Harley Hahn's
Internet Advisor

Chapter 6...

Using Mail Well

Mail is important, and I want you to be able to use it well. Every time you send a message, it does more than convey words from one place to another. The messages you send also represent you to another person.

With what you learned in Chapter 5, and with a little practice, you will be able to send and receive mail quickly and easily. However, you must make sure you are not misunderstood and that you do not accidentally offend someone. You must also learn how to safeguard your privacy, follow the accepted conventions, and use the mail system to your advantage.

In this chapter, I will teach you the nuances and give you an understanding of a few advanced tools. You already know how to use mail. By the time you finish this chapter, you will know how to use it well.

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Email Conventions

When you talk in person or on the telephone, there is more to the conversation than your words. Your voice has certain tones and rhythms that help you communicate. In person, your gestures and body language also have meaning. Even more important, as you talk with someone, you can interact with him or her in such a way as to avoid serious misconceptions.

Sending mail on the Internet is a lot different. You can send a message whenever you want and read incoming messages at your convenience. What you can't do, however, is be with the other person when he or she reads your mail.

Electronic mail has been used for years, and in that time people have found it all too easy to send a message that is misunderstood. To avoid such problems, a number of conventions and practices have been worked out over the years. At first, you may decide that some of these conventions don't make sense and don't apply to you. Remember, though, what I am telling you in this chapter is based on the experience of many people. If you don't understand why something is necessary, all I can say is you will. If you follow the guidelines in this chapter, you will be doing the right thing.

— hint —

When you start to use a system that millions of people are already using, it is not a good idea to try to redefine the rules.

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Have a Mail Address of Your Own

Electronic mail works best when each person has his or her own mail address. One mistake I see many beginners make is to share a single mail address. The most common case is a couple who decides it would be cute for the husband and wife to have the same address.

For example, let's say Marlene and David Tugbottom use the Undependable Internet Company for their ISP. When they create their account, they might ask for one of the addresses:



When you receive a message from Marlene or David, the From line might read:

From: Marlene and David Tugbottom

This is a bad idea for several reasons. First, when you see a message in your Inbox from either Marlene or David, you can't tell who really sent the message. Second, when you send mail to one of these people, you don't know which one will be reading it.

However, the most important reason to have your own mail address is more philosophical. On the Internet, people are individuals. Although you may be a part of a family, other people on the Net will treat you as a separate person with your own individual interests and characteristics. That is the way the Net works.

Does this mean your Internet experiences should be completely separate from those of your family? Not at all. Many husbands and wives routinely share interesting mail. Moreover, if you have children, they should understand that you have the right to look at their mail messages. (See the section entitled Children and the Internet in Chapter 12.)

Many ISPs will give their customers multiple mail addresses, one for each member of the family. Alternatively, you can use a free Web-based mail service (see Chapter 5), and establish as many mail accounts as you need.

Some mail programs make it easy for people who share a computer to use separate mail addresses and keep their messages separate. This is the case with Outlook Express:

  • To create a new mail account, pull down the File menu, click on Identities and select Add New Identity.
  • To change from one account to another, pull down the File menu, click on Switch Identity.

— hint —

Every person who uses the Internet should have his or her own mail address.

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Make Your Messages Easy to Read

There is one idea about sending mail that I want everyone in the world to learn:

Make sure your messages look good and are easy to read.

It is so easy to type a message that many people do so without remembering that, at the other end, someone actually has to read what they type. All too often, email messages are poorly formatted and difficult to read.

Whenever you send mail, please take an extra moment and make the body of the message neat, orderly and easy to read. Start each message with the name of the recipient and end with your name. If you choose, you can have a signature appended to the end of the message (see Chapter 5).

Take care to divide your message into paragraphs, fix spelling mistakes, and edit any problem areas. In other words, take the same care with an email message as you would with a regular letter.

As an example, compare the message in Figure 6-1 with the one in Figure 6-2. You might think that Figure 6-2 is an exaggeration, but it is not. I get mail like this all the time.

Figure 6-1: An example of a good mail message


Your books have changed my life. I didn't realize how
much the Internet had to offer, and how much I could
do on the Net until I read your Yellow Pages book.

