Category Archives: email

Thoughts of a Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator (1): the email list

For the last few months we’ve been organisers of the Neighbourhood Watch in our street. This mostly means sending out email messages every few days to an email list of residents in the street. The contents are mostly police alerts about crime (actual or tips on prevention) but so as not to be too downbeat I include other local information such as the progress of a nearby housing development and websites which can be used for local matters such as Nextdoor or FixMyStreet.

Every so often I distribute letters to the households which are not yet on the list, which update about recent crime and encourage them to join the list, assuring them the their email address won’t be made known to anyone else. There are quite a number of these absentees, and it’s hard to see the reason for this. Not all the ‘missing households’ are short-term residents (who, sadly, are the ones most in need of crime warnings as they are more likely to be targets); I’m still waiting to hear from a local Parliamentary candidate (!) and from another household which readily signed up to Nextdoor.

In many cases it’s just inertia. People say ‘Got your letter – will try to remember to send you my email address’. And sometimes the replies to our letters have indeed been delayed. Beyond that there may be an (incorrect) feeling that NW is a way of spying on other people in the street. And a general reluctance to give your email address away. Perhaps a fear of spam, or of phishing or hacking attempts coming via email. This is ironic, as one of the topics the email list sends helpful information about is how to beware of electronic crime.

Moving email subscriptions

I have recently changed email address, and with it moved many subscriptions to mailing lists. I’ve used my numerous filter rules to identify what these are, as some are very occasional. In the process a few dormant ones can be weeded out, and some others of course have outlived their usefulness and can be dropped (ideally by unsubscribing so that the listowner doesn’t have to delete the address). Others must be moved. In many cases, where no personal account is involved, I can unsubscribe from one address and re-subscribe from the other. Where there’s an account, things get more complicated. Usually logging in and changing my email address works, possibly after a few days when the list of subscribers is updated with changes. But there have been a few where I’ve changed my email address everywhere possible and still weeks later messages arrive at the old address. For some reason two of the worst offenders are supermarkets and their points cards: Waitrose and Sainsbury’s are both continuing to use the old address to tell me how many points are on my card. Sainsbury’s has the added complication of a broken form which does not work on all browsers (there’s no excuse for that these days). Wales Millennium Centre is also happily ignoring the new address; perhaps they take a long time to update their subscription list.

discouraging large email attachments

With the move to Google Mail, I am more conscious of how much space my email takes up, because the total is displayed at the foot of the screen. (On the current browser, correct to the nearest 100 Mb, but in the version for older browsers, you get told to the nearest megabyte or so!) Along with this, I’ve noticed a regrettable increase in emails with large attachments which could have been avoided. Examples I have received:

  • Senders who think an email is a blank message with a large Word document attached
  • New parents sharing photos of their newborns with the whole of their address book
  • Choir people circulating flyers for their concert or other people’s to the choir mailing list
  • ‘I took this photo and thought you would like to see it’ Such as a photo illustrating the large nose that runs in the family, and a photo of a cloud shaped like a pink elephant.

This is anti-social because it fills mailboxes, at the expense possibly of preventing the recipient from receiving other mail, could cost mobile phone users money to download, and slows down the Internet for everyone, especially if the attachment is sent to a large number of people. (I estimate one such message distributed about 700MB of data in total!) And it is counter-productive, because some mailers don’t deliver large messages or even flag them as spam, which could cause the sender to be blacklisted.

There are usually simple alternatives:

  • uploading photographs on the internet and sending a link. (For example, Facebook albums have a URL that can be shared with anyone, not just a Facebook ‘friend’)
  • putting a link to a website with the flyer on
  • putting text into a message body, not an attachment
  • uploading a file to a sharing site such as Dropbox or Wuala

I have tried politely requesting that people use these alternatives, but the message doesn’t usually get across. It tends to inspire replies such as ‘I don’t know how to put a photo on Facebook’ (So how did your profile picture get there?), or ‘It’s too complicated’ (Cutting and pasting the URI of an image on a choir website? Really?)

No, a sterner approach is needed. I have written a message which I will send in reply to some of the unnecessary large emails that I get. It does not have a personal signature and says that it comes via the email client, talking about the recipient of the original message as ‘he/she’. This gives the impression of an automatically generated message. (True, my name will still appear in the header, but the sort of person who can’t upload an image or cite a URI won’t pick up on that.) It warns that the recipient may not read it straight away, requests a URL instead and links to a page about netiquette which makes the same point as this article does. I will send this as a response to some of the more outrageous examples of huge attachments (bearing in mind the circumstances under which the email was sent), and to persistent offenders, and see what happens. Of course, in an ideal world this effort will have been wasted and I won’t get a chance to send the message!

(This approach was inspired by my experience with hackers on a website I ran. Attempts to inject nasty content into search scripts were met with a message saying ‘Sorry, we can’t display this page. This has been recorded in the logs and will be investigated’. Not too nasty, just in case a bona fide user managed to do something to produce the message, but firm enough to show that we’d taken notice.)