BeeGuide to E-mail

What is E-mail?

The term. E-mail is the abbreviation for electronic mail, a method of transfering messages using the Internet. An e-mail message is also referred to as an e-mail.

How does it work? E-mail typed into the computer is transferred to an e-mail server. The mail server looks at the addresses of the recipients specified in the e-mail and sends the message to each of the recipient. The actual transfer is done using a protocol - a protocol is just a standard way to do things - called Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). In this protocol, the mail server establishes a connection with the recipient's e-mail server and transfers the message.

Advantages. First of all, it is simple. Secondly, it is fast. Thirdly, it is cheap. With a lot of people having computers and Internet access at home and at office, e-mail has become one of the commonly used methods of communication.

History of E-mail

The Internet. The Internet, which is the platform for e-mail, has its roots in an interconnection of two computers, one at the University of California in Los Angelos (UCLA) and the other at the University of Stanford, using telephone lines and a fridge-sized router in September 1969. Routers are devices used to route information from one computer to another. This was done by a team led by Prof. Leonard Kleinrock at the UCLA as part of the US Military funded ARPANET project.

The first e-mail. The first e-mail can be dated to two programs developed by Ray Tomlinson of Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) which could send messages across the ARPANET. This was in 1971. The programs were SNDMSG and READMAIL and they were used to send and read messages respectively. The first program which integrated sending and receiving was the BANANARD (it was first named as WRD) written by Marty Yonke. Mail addresses as we see were introduced in 1984.

Commercial E-mail. In 1989, MCI Mail and Compuserve provided the first commercial e-mail connection to the Internet through the Corporation for the National Research Initiative (CNRI), and Ohio State University respectively. E-mail could then be accessed only through e-mail clients. Web-based mail was introduced in 1996 by Hotmail, Four11, WhoWhere, and iName.

E-mail Tools and Programs

A lot of commercial and free tools are available for using e-mail.

For Windows: Those who are using Windows can use Eudora, Microsoft Exchange, Outlook (it comes with MS Office), Outlook Express (which comes with Internet Explorer) and Netscape Messenger (which is part of Netscape Communicator). A lot of other e-mail tools are also available. I prefer Outlook Express because it is very reliable and has a lot of very good features that simplify my work.

For Unix: Pine and elm are two common (and old) Unix programs for accessing mails. The Unix version of Netscape is also available.

E-mail through the Web. In the beginning, e-mail could be accessed only through tools like the ones named above. And in those days, the use of e-mail was restricted to the scientific and academic community and the rich ones who could afford their personal Internet connection. It was the creation of sites like Hotmail that made e-mail very popular and accessible to everyone.

What exactly is Web mail? You can send and receive e-mails all from your web browser in the same manner as you use your web browser to read this guide. Yahoo, Hotmail, Angelfire, Lycos and MailCity are examples of sites that offer Web mail. I prefer Yahoo because it is very fast. Moreover, Yahoo also offers other features like address book, calendar, bookmarks, notes etc., which can be conveniently accessed from one page.

How can you start a Web mail account? You will have to go to the site and sign up or register for the e-mail account. Once you are registered at the site, there will be a mailbox for you at the site which you can access through your browser. You will get a user name and password which you use to access your mailbox.

Structure of an E-mail Message

In this section we'll learn about all that an e-mail can contain.

FROM: This is the address of the sender of the e-mail. Apart from the e-mail address, the from field may contain the name of the sender also.

TO: This is the address or addresses to which the mail is sent.

CC: CC stands for Carbon Copy. Here you can specify the address/addresses of those to whom you want to send a copy of the mail. The CC recipient's name is visible to all recipients.

BCC: BCC is for Blind Carbon Copy. Also a list of addresses. These people will also receive a copy of the message. But a BCC recipient's name is not visible to the other recipients. The BCC recipients can see the TO and CC addresses.

SUBJECT: A short title for the mail. It ideally should speak about contents of the message.

BODY: The message.

ATTACHMENTS: You can attach one or more pictures and documents or any other with your e-mail. Some computers specify a maximum size for the mails they can handle and so you have to keep that in mind if you intend to send very big attachments.

DATE: This is the date and time on which the message was sent from the sender's computer.

MESSAGE-ID: Every message will have a unique id, which is used to track replies to it. The message id is not visible to us; rather it is used internally by the e-mail program and the e-mail system.

These are fields all e-mail programs support and what we generally need to know. There are also other details which are contained in the e-mail like the format of the message whether it is plain text or HTML) and the list of servers through which the mail reached its destination.

Sending and Receiving E-mails

Sending

You can send an empty mail by just typing in the e-mail addresses. But there is no point in sending empty letters, other than on All Fools Day, ain't it?