I like the name Harley because I think motorcycles are
cool. I used to have one of my own, but I had to sell
it when I went to college.

My father and mother are just starting to use the Net
and I gave them your book. I told them your Web site
is cool and they should be sure to check it out.

Ever since my mom got a computer, she has been sending
me email notes about life.

Thanks again for writing such cool books.

-- Fester Bestertester

Figure 6-2: An example of a bad mail message

Your bOoks have changed my life. I DIDn't
realize how much the Internet
had to offer, and how much i could the Net until i
read your Yellow Pages bOOK. i like the name
Harley because I think motorcycles are cool""!!
I used to have one of my own but I had to sell it when
I went to colege.My fathr and mothr are   just
starting to use the Net and i
gave them your bookI told them your Web site is cool
they should be sure to check it out. eVER SINCE MY MOM
been sending me email notes about life. Thanks again
for writing such cool books. Fester BEstertester

Figure 6-2 has a lot of obvious mistakes (including spelling), but there is one particular problem that is not so obvious: the person has written the message as one long paragraph, which is not as easy as reading a letter on paper. Thus, it behooves you to use short, well-constructed paragraphs.

I have a friend who is a highly educated professional and a master at writing business letters. However, he has little experience with email and the Internet, and when he composes a message, he tends to write one huge paragraph that is very difficult to read. Like a lot of people, he doesn't treat email as if it were as important as "real mail". This is a mistake.

As a general rule, your message will be easier to read if you use small, well-structured paragraphs. Remember, the person who receives your message will be looking at a computer screen, and he will be reading a lot faster than you did when you typed the message.

— hint —

Before you send a message, re-read it in its entirety. As you re-read, check your spelling and take a moment to fix any writing mistakes.

With Outlook Express:

  • Pull down the Tools menu and select Spelling.
  • Or, you can press the F7 key.

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How to Make Sure Your Messages Look Good

The biggest reason people send confusing mail is they never read their own messages. If you are a beginner, I have a great trick to help you learn how to write messages that look good. Before you send someone a message, send it to yourself so you can see what it looks like.

When you send a regular printed letter, you always read it before you send it. As you do, it is easy to make sure the letter looks good and is easy to read. Here is how to do the same thing with email.

Type the message in the regular manner, but address it to yourself. When you are finished typing the message, send it and it will be delivered to you. Once the message arrives, take a look at it. I bet you will find all kinds of small things that need fixing. If the message is especially important, print it and see what it looks like on paper. This will allow you to catch mistakes that would otherwise be hard to find.

Now resend the message (see the information below). This time, change the address to the person you want to receive the message. However, before you send it, make whatever corrections are necessary.

Learn how to...

Resend a Mail Message

There are times when it is a good idea to send a message to yourself before you send it to someone else.

This is a particularly good technique to use when you are sending an important message, such as a job application or business proposal.

One thing many people have trouble with is writing replies that are easy to read. I strongly suggest you look at several of your longer replies before you send them out. Once you do, you will realize how important it is to take a few extra moments to delete extraneous material and format your replies nicely.

I get many replies from people who do not realize how difficult their messages are to understand. In particular, they either mix up the original text with their response in such a way that it is all a muddle, or they do not quote the original text properly. For some reason, this is especially common among people who work in large companies. (For help in learning how to reply well to an email message, see the section entitled Replying in Chapter 5.)

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Thank-You Notes

Whenever someone gives you a present, you are obligated to send that person a thank-you note. This is not optional. No matter what other people may do in such situations and no matter what your friends may think, thank-you notes are required, and you must send them. (If you don't believe me, ask your grandmother.)

The reason I mention this topic is because I have noticed a distressing tendency for people to use mail on the Internet to fulfill certain social obligations in a highly inappropriate manner. Electronic mail is great for just about anything: planning a meeting, talking to a friend, asking a question, passing around information, debating an issue, or discussing the meaning of existence. However, there are a few important times in life when you must not use email, no matter how convenient it may be. In such situations, you must either send a letter on paper or talk in person.

