set times a day, rather than peeking at each one as it comes in; and 3) purchase supplementary tools that can block e-mail spam that clogs many systems.
Pay attention. "The process of sending and replying to message is rife with opportunities for error," wrote Sun, but most pitfalls can be avoided if you take the time to learn the nuances of electronic mail. For instance, said Sun, "if you wish to avoid embarrassment (or worse), pay attention when sending a reply. Do you disagree with a message that was sent to you and dozens of others? Then be sure to 'reply to sender' rather than 'reply all.' Otherwise, your reply will go to all the original recipients, making your private disagreement public."
"The E-Mail Rules: Manage the Medium." PC World. April 2001.
Essex, David. "Managing E-Mail for Maximum Uptime." Computerworld. March 26, 2001.
Fisher, Jerry. "E-Mail Feedback." Entrepreneur. October 1997.
Kirkpatrick, Keith. "E-Mail Not Slated to Stamp Out Postal Service." Home Office Computing. April 2001.
McCreary, Lew. "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control." CIO. May 15, 1999.
Mook, Bob. "Tips for Dealing with E-Mail Overload." Denver Business Journal. January 12, 2001.
Nickson, Stephen. "Spy Mail." Risk Management. February 2001.
Sun, Calvin. "E-Mail Etiquette: Minding Your Manners When Using E-Mail Pays Off." Entrepreneur. September 1997.
SEE ALSO: Spam
Electronic Mail (Encyclopedia of Business)
From its roots as an obscure mode of communication among computer hobbyists, academics, and military personnel, e-mail use has burgeoned to a medium of mass communication. According to published estimates from International Data Corp., a technology market research firm, as of 1998 there were 82 million personal and business e-mail accounts in the United States. For comparison, that figure was equal to half the number of telephones in use, an impressive proportion given that e-mail has been in existence only a quarter as long as the telephone.
E-mail's late 1960s inception came about from the work of Ray Tomlinson, a computer scientist working for a defense contractor. Tomlinson's work was for the U.S. Defense Department's Arpanet, the project that later spawned the Internet.
E-mail technology for the Internet (as opposed to closed private systems) follows a number of universal standards as codified by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). These standards help ensure that e-mail, like Internet communications in general, is not bounded by platform or geography.
An e-mail message is essentially one or more files being copied between computers on a network such as the Internet. This transfer of files is automated and managed by a variety of computer programs working in consort. A simple e-mail may be a single text file; if special formatting, graphics, or attachments are used in the message, multiple binary files or encoded Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) files may be transmitted in a single e-mail message.
A typical e-mail system consists of at least three software components with supporting hardware:
- the user's e-mail application
- a message transfer agent or engine
- a message store
The e-mail application is, of course, where all e-mail originates or terminates. Full-featured e-mail applications often reside on the user's local computer; however, it is also common to use server-based e-mail programs in which the user logs into a computer through a terminal program or a web browser and utilizes e-mail capabilities that reside entirely on the remote computer. The latter case is typical of many of the free e-mail services offered on the web. Lotus Development Group's Lotus Notes has been the market-leading e-mail application for corporate users, with a user base of 25 million in 1998. That year, it was followed by a fast-growing challenger, Microsoft Corporation's Exchange package, which garnered 18 million licensed users.
The message transfer agent (MTA), also called a mail engine, is behind-the-scenes software that runs on a mail server, the computer(s) dedicated to sorting and routing e-mail in a network. The MTA determines how incoming and outgoing messages should be routed. Thus, if a message is sent from one internal corporate user to another, the MTA normally routes the e-mail within the corporate system without sending it through the Internet. If, however, a message is intended for a user outside the organization, the mail server transmits the file to an external gateway or a public Internet backbone router that will, in turn, deliver the message to the recipient's system. This is a simplification, as a message may actually be passed through several intermediate computers on the Internet before reaching its destination.
The message store is the software and hardware that handles incoming mail once the MTA has determined that mail belongs to a specific user on the system. The store may be configured to work in different ways, but, in essence it is user-specific directory space on a network server in which unread incoming messages are stored for future retrieval by the e-mail applications. This is where, for instance, e-mail sent overnight sits until the recipient turns on his computer the next day and opens his e-mail program. The software configuring the message store may automatically delete copies of the messages once they are downloaded to the user's computer or it may archive them. Message stores are also capable of automatically categorizing mail and performing other mail-management tasks.
