Electronic Mail

views updated Jun 11 2018

Electronic Mail

Electronic mail, or e-mail, has in large part displaced internal memoranda in most institutions of any size and has also significantly cut down on telephoning as a way of coordinating business. E-mail requires a network of computers or a single computer linked to the Internet. Messages are generated by and read inside mail software like Microsoft's Outlook Express or Netscape Communications' Netscape program. Mail moves to the recipient's address directly through a corporate mail server or over the Internet using a mail-services provider. Most systems enable the user to attach documents to the e-mail message itself. These may be anything digital, be they word processing documents, spreadsheets, photographs, databases, or other electronic letters. Sending software is designed so that the same letter can be sent to multiple recipients; indeed blind or open copies (what in the old days were labeled bcc's and cc's) can be sent as well. An e-mail is delivered almost instantly and thus is like a phone callbut the e-mail recipient need not be there to receive it. These many benefits have made e-mail ubiquitous. It is doubtful that anyone actually knows how many e-mails are sent, but studied estimates have been made. International Data Corporation, a market research firm, has estimated a more than three-fold increase in e-mail volume between 2000 and 2005, to 35 billion messages in the U.S. in 2005, and volume is still rapidly climbing.


E-mail is a genuinely new form of communication combining elements of traditional mail, the telegram, and the telephone. It can be paperless and yet a record is retained; an e-mail can also be printed out. It is very rapid and yet, unlike a telephone call, it is much less intrusive. It can be used at any hour of the day. Once the basic cost of a network or an Internet connection has been justified, email is very cheap. Modern electronic documentation techniques have advanced to such a level that e-mail attachments can be book-sized documents typeset like books, with illustrations embedded. No, we cannot send a baby-rattle with our e-mail, but almost any kind of document is possible.

The negatives of e-mail arise from its very popularity. Virtually all employees in larger organization, especially management employees, complain of overwhelming e-mail volume. Mark Brownstein, writing in Network Magazine, noted, citing various sources, that data stored on disk has more than doubled between 1999 and 2002 (according to UC Berkely), that e-mail volume grows at a rate of 20 percent a year (according to the Radacati Group), and that 3 of 4 electronic documents are unprotected and unmanaged (according to Strategic Research). The management of e-mail alone is absorbing more and more timeso that it appears to be interfering with the very productivity such innovations as e-mail are supposed to be bringing about. Software-based management systems are appearing, but these, of course, add costs. Furthermore, in the wake of corporate scandals like Enron and Worldcom, and legislation aimed at reform such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, it has become clear that record keeping practices must be much more disciplined. The courts have found that e-mail must be protected as soon as any kind of investigation begins.

The very volume of e-mail has drawn the attention of legislators who see e-mail as a potentially enormous source of revenue if some kind of e-postage can be imposed. Cost, at present, is not one of the "cons" of e-mail, but, predictably, e-mail will eventually cost more. With a tariff of some kind overlying e-mail (and presumably increasing over time), e-mail may become more manageable but also much less popoular.


E-mail, being real mail, rapidly came to be abused by organizations sending out millions of unsolicited e-mail messages selling everything from drugs to insurance to pornography. Such unwanted mail became known as spam. Spam is one of the negative phenomena associated with e-mail.

Spam came under relatively mild regulation with the passage of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, also officially called the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-197). It became effective in December of 2003 and took effect on January 1, 2004. The act requires that senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail label their messages, but Congress did not require a standard labeling language. Such messages are required to carry instructions on how to opt-out of receiving such mail; the sender must also provide its actual physical address. Misleading headers and titles are prohibited. Congress authorized the Federal Trade Commissioned to establish a "do-not-mail" registry but did not require the FTC do so. CAN-SPAM also has preemptive features: it prohibits states from outlawing commercial e-mail or to require their own labeling. Since 2003 other bills have been proposed but have not been enacted.