So, for future reference, I now declare that you may not use electronic mail to:

  • Send a thank-you note
  • Ask someone to marry you
  • Break off a relationship
  • Inform a loved one of a death
  • Fire someone

The Importance of Thank-You Notes


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Smileys and Other
Communication Conventions

Reading a textual message on the Internet does not convey the same nuances and subtleties as a face- to-face conversation or even a telephone conversation. For this reason, people on the Internet have developed a number of important conventions that are used to ensure good relations. These conventions are used not only in mail, but anywhere people on the Net communicate via the written word: in Usenet discussion groups, on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), in chat rooms, and on Web pages.

Perhaps the most important convention is the SMILEY, a series of characters that looks like a sideways face. There are many variations of a smiley, but the basic one looks like this:


You will also see:


(To see the smiling faces, tilt your head sideways to the left.)

The role of the smiley is to tell the reader that what you are saying should be taken as inoffensive. In spoken conversation, you can use a certain tone of voice, a facial expression, or a wink. In a mail message, you use a smiley. For example, say you are replying to a message in which a friend has asked you to have lunch with him. You might write:

I'll be glad to have lunch with you on Friday.
I can use a free meal :-)

In this case, the smiley says, "I am making a joke, so don't be offended." Smileys are also useful when you are demonstrating a devastating wit that a lesser mind might erroneously interpret as sarcasm:

Of course, I think your new dress is lovely.
I used to have one just like it when I was a kid. :-)

Sometimes you will see the word <grin> or, more simply, <g> used instead of a smiley. When you do, it means the same thing:

Of course, I think your new dress is lovely.
I used to have one just like it when I was a kid. <grin>

Of course, I think your new dress is lovely.
I used to have one just like it when I was a kid. <g>

Another important convention is that writing in all uppercase letters means (figuratively) that you are shouting. For example, compare the following two sentences:


I need you to send me that report by tomorrow.

We sometimes refer to words that are entirely in uppercase as being in ALL CAPS (all capital letters). On the Net, typing in all caps is considered to be highly emphatic and rarely appropriate, so don't do it unless you really mean to.

On a more personal level, there is a convention regarding how you refer to yourself. The Internet is an informal place, where people are judged mainly by the quality of their ideas. Thus, it is customary for people to refer to themselves by their name only, omitting titles such as Doctor, Professor, Mrs., Mr., Ph.D., and so on.

For example, say your name is Laura Schlessinger, and you have a Ph.D. in physiology. In your personal life, you might puff yourself up by swanking around, demanding that people call you Dr. Schlessinger or even Dr. Laura. However, on the Net, you are better off signing your messages as "Laura" or "Laura Schlessinger". Using the title "Dr." would give people the impression that you are insecure and pretentious.

— hint —

When you configure your mail program, you will need to specify your full name. This is the name that is used in your return address.

On the Net, it is customary to use your name only. Do not use an honorific, such as Dr. or Prof., or a designation, such as M.D. or Ph.D. It will only make you look pretentious.

The final convention I want to mention has to do with abbreviations and acronyms. Because all mail messages must be typed, many people use abbreviations to save time. Figure 6-3 shows some of the more common abbreviations used in mail messages.

Figure 6-3: Common abbreviations used in mail messages

Abbreviation Meaning
AFAIKas far as I know
BTWby the way
F2Fface to face (in person)
FAQfrequently asked question list
FWIWfor what it's worth
FYIfor your information
IMHOin my humble opinion
IMOin my opinion
LOLlaughing out loud

Such abbreviations are used wherever people type messages, not only in mail, but in Usenet discussion groups, IRC (Internet Relay Chat), chat rooms, and so on. For reference, I have put a more comprehensive list of common abbreviations in Appendix C. Take a moment now and give the list a quick glance.

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Be Careful What You Write

Once a message is sent, you can't get it back. For this reason, I want you to get into the habit of using your very best judgment when it comes to sending mail. For example, it is common for someone to receive a message that makes him angry and, without thinking, fire off an angry reply. A few hours later, the person is less angry, but it is too late, the message has been sent. Even if you change your mind ten seconds after a message has been sent, it is too late to stop it from being delivered.

