Email bankruptcy..?


The Washington Post reports that some PC users have declared their email bankrupt, announcing to everyone on their contacts lists that they are giving up on responding to the glut of e-mail in their inboxes. Some are even giving up on email entirely and returning to the communication technology that started it all – the telephone.

I look at news like this and roll my eyes and sigh. The world has been given short shrift on a fantastic communication technology, one that should have revolutionised our lives for the better. What went wrong? I can sum it up in one word – Microsoft, and the minions that serve them.

I run a small art department inside the belly of a larger PC-based organisation. Having set up this studio myself from the ground up, I had complete say in exactly what I wanted – the Windows based IT department is full of clueless PC drones who’s last experience of the Mac was sarcastic Mac-bashing articles from copies of PC magazines back in 1996.

So I was left well alone – and thank god. Mac OS X 10.2 was my choice when I got the studio running and I made sure that certain things were in place:

1) We had our own network – all Mac network & printer ethernet cables go through a single switch, positioned in the studio, and we have a single ethernet cable which connects us to the PC network, therefore any problems caused by the PC network can be disconnected straight away.

2) Although we use the PC network’s email, we do not use software that they recommend. I used the crap OS8 port of Outlook for years – very painful. No, we use Apple Mail.

3) All Mac IT related problems are our problems – we sort them out, and in turn, we end up sorting them out with minimal fuss. No putting a support call through to IT and then waiting 3 days before it’s answered in this department. Not that this happens very often, I’ve had 1 days down time in 6 years, and that was to upgrade to Tiger.

So there I’ve set the scene. The company email used to run through Outlook. Lucky for us, it allowed POP or IMAP access, so Apple Mail worked quite happily, as long as we knew the IP addresses.

However I began to notice that when sending email back to PC’s I would sometimes get no reply. Upon investigating I found that it was not a technical problem, it was a social one – the recipients simply had too much email spam to get through and would either resort to deleting it en masse, in the hope that any really important messages would be re-sent, or simply ignoring their email completely.

Something has to change. The IT department decided to ‘upgrade’ the email, by moving over to a web mail service provider (not one I’ve ever heard of), with (apparently), 1st class spam filtering.

This move didn’t affect us; I didn’t expect Safari (or Firefox for that matter) to work, and it didn’t. However being web based we could access it via POP or IMAP in Apple Mail, so that is what we do, and it works fine.

However the spam problem still remains. The ‘1st-class spam filtering’ seems to mean that any email that isn’t our company domain is labelled as [SPAM], it still gets through,it still clogs up people’s email, and ‘real’ email still gets missed.

The main problem (and its solution) here is the difference between the way in which Apple Mail handles spam, and the PC server handles spam.

Faced with the spam problem, PC-based IT departments choose to handle the spam centrally – all email is fed through the filter and one size fits all. I get important communications for instance from newpapers, telling me about last minute availability of ad space. Guess what? It’s labelled as spam, and I can’t tell the server that this shouldn’t be labelled as spam, it doesn’t work like that, it sometimes goes into my junk folder, sometimes doesn’t.

Now somebody else getting that message, may agree that it IS spam, in my department it ISN’T spam. Get it?

The solution to the whole spam problem, is to handle spam at the client level. The spam filter in Apple mail is absolutely the best piece of software engineering I’ve ever seen. I roughly get 300 emails a day, about 25 of these are legitimate and Apple Mail 99.9% of the time gets it spot on, I’ve been training it for about 3 months, but it got it pretty right first time.

One person’s spam, is another person’s great offer, so why don’t we just let it all through and let the user decide? Because again, this shows the fundamental problem with computer infrastructure’s: you dear user are hated and loathed by those people who should serve YOUR best interests, instead they choose to serve THEIR best interests.

An unknown writer once said, “”Personal computing can be seen as serving the needs of those who have CREATED the system, instead of serving those who USE the system.”


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