With CAN-SPAM in effect, it is at least theoretically possible to curb unsolicited mail by the tedious effort of answering every piece of spam and filling in an "opt-out" form. Software for controlling unsolicited e-mail is also available; the simplest forms of such control require entering addresses from which mail may be accepted; all other mail is rejected; this technique is very effective but, obviously, turns e-mail into a private communications service. E-mail servers also offer effective filtering services. Nonetheless, a rather negative conclusion must be drawn: with the positive aspects of e-mail go many negative aspects which threaten to erode the effectiveness of this new medium.


The advice offered by organizational experts on handling e-mail boils down to good traditional rules of communication and task management but applied to this medium. Barbara Hemphill, writing in Business Credit, advises senders of e-mail to be clear and brief, to provide sufficient context, and to avoid sending attachments if at all possible. She advises withholding attachments because people fear opening mail with attachments lest they release a virus; if the recipient knows about the attachment, obviously this rule will be unnecessary. The subject line should be a precise capsule of the e-mails content. When answering mail, the essence of the message being answered should be included so that the receiver knows the contextbut the bulk of the incoming message can be deleted first. Hemphill's advice to receivers of e-mail deals with sorting and ranking: some mail can be tossed at once, some requires action, some should be filed. If an immediate response is possible, it should be madeimmediately. She advises keeping an uncluttered Inbox by keeping messages in separate folders by project.

If the organization is involved in some kind of legal process (as discussed below), deleting e-mail should be done only if its content has nothing whatever to do with the matter under litigation. In this context, and in general, as a matter of good management, important e-mails should be printed and filed in the old, traditional way.


Jeanette Burriesci, writing in Intelligent Enterprise, has pointed out that fines in the millions of dollars have been assessed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on organizations for failure to keep adequate records. She points out that e-mail has become a main feature of record keeping concerns "because it proliferates so quickly." Intense preoccupation with record keeping has come in the wake of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act passed in 2002 ("SOX"). The act was triggered by corporate accounting scandals and has imposed very strict record keeping requirements on publicly traded companies and accounting firms. As a consequence of SOX, corporations have been retooling their archiving methods, including collecting and classifying e-mail by subject matter and reorganizing back-up systems so that back-up tapes are not periodically reused lest old e-mails are erased.

Small privately held business concerns will, of course, rarely be touched by these issues. However, awareness of what is happening in the larger context of the publicly traded companies is valuable and, in any case, effective management of records benefits businesses of any size. E-mails, by their very character (their sheer number and frequently informal tone) may suggest that they are unimportantlike casual conversation. With new attention on records, it is becoming obvious, however, that electronic communications, no less than those on paper, have legal status. Back in the days when the Internet was still in history's womb (1964), Marshal McLuhan, the high priest of pop culture, coined the famous phrase: "The Medium is the Message." It now turns out that, on the contrary, themessage is the messageand we must manage it regardless of medium.

see also Spam


Ball, Craig. "Retention Policies That Work." Law Technology News. November 2005.

Brownstein, Mark. "Who's Counting?" Network Magazine. 1 November 2004.

Burriesci, Jeanette. "A Record Collection Worth Millions." Intelligent Enterprise. August 2005.

Carr, Jim. "Exorcising E-mail DemonsMidwest investment house MJSK tackles electronic communications compliance issues with a context-sensitive e-mail archiving system." IT Architect. 1 November 2005.

Federal Trade Commission. "The Can-SPAM Act: Requirements for Commercial E-mailers." Available from http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/canspam.htm. Retrieved on 28 February 2006.

"For This, They Needed a Survey?" eWeek. 28 September 2005.

Hemphill, Barbara. "Top 10 Tips for Managing E-Mail More Effectively." Business Credit. March 2004.

"Letter: E-mail marketing: say yes to relationships." Marketing Week. 8 September 2005.

Mearian, Lucas. "The 100-year Archive Dilemma: As more organizations store more data longer, the IT industry seeks a better way." Computerworld. 25 July 2005.

Mook, Bob. "Tips for Dealing with E-Mail Overload." Denver Business Journal. 12 January 2001.

Nickson, Stephen. "Spy Mail." Risk Management. February 2001.

"Tech Taboos." Journal of Accountancy. December 2005.