Moreover, electronic mail can be stored indefinitely. The message you send today will exist as long as the person who receives it decides to keep it, and a year from now, it is just as easy to forward a message to someone else as it is today. Furthermore, it doesn't take much effort to put the text of a mail message on a Web page, where it is accessible to the general public.

I have a friend who sent a private message to someone and was later astonished to find that a third person had seen the message. My friend was astonished because that person doesn't even have email access. How could this be? Simple. The person who received the message printed it out and delivered a copy to the third person.

The following hint may seem over-cautious, but I promise you, it is one of the most valuable pieces of advice you will ever read. If you follow this advice, you will thank me over and over.

— hint —

Whenever you receive a mail message that makes you angry, always force yourself to wait 24 hours before answering the message.

No exceptions.

Aside from anger, you also need to be careful when it comes to romance. Although you may be tempted to use email to send romantic missives to the adorable object of your affections, you must remember that messages are easy to save and easy to forward. It doesn't take much imagination to see how an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, armed with a collection of your email love letters, could wreak havoc with your life. This is especially true if your messages were even the least bit suggestive. My advice is, if you want to get romantic or sexy, forget email and confine yourself to the more traditional methods of sending special notes back and forth (like using your employer's FedEx account).

To be completely safe, you should never write anything in a mail message you would not want to be made public. I know this sounds extreme and unrealistic: rules that guarantee complete safety are always extreme and unrealistic. However, I do want you to remember that mail on the Internet is not always private, and a wise person uses judgment and discretion.

This guideline is important when you use the mail system at work. From day to day, you may feel you have complete freedom to send whatever mail you want, but that is an illusion. You and I need to be very clear here: if you send and receive mail at work, your employer has every right to look at it and, if it serves his interest to do so, he will look at it.

I know someone who once used the mail system at work to send a message to a friend in which she described a co-worker as a "psycho bitch from hell". No doubt there was some truth in this assessment, but I can only imagine that such a revealing description would be difficult for that person to explain during her next performance evaluation.

My suggestion is to never, ever use your employer's mail system for personal messages. Save your social correspondence for your leisure hours at home. If you really do find it necessary to send personal mail at work, get yourself a disposable Web-based mail account (see Chapter 5) and use your browser. And, for goodness sakes, don't get caught.

— hint —

Every message you send is only a few keystrokes away from being forwarded to anyone on the Net.

Mail is not private.

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Is It Okay to Use HTML in a Mail Message?

Most messages are composed of plain text (letters, numbers, punctuation, and so on). In Chapter 5, we talked about using HTML in a mail message. (HTML is the same stuff out of which Web pages are made.) With HTML, you can use the same types of elements you might see on a Web page: various typefaces, pictures, graphics, links to Web sites, and so on. Some mail programs (like Outlook Express) allow you to go even further, by making it easy to use backgrounds that give your messages the look of real stationery.

HTML is wonderful when you really need to dress up a message. The thing is, how often do you really need to dress up a message? In my experience, people who know what they are doing never use HTML in their messages. Those who do are mostly newcomers, and they tend to get carried away with totally unnecessary typefaces, backgrounds and pictures.

Learn how to...

Turn Off HTML in Mail Messages

Configure your mail program so the default is plain text, not HTML.

HTML is best used for Web pages. In mail messages, HTML is unnecessary and troublesome. This is especially true when you use email at work.

The ultimate effect of HTML depends a great deal on what mail program the recipient uses to read your messages. If you send an HTML message to someone who is using the same mail program as you, what he sees will be pretty much what you want him to see. However, if he is using a different program, the results may not be what you intended. For example, I have received many messages that were next to unreadable, because they were composed with a type of HTML that my mail program couldn't handle well.

There is also another potential problem with HTML. It is common for people to reply to a message, and, when they do, the text of the original message is usually quoted within the reply (see Chapter 5). If you use HTML and send a message to someone with a different mail program, there is a good chance the quoted part of the reply will be messed up. (I have seen this happen a lot.)

Thus, my advice is to use HTML only when you know for sure that your recipient is using a mail program that can handle the type of HTML your program produces. If you both use the same program, HTML is a safe bet. Otherwise, the two of you should send a few test messages back and forth to see if HTML will work well with your programs.