E-MAIL SECURITY AND PRIVACY
In spite of all its conveniences, e-mail is still a notoriously insecure method of communication, particularly in corporate environments. Technologically, most of the security encryption tools and other privacy safeguards available on the mass market are easily broken by experienced hackers. It is even simpler to forge an e-mail from someone using their address. Furthermore, what many employees don't realize is that their employers cannd doegally monitor e-mail on the corporate system. A series of court cases have arisen from such activities, and the courts have upheld companies' rights to control information transmitted on their computer systems. Common information systems practices such as scheduled backups of network data can make the process of e-mail monitoring even easier for employers. Employer e-mail surveillance has already taken on seemingly excessive zeal: one company allegedly reported an employee to the police for sending a fellow employee an e-mail describing how he was forced to put a pet to sleep; the employer misunderstood the e-mail as a death threat against a coworker.
In response to such circumstances, some observers have concluded that corporate e-mail users should assume there is no privacy in their e-mail communications. A representative from a well-known Internet applications company likened it to sending a postcard in conventional mailhe entire message is visible to anyone who chooses to look.
CORPORATE E-MAIL POLICIES
Because of the contentious legal and ethical issues surrounding e-mail surveillance and misuse, as well as problems with excessive use of e-mail, copyright violation, and the ease of sending offensive messages, many corporations have instituted formal e-mail policies that inform employees of their rights and obligations. Some aspects of a strong e-mail policy include
- informing employees that e-mail is considered company property and can be legally monitored
- explaining the company's e-mail monitoring practices and philosophy
- encouraging employees to be cautious about what they say in e-mail and how they use it
- identifying clear examples of inappropriate use
- requiring each employee to sign the e-mail policy statement
Articulating and enforcing such policies has helped companies prevail in lawsuitsr avoid them altogether. Companies could be liable, for example, if they consistently allow harassing messages to circulate between employees. Still, in 1998 a survey of businesses indicated that only a minority had any sort of e-mail policy, and even fewer had a strong policy that employees were required to sign.
Several forms of e-mail monitoring are practiced, ranging from routine, comprehensive surveillance to occasional inquiries when suspicions arise. Some security experts recommend the latter approach, which is much less resource-intensive. It is also possible to electronically automate surveillance so that, for example, all e-mail header and size information is logged by a computer. Consistent trafficking of very large e-mail messages may suggest inappropriate usage, depending on the employee's job. With automated tracking, corporate officials can focus on screening messages that are most likely to violate policy, e.g., identifying e-mail that contains discriminatory language. Monitoring can also be harnessed to protect the corporate system from external abuses such as large broadcasts of unsolicited e-mail, or "spam."
THE BUSINESS OF E-MAIL
In 1998 there were an estimated 40 million business e-mail users. For companies, e-mail represents simultaneously a source of costs to the business and a tool for cost-savings or even new revenues. Obvious costs associated with e-mail include buying the hardware and software, maintaining the system, and the staff hours spent using e-mail.
If the time spent reading and sending e-mail is less than the amount the employee would have spent otherwise (or accomplishes more per unit of time), then e-mail achieves a cost advantage for the business. It is not clear how often this is the case, however. A number of studies have reported that e-mail use hasn't so much supplanted other modes of business communication, but added to them. A 1998 Gallup poll suggested that people receive an average of 190 business communications of all kinds, including e-mail, each day, an increase over previous levels. Such findings have led some to believe that if left uncontrolled, e-mail could be sapping productivity.
Meanwhile, marketing organizations are increasingly using e-mail to reach customers, through both solicited and unsolicited messages. The market research firm Forrester Research claimed that, in 1998, broadcast e-mail service was a fledgling $8 million industry, but by 2002 it was expected to blossom into a $250 million trade. Moreover, for companies selling products and services via solicited e-mail, the medium was forecast to generate $952 million in revenue by 2002. Although laws passed in state legislatures could limit the uses of unsolicited e-mail, the arena clearly represents untapped revenue for some companies.
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