                                Darnay, ECDI

Electronic Mail

views updated May 08 2018


Electronic mail (e-mail) is mail that is sent electronically from one electronic mailbox to another. E-mail differs from postal mail in the areas of speed of delivery, privacy, security, and access. Other issues relating to e-mail include organization, etiquette, junk mail and fraud attempts, legal matters, and trends.


One of the biggest attractions of e-mail is the speed with which a message may be sent. When a message is sent from a computer in Houston, Texas, it arrives instantly in London and New Zealand. E-mail has been a true factor in making the global business environment a smaller place. A virtual team can communicate across the globe. Sending an e-mail message across the ocean before leaving work one day can result in a response from another time zone before one's next workday begins.

Postal mail requires several days for a message to arrive and additional time for a response. The speed of delivery of e-mail has had negative effects as well as positive ones. For example, those sending the message expect a very fast response. Frequently if the response is not fast enough, a second message is sent asking why there has been no response. So, patience in communication has become an issue. Because a fast response is demanded, sometimes the response is rushed, incomplete, and less tactful and or politically polished than it should be. Advantages of e-mail are the elimination of telephone tag plus the convenience of reading and responding to e-mail at the recipient's convenience.

As the popularity and expectations for e-mail have increased, so have the daily demands to read and respond to e-mail. Many employees find that they spend hours each day responding to their e-mail.

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) is frequently viewed as the upstart, even speedier cousin of e-mail. Those who use IM often employ abbreviations and codes to quickly get their messages across. The advantage of IM is the interactive nature of the messages, which work much like a written telephone call. While early IM systems were not always linked to the corporate communication paths, IM was considered the same as a conversation. Employees were not necessarily careful with what they said or how they said it. Now, however, companies have the ability to capture IM if they wish, so it is no longer a quick, safe way to complain about the boss or colleagues.


Mail from the U.S. Postal Service comes with a guarantee of privacy. If a third party opens mail intended for someone else without the addressee's permission, that person has committed a crime punishable by law. No such privacy exists in e-mail. Courts have held that employees sending e-mail on company computers, with company accounts and software, and using company time have no expectations of privacy. Companies feel free to examine an employee's e-mail. In addition, e-mail has been summoned on court cases to prove work environment status.

Employees should never write anything in an e-mail that they would not say face-to-face to the concerned parties. E-mail is not like private letters that are received in the mail, torn up, and thrown away. E-mail is backed up, placed on other servers, and will be retrievable for a long time. Also, the person to whom e-mail is sent may decide to forward it to others without the sender's permission.


E-mail is now available in many venues. Checking e-mail on office or home computers is no longer the only option. E-mail can be transmitted to personal digital assistants, pagers, and cell phones. These media frequently use wireless networks. Wireless signals have more security issues than wired systems. Just as a cell phone call can be intercepted and heard by others, so can the related e-mail be compromised. When dealing with issues that should be secure, how the e-mail will be received should be considered. Most companies would not want third parties to be able to easily glance at a cell phone display and see proprietary company information.


E-mail is of value only if it is sent to a valid e-mail address where it will be reviewed by the person one is attempting to contact. Addresses may be changed and if an address is not current, the e-mail will not be delivered, resulting in a communication delay. One cannot communicate effectively if one is missing e-mail addresses or has bad addresses, the other parties do not use e-mail, or the other parties are not checking their e-mail.


In order to keep up with a barrage of e-mail arriving daily, it is a good idea to organize one's e-mail. E-mail is received in chronological order, but most e-mail software will let users sort the chronological list by name of sender or subject. This way users can find that message they remember getting but cannot see in their mailbox at first glance. Another option is to move messages one is finished with to specific folders. Users can even designate that certain incoming messages be sent directly to a folder or mailbox rather than their inbox. Users do have to remember to check their e-mail in that special folder or mailbox, though.

Handling e-mail in a prompt and effective manner is increasingly important as the volume of e-mail continues to build. Accuracy in responses, as well as attention to important message details such as grammar and spelling, will indicate professionalism in corporate communication.