Even if you can get HTML to work perfectly for you, use it sparingly. It is often better to spend a few extra moments looking for better words than to use HTML to enhance a mediocre message. Although there will be times when you think you need boldface or italics, what you really need is a better verb.

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Putting URLs in Messages

There will be many times when you will want to send someone the address of a particular Web site. To do so, all you need to do is include the URL (Web address) in a message. When the recipient reads your message, his mail program will recognize the address as a URL and turn it into a live link. This makes it easy to go to that Web site. All the person has to do is click on the URL. When he does, his mail program will send the URL to his browser.

Although some mail programs allow you to copy a Web page into a mail message, do not do so. Send the URL instead. Doing so will make your message smaller and easier to read. Moreover, it ensures that the recipient will view the page within his or her own browser. This works a lot better than using a mail program to look at a copy of the Web page.

Almost all mail programs will recognize URLs within a message. However, they may not be able to do so unless you specify the entire URL. In Chapter 4, I explained that you can abbreviate URLs when you type them into your browser. In particular, you can omit the http:// at the beginning of the address.

For example, a browser considers the following URLs to be equivalent:



A mail program, however, may not. Most mail programs will recognize the first URL, but some will not recognize the second one without the http://. Since you don't know which mail program your recipient is using, you should always be sure to specify the entire URL, including the http://.

Learn how to...

Use the Windows Clipboard

Using the clipboard to copy and paste information is one of the fundamental skills you need as a Windows user.

Whenever you put a URL into a mail message, be sure to use the entire URL, including the http:// at the beginning. The best, most reliable way to do so is as follows:

  1. Use your browser to navigate to the Web page you want.
  2. Click once on the URL within the address bar. This will select the entire URL.
  3. Copy the URL to the clipboard. (Pull down the Edit menu and select Copy. As a shortcut, you can press Ctrl-C.)
  4. Change to your mail program.
  5. Paste the URL right into your message. (Pull down the Edit menu and select Paste. As a shortcut, you can press Ctrl-V.)

My advice is to always copy and paste URLs. Never re-type them — it is too easy to make a mistake.

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Sending Mail to a Group of People

You can send a message to more than one person simply by putting more than one address in the To, Cc or Bcc lines in the header (see Chapter 5). People commonly do this when they want to share information. For example, someone mails you a collection of grapefruit jokes, and you decide to forward a copy to all your friends. In such cases, I want you to be sure to do two important things.

First, edit the message and remove all the junk. Delete everything from the message except the basic information you want to send. I often see people forward messages that have been forwarded that have been forwarded, and at the top of the final message, there are tens of lines of junk (usually old message headers) that should have been deleted. This practice is to be deplored, so don't do it.

Second, do not send a message with a whole bunch of addresses in the To line. Put the addresses in the Bcc line. Here is why:

Each person who receives the message will see all the addresses on the To line and the Cc line. Some of your friends, however, may want their email addresses kept private. Moreover, some of the people who receive the message are going to forward it to friends of their own, and (unless they have read this book) they will not bother to edit out the header of the original message. If the information in the message is interesting, it will be forwarded again and again, and in a short amount of time, the names and addresses in the original message will be spread around the Net.

In such cases, the best thing to do is to address the message to yourself, and send blind copies to all your friends. (A blind copy is one in which the recipient's address does not appear. See Chapter 5 for the details.) In other words, put your address in the To line and put your friends' addresses in the Bcc line.

Here is an example. Let's say I wanted to send a message to several friends. The right way to do it would be as follows:

From: Harley Hahn
To: Harley Hahn
Subject: Grapefruit jokes
Bcc: Charles Wagon, Arthur Irwin Choke, Ben Dover,
     Al Abaster, Ellie Fant, Mel Norman Collie

The wrong way would be to put all these names in the To line:

From: Harley Hahn
To: Charles Wagon, Arthur Irwin Choke, Ben Dover,
    Al Abaster, Ellie Fant, Mel Norman Collie
Subject: Grapefruit jokes

If you have a group of people to whom you send mail regularly, you can put an entry in your address book to represent a group of addresses. For example, if I were to create an entry in my address book called friends that contained this list of addresses, I could simply mail a message to friends and a copy would be sent to everyone on the list:

From: Harley Hahn
To: Harley Hahn
Subject: Grapefruit jokes
Bcc: friends

(For a general discussion of address books, see Chapter 5.)

