Monthly Archives: March 2013

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.)