When communicating with e-mail, etiquette is an important convention that should not be overlooked. E-mail lends itself naturally to brief messages. A message can be so brief, however, that it is terse and may seem both rude and abrupt to the receiver. Tone, therefore, is an important issue of etiquette. This is especially true in communicating with international audiences who may expect a more extensive exchange of courtesies in the e-mail message.

Correct use of e-mail etiquette includes such courtesies as asking a message sender for permission before forwarding the sender's message to others, using an appropriate and clearly understood subject line, and sending messages only to people who have an interest in receiving them.

Some message senders use emoticons or symbols to indicate nonverbal communication cues, for instance, :-) (which indicates happiness). Reviews are mixed on whether emoticons are acceptable in the business use of e-mail.


Along with receiving a large volume of e-mail is the issue of junk mail including spam, viruses, and phishing. Spam is unsolicited e-mail that is delivered usually in mass mailings to the electronic mailbox. The sheer volume of spam can cause systems to crash. In 2003 the CAN-SPAM Act was passed in an attempt to better regulate spam. Spam filters have been taking a bite out of spam by excluding suspicious e-mail messages and sending them to a quarantine area. The e-mail reader should go to the quarantine area periodically to see if important messages have been sent there by accident. Because the spam filter looks for a wide variety of subject lines, care must be taken to include an explicit and appropriate subject line. Using something such as "hi" or "it's me" might send messages straight to the receiver's quarantine box.

Viruses can be attached to e-mail messages, usually through attachments. A good plan is to scan attachments with a current virus scanner before opening any that might be suspicious. As more computer users use strong antivirus programs, this issue may become less important in the future.

Phishing occurs when a message is received that purports to be from an entity e-mail readers would know, such as their banks, popular shopping sites, or auction services. If the message is not examined closely, the screen image and presentation may seem authentic. The message is phishing for information by trying to get users to reveal valuable personal information such as account numbers and passwords that the phisher can use for schemes involving fraud and identity theft.


Increasingly, e-mail is becoming involved when legal issues arise. When a company is the subject of a lawsuit, a subpoena for e-mail and IM is often served. Having a responsible program to track and save e-mail and IM is critical to a company's success. Some companies have even made the decision to outsource the management of electronic resources including e-mail and IM to ensure that an acceptable program exists in case of legal issues. Companies should have policies concerning electronic communication so that employees will know what kind of messages are acceptable and what are not. Regular training for employees will result in increasing quality of messages.


Trends in e-mail include better filters and restrictions on spam in the workplace, control and accountability for both e-mail and newer technology such as IM, an escalation in the demand to supply e-mail records when legal issues arise, and more ways to use e-mail in the future. The ability to manage e-mail effectively will be increasingly important as a workplace skill.

see also Communication Channels; Ethics in Information Processing; Writing Skills in Business


Brandt, A. (2005). Phishing anxiety may make you miss messages. PC World, 23 (10), 34.

Dvorak, J. C. (2005). Truth, magic, and the Internet. PC Magazine, 24 (15), 77.

FTC: Subject-line labeling ineffective against spam. (2005, September/October). The Information Management Journal, 39 (5), 11.

Gonsalves, Antone (2005, June 3). High-tech industry is unresponsive to online customers. InternetWeek.

Greenemeier, Larry (2005, July 27). E-mail analysis is key to catching terrorists and corporate crooks. Information Week.

Greer, D. (2005). Locking down IM. Computerworld, 39 (35), 3132.

How outsourcing e-mail management helps financial services companies. (2005, June 1). Business Credit, 107 (6), 4243.

Pomeroy, Ann (2004, November). Business "fast and loose" with e-mail, IMs-study. HR Magazine, 49 (11), 3234.

Vijayan, J. (2005). Training needed to halt "spear-phishing" attacks. Computerworld, 39 (34), 6.

Winning the war on spam. (2005). Economist, 376 (8440), 5051.