When you use an entry in an address book in this way, to represent more than one address, the name of the entry is called an ALIAS. In this case, the name friends is an alias for a list of seven different addresses.

— hint —

When you send a message or reply to a message, be careful of any addresses that do not look familiar. If you are suspicious, send a test message.

I have a friend who unknowingly sent highly sensitive mail to an address that was an alias for a large, public mailing list. As a result, many people who were complete strangers to him saw the message.

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Finding Someone's Mail Address

There are millions of people on the Internet, but as we discussed in Chapter 1, the Net itself is not run by any particular organization. For this reason, there is no central directory in which you can look up someone's address. Nor is there an easy way to see if a particular person is even on the Internet.

Learn how to...

Search for a Mail Address

The Internet has no central administration, and there is no such thing as a master list of names and addresses. However, there are a number of directories, and some mail programs have built-in facilities to help you search for mail addresses.

So what do you do when you want to send mail to someone, but you don't know his address? There are several things to try.

First, although this may sound obvious, the very best way to find out someone's address is to ask him. Although it is possible to search for an address on the Net (as I will explain in a minute), nothing is faster than calling a person on the telephone and asking him, "What is your email address?" If you have trouble reaching the person you want, a good bet is to ask someone who knows that person.

For example, say you want the email address of someone who works at a company, but you can't reach him by phone. Call the company and ask the receptionist for that person's email address. Similarly, if you want to get in touch with an old friend you haven't seen in years, and you don't have his phone number, you can often get better results by calling his mother than by searching the Net.

— hint —

Occasionally, you may find yourself talking to someone who wants to give you his mail address, but who doesn't know what it is. This is especially common with people who are brand new to the Net and don't yet understand how such things work.

In such a case, give the person your address, and tell him to send you a message. When the message arrives, you can look at the header and see the person's address in the From line. Even easier, you can tell your mail program to look at the message, extract the return address, and put it in your address book automatically. (See Chapter 5.)

If you do need to search for an address, there are mail address directories on the Net you can use. These directories use a standard protocol called LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol). Using LDAP, your mail program can query such a directory on your behalf and display the results. All you need to do is specify a name, and, if that person is listed, you will be given their address. When you find an address you want, it is easy to add it to your address book.

Mail programs that support LDAP usually come with a built-in list of directories that are available for searching. You can add to this list whenever you want, when you find an LDAP directory that is not on the list. In addition, the public LDAP directories all have their own Web sites, which you can access directly by using your browser.

What's in a Name?


Most of the mail address directories on the Net support a protocol called LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol). By using this protocol, a client such as your mail program can query a directory (LDAP server) on your behalf and display the results.

LDAP was developed as an alternative to other, more complex protocols. The word "Lightweight" was chosen to indicate that LDAP is simpler and easier to use than these other protocols. (It's a nerd joke.)

The LDAP directories contain a great many names, so there is some chance you will find the person you want. However, there are many millions of people on the Net, and most of them are not in such a directory, so you may have to search further.

When all else fails, the final way to find an address is to search the Net for some trace of the person. For example, if you can find a person's Web site, you will often find his or her mail address on one of the Web pages. Or, if you can find an article the person has posted to a Usenet discussion group, there will be a mail address in the header of the article.

To search the Web, you use one of the Web search engines, which we will discuss in Chapter 11. To search Usenet, you use a Usenet search engine, also discussed in Chapter 13.

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Spam and Privacy

There are various reasons why you might want to keep your mail address private. The most important reason is spam (which I discuss in Chapter 2).

