Tuesday, 1 May 2012
Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the same time, in common with instant messaging. Today's email systems are based on a store-and-forward model. Email servers accept, forward, deliver and store messages. Neither the users nor their computers are required to be online simultaneously; they need connect only briefly, typically to an email server, for as long as it takes to send or receive messages.
An email message consists of three components, the message envelope, the message header, and the message body. The message header contains control information, including, minimally, an originator's email address and one or more recipient addresses. Usually descriptive information is also added, such as a subject header field and a message submission date/time stamp.
Originally a text-only (7-bit ASCII and others) communications medium, email was extended to carry multi-media content attachments, a process standardized in RFC 2045 through 2049. Collectively, these RFCs have come to be called Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME).
Electronic mail predates the inception of the Internet, and was in fact a crucial tool in creating it, but the history of modern, global Internet email services reaches back to the early ARPANET. Standards for encoding email messages were proposed as early as 1973 (RFC 561). Conversion from ARPANET to the Internet in the early 1980s produced the core of the current services. An email sent in the early 1970s looks quite similar to a basic text message sent on the Internet today.
Network-based email was initially exchanged on the ARPANET in extensions to the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), but is now carried by the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), first published as Internet standard 10 (RFC 821) in 1982. In the process of transporting email messages between systems, SMTP communicates delivery parameters using a message envelope separate from the message (header and body) itself.
There are numerous ways in which people have changed the way they communicate in the last 50 years; email is certainly one of them. Traditionally, social interaction in the local community was the basis for communication – face to face. Yet, today face-to-face meetings are no longer the primary way to communicate as one can use a landline telephone, mobile phones, fax services, or any number of the computer mediated communications such as email.
Flaming occurs when a person sends a message with angry or antagonistic content. The term is derived from the use of the word Incendiary to describe particularly heated email discussions. Flaming is assumed to be more common today because of the ease and impersonality of email communications: confrontations in person or via telephone require direct interaction, where social norms encourage civility, whereas typing a message to another person is an indirect interaction, so civility may be forgotten. Flaming is generally looked down upon by Internet communities as it is considered rude and non-productive.
Also known as "email fatigue", email bankruptcy is when a user ignores a large number of email messages after falling behind in reading and answering them. The reason for falling behind is often due to information overload and a general sense there is so much information that it is not possible to read it all. As a solution, people occasionally send a boilerplate message explaining that the email inbox is being cleared out. Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig is credited with coining this term, but he may only have popularized it.
Email was widely accepted by the business community as the first broad electronic communication medium and was the first ‘e-revolution’ in business communication. Email is very simple to understand and like postal mail, email solves two basic problems of communication: logistics and synchronization (see below).
LAN based email is also an emerging form of usage for business. It not only allows the business user to download mail when offline, it also allows the small business user to have multiple users' email IDs with just one email connection.
The problem of logistics: Much of the business world relies upon communications between people who are not physically in the same building, area or even country; setting up and attending an in-person meeting, telephone call, or conference call can be inconvenient, time-consuming, and costly. Email provides a way to exchange information between two or more people with no set-up costs and that is generally far less expensive than physical meetings or phone calls.
The problem of synchronisation: With real time communication by meetings or phone calls, participants have to work on the same schedule, and each participant must spend the same amount of time in the meeting or call. Email allows asynchrony: each participant may control their schedule independently.
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Most business workers today spend from one to two hours of their working day on email: reading, ordering, sorting, ‘re-contextualizing’ fragmented information, and writing email. The use of email is increasing due to increasing levels of globalisation—labour division and outsourcing amongst other things. Email can lead to some well-known problems:
Loss of context: which means that the context is lost forever; there is no way to get the text back. Information in context (as in a newspaper) is much easier and faster to understand than unedited and sometimes unrelated fragments of information. Communicating in context can only be achieved when both parties have a full understanding of the context and issue in question.
Information overload: Email is a push technology—the sender controls who receives the information. Convenient availability of mailing lists and use of "copy all" can lead to people receiving unwanted or irrelevant information of no use to them.
Inconsistency: Email can duplicate information. This can be a problem when a large team is working on documents and information while not in constant contact with the other members of their team.
Liability. Statements made in an email can be deemed legally binding and be used against a party in a court of law.
Despite these disadvantages, email has become the most widely used medium of communication within the business world. In fact, a 2010 study on workplace communication, found that 83% of U.S. knowledge workers felt that email was critical to their success and productivity at work.
Attachment size limitation
Email messages may have one or more attachments. Attachments serve the purpose of delivering binary or text files of unspecified size. In principle there is no technical intrinsic restriction in the SMTP protocol limiting the size or number of attachments. In practice, however, email service providers implement various limitations on the permissible size of files or the size of an entire message.
Furthermore, due to technical reasons, often a small attachment can increase in size when sent, which can be confusing to senders when trying to assess whether they can or cannot send a file by email, and this can result in their message being rejected.
As larger and larger file sizes are being created and traded, many users are either forced to upload and download their files using an FTP server, or more popularly, use online file sharing facilities or services, usually over web-friendly HTTP, in order to send and receive them.
A December 2007 New York Times blog post described information overload as "a $650 Billion Drag on the Economy", and the New York Times reported in April 2008 that "E-MAIL has become the bane of some people’s professional lives" due to information overload, yet "none of the current wave of high-profile Internet start-ups focused on email really eliminates the problem of email overload because none helps us prepare replies". GigaOm posted a similar article in September 2010, highlighting research that found 57% of knowledge workers were overwhelmed by the volume of email they received. Technology investors reflect similar concerns.
In October 2010, CNN published an article titled "Happy Information Overload Day" that compiled research on email overload from IT companies and productivity experts. According to Basex, the average knowledge worker receives 93 emails a day. Subsequent studies have reported higher numbers. Marsha Egan, an email productivity expert, called email technology both a blessing and a curse in the article. She stated, "Everyone just learns that they have to have it dinging and flashing and open just in case the boss e-mails," she said. "The best gift any group can give each other is to never use e-mail urgently. If you need it within three hours, pick up the phone."
Spamming and computer viruses
The usefulness of email is being threatened by four phenomena: email bombardment, spamming, phishing, and email worms.
Spamming is unsolicited commercial (or bulk) email. Because of the minuscule cost of sending email, spammers can send hundreds of millions of email messages each day over an inexpensive Internet connection. Hundreds of active spammers sending this volume of mail results in information overload for many computer users who receive voluminous unsolicited email each day.
Email worms use email as a way of replicating themselves into vulnerable computers. Although the first email worm affected UNIX computers, the problem is most common today on the more popular Microsoft Windows operating system.
The combination of spam and worm programs results in users receiving a constant drizzle of junk email, which reduces the usefulness of email as a practical tool.
A number of anti-spam techniques mitigate the impact of spam. In the United States, U.S. Congress has also passed a law, the Can Spam Act of 2003, attempting to regulate such email. Australia also has very strict spam laws restricting the sending of spam from an Australian ISP, but its impact has been minimal since most spam comes from regimes that seem reluctant to regulate the sending of spam.
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