So we have to specify the TO address, the e-mail address of the person to whom the message is to be sent. The next thing is the actual message or BODY of the mail. Specify a SUBJECT for the e-mail, which will help the reader understand
what the mail is all about. Enter addresses of CC or BCC recipients if any. Note that when you enter multiple e-mail addresses in a TO, CC or BCC field you have to enter a
separator like a comma, semicolon or a blank space. The separator will depend on your e-mail service or program.

If your computer is running on Windows then there will a Send command under the File menu. (The menu is the strip of words like File Edit View Help that you have on the top of the program). If you are using pine you need to press Ctrl-X to send the mail. The command for sending will depend on the program you are using. If you are using Web mail, press the send button.

Receiving and Reading

A letter addressed to you ends up in your letter box. Similarly, e-mails send to you are delivered to the Inbox of your mail program.

The INBOX is one of the many folders in your mailbox. Folders are just places (like the directories in your computer which contain files) where you store messages. You can classify messages and arrange them
in the different folders. You will learn more about folders later in this BeeGuide.

Most programs show only the sender's name and the subject in the beginning. You will have to select the subject, or in some programs the name of the sender, by double-clicking with the mouse.

Your E-mail Address

The postal address of your residence contain information about you and your residence. You are known by your name, and your residence is located using House Number, Street, City, Country and the ZIP/PIN code. Likewise,
your e-mail address will show your name and the computer which you use. We will see an address as an example:

bejoyalex@yahoo.com

Here bejoyalex is my user name at ('at' is denoted by the symbol @ in the address) the computer having the domain name yahoo.com. There is only one computer named yahoo.com in the whole Internet and that simplifies the address. The whole text following the @ symbol is the address of the computer. An address like bee@grex.cyberspace.org is a bit more complex and here bee is the user name and grex.cyberspace.org is the domain name of the computer.

Trivia. The @ symbol in e-mail addresses was also introduced by Ray Tomlinson.

Managing your Mailbox

What happens if you just go on reading and sending mails without doing routine chores to manage your mailbox. Your Inbox will be filled with all mail that you got since you started your account. In this chapter, we take a look at how best to manage your mailbox.

Using Folders.
Folders are the best way to classify and store e-mail. Every e-mail, should be moved to its folder <$1>immediately<$1> after it is read. For example, all jokes can be moved to a folder named "Jokes" and all mails from your classmates can be stored in another folder called "Classmates". The advantage is that finding an old message will never be difficult. You know in which folder you've put it.

Another reason to use folders is to have a Inbox which contains less number of already read mails. If you are using Web mail and your Inbox has a large number of messages, then it will take longer time to load on your browser.

A little bit more folders. Your mailbox may have a few folders from the beginning itself. One of the them is Sent Mail or Sent Items where all mails that you have already sent will be stored. It is better to check this folder once a while and remove all unwanted mails. Another folder is the Outbox where your mail is temporarily kept for delivery. Once it has been sent it is moved to the Sent Mail folder. A folder named Deleted Items or Trash may also be present. This folder is where deleted mails are put. This is to help you get them back if needed. There might be a Drafts folder where you can save draft copies of mails while they are being written.

Sorting messages. It is always useful if you can see messages in the Inbox in the order in which they were received. So configure your e-mail account to do that. In the Sent Mail folder, sort them by the date of sending or the recipient's name.

Deleting unwanted mails.
A mail once deleted can never be retrieved. And all information is lost along with it. However, there is no point in keeping mails that you are sure you don't need. The best thing would be to move all mails to be deleted to the "Deleted Items" or "Trash" folder. If no such folder is there create such a folder and use it for storing unwanted mails. When the mailbox becomes full you can go and empty this folder.

Smileys or Emoticons

Smileys are figures that denote and convey human facial gestures emotions and hence the name emoticons. They are written using text characters. The first emoticon was :-) which is a smiling face. Perhaps that was why people call the whole group of figures as smileys. By the way, @>---- is a rose.

More Smileys:

:-)Smiley:->Devilish
:-(Sad:-{}Kissing
;-}Leer:-eDisappointed
:-&Tongue TiedI-ISleeping
I-0Yawning;-)Winking
:-OYelling:-@Screaming
:-/Perplexed:-DSurprised
:-{Moustached(:-)Bald
:-!Foot in mouth:-pWry Smile
:-QSmoking8-)Spectacled
d:-)Baseball PlayerC=:-)Chef
:'-(Crying:O)Large Nosed

Trivia: The first smiley was used by Scott Falman on a Central Michigan bulletin board around 1980.

