Email rules, OK?

Email gets a bad rap these days. If it's not tomorrow's fish and chip wrappers harping on about people sending emails to the wrong address and getting into a world of trouble for it, it's users whining about spam, or spammers whining about being picked on.

Email gets a bad rap these days.

If it's not tomorrow's fish and chip wrappers harping on about people sending emails to the wrong address and getting into a world of trouble for it, it's users whining about spam, or spammers whining about being picked on.

Then there are always the "We stop your IP address block so nobody can receive your email", or the "You allow HTML emails while I don't therefore you are inferior/superior to me", or the "Your mail cannot be received by the recipient because of clause 84/6 subsection 3 of the AUP enacted by the recipient's employer, to whit: your use of the word 'bottom'."

Then there's the perennial chestnut rolled out about how email is eroding the world of letter writing (bottom line: it has; get over it) and the new chestnut that instant messaging is much faster, more efficient and presence-aware (bottom line: see previous bottom line).

All told, it's getting to be a bit much.

One area that's something of a dark horse in the email world, however, is that of publishing. While email as a means of communication becomes bogged down by rules, regulations, spam filters and all the rest (not to mention the bloatware that is so much of our email application these days. Dancing icons in an email? I think not), email as a means of distribution of content is alive and well, if not thriving.

Here at IDG Communications we produce a number of regular email newsletters. As a medium it's a lot of fun to write for. When I started writing the Friday FryUp (early September 2000, as best I can remember) the then-publisher didn't like the style of the early drafts. "Too much like news. Give it some personality!" I tried and tried and each one came out looking less like something I'd read. Then it struck me: why worry? No one was going to read this anyway. Who reads email newsletters, for crying out loud? I could write in any way I pleased about anything I wanted and nobody would be any the wiser. So I did, and still do.

The feedback I get from the FryUp is some of the most rewarding there is, because people seem to connect with content that is delivered to them personally over a medium they are entirely comfortable with. Readers are extremely willing to hit the "reply" button and ask questions, tell me if I'm right or wrong, and dammit all if we haven't actually started a dialogue on more than one occasion.

I get to write what I like because, to me, I am the audience for the content. I get to try new things, like changing my mind, that are frowned upon in "normal" journalism.

This came as a surprise to me for another reason. I've signed up for dozens of email newsletters in the past few years, but have tended to delete them all without reading too much and eventually unsubscribe. Most newsletters are just a pointer to a URL about something I might be interested in. Might be. But I get enough information at the best of times and so another source of URLs is too often just more hard work. What I want, as a reader, is news so new it's still happening, analysis or humour, and preferably a bit of all three.

The still-happening point is an interesting one. One of the few email newsletters I do get regularly is from Stratfor, an international political analysis company that sends out free weekly email updates of various geopolitical situations.

Stratfor is unusual in that its readers are also a great source of information for the company, and one particular email I got from the site raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I wish I'd kept it. It said something along the lines of "A flight of B52 bombers has just taken off from an airbase in the UK. Flight time to Baghdad is around six hours so expect the war to start shortly." Sure enough, the first mainstream media reports came in seven hours later to say the invasion of Iraq had begun.

Online is pretty much it for news and information these days. But while I've written stories about how breaking news can also break servers, even the web is slow compared to email. As person-to-person communication turns more toward instant messaging, perhaps we will see email evolving in response into a kind of news service. It could be just the answer to the problems some online publishers, like Salon (someone else suggested turning it into a blog, not dissimilar), are facing today.

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Dial Tone

More about IDGIDG CommunicationsIDG CommunicationsIDG Communications

Show Comments
[]