Marsha L. Bayless

Electronic Mail

views updated May 14 2018


ELECTRONIC MAIL. The exact origins of electronic mail (or E-mail) are difficult to pinpoint, since there were many nearly simultaneous inventions, few of which were patented or widely announced. According to the standard account, computer-based messaging systems emerged alongside computer networks of the early 1960s, such as the pioneering "time-sharing" computer system installed on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The MIT system and those that followed were intended to allow multiple users, sometimes spread out in various computer labs around campus, to access a central computer using keyboard and monitor terminals. The geographic dispersion of the terminals led to a desire for a convenient text message service. The resulting service at MIT was called "Mailbox," and may have been the first, but there were many similar programs written at about the same time.

By all accounts the first electronic mail program intended to transmit messages between two computers was written in 1972 by the engineer Ray Tomlinson of the company Bolt, Baranek and Newman [BBN]. MIT and BBN were both involved in the development of Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), the computer network that became the basis of the current Internet. In modifying Mailbox for this purpose, Tomlinson contributed the now-ubiquitous use of the "@" character to separate one's unique user name from the name of the host computer.

One of the well-known anecdotes of ARPANET lore is the way that the network, intended for research purposes, was regularly used for sending electronic mail messages. Indeed, electronic mail, along with the electronic bulletin board, became by far the most popular applications by the mid-1970s. As the volume of mail grew, programmers at various institutions around the United States and in Europe collaboratively improved the mail system and imposed technical standards to allow universal service.

It was estimated that less than ten thousand electronic mail messages were being transmitted per day in 1976, compared to about 140 million postal messages. By the end of the decade there were an estimated 400,000 unique electronic mailboxes across the country.

The relatively unplanned growth of the Internet (successor to ARPANET) makes it difficult to track the diffusion of electronic mail usage after the 1970s. In addition to the Internet, a host of mutually incompatible "dial-up" networks (such as Compuserve) existed, many of which also fostered the growth of E-mail usage. Many of these services were later absorbed into the Internet.

E-mail gained many new users as universities began making Internet service available to most students, and as corporations such as IBM encouraged its use on private networks by managers and executives. By the 1990s, E-mail came to refer only to electronic messaging via the Internet, which had now linked most of the previously separate computer networks in the United States.

Like the personal computer itself, E-mail usage by businesses became common several years before individuals began using it at home. Yet by the late 1990s, approximately forty percent of all American householders owned a computer, and twenty-six percent of those families had Internet access. An estimated 81 million E-mail users generated 3.4 trillion messages in 1998.


Abbate, Janet. Inventing the Internet. Boston: MIT Press, 1999.


See alsoComputers and Computer Industry ; Internet .

electronic mail

views updated May 29 2018

electronic mail (e-mail or email) Messages sent between users of computer systems, the computer systems being used to hold and transport messages. Sender and receiver(s) need not be online at the same time, or even on the same continent, to communicate. Messages can be sent with file attachments, providing a way of exchanging files with other users. Electronic mail is an important component of an office automation system.

The originator of a message creates a specially formatted message file by running a mail-sending program. The message may often be entered and modified using the general-purpose editor of the user's choice. When the message is complete, it is posted to a message transport system, which takes responsibility for delivering the message. This may involve passing the message through a store-and-forward relay system when the sender and receiver are not connected to the same computer. At some later time the message is delivered into the recipient's incoming “mailbox”. The recipient runs a program that retrieves incoming messages, allowing items to be filed, listed, forwarded, replied to, etc. Frequently a single user-interface program is used to send and receive messages both locally and worldwide.

Originally electronic mail was performed by using standard text hardcopy or CRT terminals. Newer systems support the composition and delivery of multimedia mail, which can combine text, graphics, voice, fax, and other forms of information in a single message. Other functions often performed by an electronic mail system include verification of a user's identity, expansion of named mailing lists into lists of recipients, and the location of a user on the basis of partial information (directory services).

electronic mail

views updated May 18 2018

electronic mail (e-mail) Correspondence sent via a computer network. In a simple system, messages produced using word-processing programs are transmitted over a network (such as a local-area network or the Internet) and stored in a computer called a mail server. People connected to the network can contact the mail server to collect their mail and transfer it to their own computer.

electronic mail

views updated May 23 2018

e·lec·tron·ic mail • n. another term for e-mail.

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