Abbreviations used in E-mail

Typing is not an easy thing especially if you are new to computers and haven't learnt typing. A lot of abbreviations are now part of e-mail jargon. The following are some of the abbrevations and acronyms commonly used in e-mail:

  • ASAP - As soon as possible
  • BTW - By the way
  • BFN - Bye for now
  • OTOH - On the other hand
  • CUL - See you later
  • NN2R - No need to reply
  • B4 - Before
  • TNKU - Thank you
  • IMHO - In my humble opinion
  • OIC - Oh, I see...
  • TTFN - Ta-ta for now
  • LMHO - Laughing my head off
  • TTYL - Talk to you later
  • TIA - Thanks in advance

E-mail Etiquette

The volume of e-mail that is being sent and received everyday is very enormous. Some of the small things that will go a long way in ensuring that your e-mail looks and feels good are described below:

Write an e-mail as you would write like a normal letter. Remember that your e-mail will reflect your personality, and so it makes sense to practise the rules on good letter writing which you learnt long back.

Type in the address last: This will prevent accidental sending of an incomplete message.

Begin with a salutation: You are addressing a person. Be courteous to address him/her with atleast a Hello Mr/Mrs ---. This adds a personal touch to your e-mail.

Punctuation: Break your message into small paragraphs of maximum five lines each. And remember to separate paragraphs with an empty line.

Avoid long continoous lines. For this type in a line break after around 7-8 words. Proper capitalisation for names and places, and proper punctuation like leaving a space after every punctuation mark should never be ignored. One good thing is to leave an empty line before the start of the e-mail body to avoid a cluttered look. Whether you use e-mail for business or to write to your aunt, make your e-mails a pleasant reading experience for the recipient.

Always mention a subject: The subject is intended to enable the reader to have some idea of the contents of the mail, even before he actually reads it. So use it to good effect.

Spamming is a serious offence: Spam or unsolicited e-mail refers to mail which was never requested for by the recipient. Be it details of the latest events in town or a fabulous offer, as long as he/her didn't ask for it, it is spam for him/her. Spamming is condemned by serious users of the Internet, to the extent that most e-mail tools and web mail sites allow you to block habitual spammers!

Make your e-mails short: People find it difficult having to scroll through many screenfuls of your message. It is not like reading from paper or a book. So to make your e-mails more productive, keep them concise and to the point. Reserve side points to the post script (PS) section.

Don't send e-mail as HTML: Most people can read e-mail only as bare text. And they may be reading it from their palm tops or mobile phones. Pure text e-mail will be understood by all e-mail clients, so it is better to limit your format. Think of a business proposal you send as HTML which cannot be read by your recipient on his wap phone! Or your messages to your lover getting mangled up on his/her text-only e-mail reader. Some programs also allow you to format your e-mail as HTML using templates containing pictures and background. These templates are called stationery. Avoid stationery for business letters.

Avoid all capitals: This is equivalent to shouting, and is irritating to the eye. Don't go for it unless it's unavoidable like in acronyms :-) IS IT PLEASANT READING THIS?

Use asterisks for highlighting: Use the asterisk, ie *, for highlighting. Eg. I love you so much. This is an accepted standard in e-mails. Note that overuse of the asterisk may make the message appear insincere.

Signing off: Sign off with a line like bye or best regards and your name and contact information like company name, e-mail, and phone numbers. Just like the normal letter.

While replying: When you reply to an e-mail remember to include a few lines from the original message to give an idea about what your e-mail is about. It is not necessary to include the whole original message. If the original mail is not required never include it in the reply. This will help conserve network resources.

Spelling and grammar: Check your spelling and grammar before you send the message. A bad e-mail can be a major embarrassment.

Frequently Asked Questions

E-mail or email: Which is correct? Since it stands for electronic mail, e-mail is more correct. The use of the word 'email' has also gained acceptance over the years. In this guide I have used the hyphenated form 'e-mail' and it is just a matter of personal preference.

Where can I find free e-mail clients? CNet.com has a good listing of free e-mail tools at http://download.cnet.com/1,10150,0-3356720-106-0-1-1,00.asp.

Or search for 'E-mail software' at www.google.com.

What are SMTP, POP and IMAP? All the three are protocols used in e-mail. Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is the protocol for moving e-mail between mail servers. POP3 stands for Post Office Protocol Version 3 and it is used by e-mail clients to to communicate with any mail server through the Internet. IMAP is a more recent protocol with additional features like folders and message persistence on server. It is mainly used by PCs.

Does e-mail ensure privacy? Your e-mail can be scanned by programs at mail servers while sending as well as while receiving. This scanning is sometimes done to check for viruses that spread through e-mail. Companies are sometimes said to scan their employees' e-mail. This is one reason people use external web mail for private e-mails. If you are using web mail, keep your password secret. That is one simple way to secure your mailbox.