SPAM is advertising that is sent to your mail address without your permission. A person or company that sends spam is called a SPAMMER. Receiving spam is similar to receiving junk mail from the regular post office system. However, there is a major difference. With postal mail, it costs significant money to send a letter. There are printing costs, handling costs and postage. For this reason, junk mailers do not want to send mail to people who have no interest in their products. Although this may seem hard to believe (especially if you get a lot of irrelevant junk mail), it is true. If you call a junk mailer and ask to be taken off their list, they will do so, because spending good money to reach the wrong people only raises their overhead.

Spam is different, because it costs nothing to send an email message. If a spammer sends 90 percent of his mail to people who are not interested in the product, what does he care? Thus, unlike the postal junk mailers, email spammers have no economic motivation to make an effort to send their mail only to those people who might be interested. More important, they have no economic motivation to take you off their lists once they have your address.

If you don't mind spam (and some people don't), that's fine. However, if you dislike unsolicited messages in your mailbox, you need to learn how to keep your address private.

The first thing to realize is that many spammers are basically dishonest people. Here is why:

Every ISP (Internet service provider) has a strong policy against spamming. When an ISP sees a customer using their system to spam people, they cut off that customer immediately. In addition, there are many technically adept people on the Net who hate to receive spam, and if they find the email address of a spammer, they will retaliate in some way (say, by spamming his system).

For these reasons, virtually all spammers structure their mail messages to have a fake return address and to hide the origin of the spam. Otherwise, they would lose the services of their ISP and incur the wrath of tens of thousands of people. In other words, just to be in the spam business requires a person to be dishonest.

There is only one sure way to keep yourself out of the spam lists: do not allow your address to get on a list in the first place. So, to understand how to keep your mail address private, you need to understand how spammers get such addresses.

First, they sell and trade them in huge lists. In fact, you may get advertisements inviting you to pay money to send a message to millions of people.

Second, spammers use automated programs to scan vast numbers of Web pages looking for email addresses. This is called TROLLING.

Third, spammers use programs to scan all the articles from all the Usenet newsgroups looking for return addresses in the headers. (We will talk about Usenet articles in Chapter 13, but basically, they have headers similar to mail headers.)

In other words, spammers will do everything they can to get as many addresses as they can. Once they do, they will sell the addresses repeatedly. (After all, it doesn't cost anything to copy a file of data.)

The following hints will help you protect the privacy of your address. Some hints are more extreme than others, so you will need to decide for yourself how much it is worth to you to keep your address private.

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Harley Hahn's List of 7 Ways to Keep
Your Email Address Private

1. Be selective about giving out your address.

Give your address only to people whom you want to have it. Tell those people not to give out your address without your permission.

2. Lie about your address.

There are many Web sites that demand that you "register" before you can access the site. As part of this registration, you are asked for your address. Why do you think they want it? Even if you are dealing with a legitimate company that promises not to sell your address, they still want to send you their own spam. The best solution is to specify something that looks like an address but isn't a real address, for example, z@z.gov.

You might ask yourself, is this a moral thing to do? The answer is yes. No one on the Net has a right to demand your mail address for any reason.

In some cases, you may have to give a real address to access the site. (For example, they may want to send you a personal password by mail.) In such situations, think carefully and decide if giving out your address is worth access to that site.

3. Get a disposable address for non-private mail.

An alternative to using a fake address is to get a free, disposable address from a Web-based mail service (see Chapter 5). You can treat such addresses as temporary, throwing them away whenever you want. This gives you an address to use when you register at Web sites, while allowing you to keep your personal address completely private.

4. Don't register your software.

Many software programs ask you to "register" (there is that word again) your software as part of the installation process. Of course, as part of the registration, they want your address. Don't register. Your software will still work. All they want is your email address.

5. Use a disguised address when you post to Usenet.

Unfortunately, Usenet has suffered greatly from spammers in two ways. First, they send a great many advertisements to the Usenet newsgroups, and, second, they steal legitimate addresses from the headers of messages for their mailing lists. To protect yourself, use a disguised return address when you post Usenet articles. To do this, modify your address in a way that a person would recognize the change, but an automated spam program would not. For example, say your real address is:


When you post a Usenet article, you might use a return address of:


If someone wants to reply to your article, he will know to delete the characters REMOVE from the address. However, an automated program trolling for addresses will be fooled.

6. Don't put your address on your Web page.

Either omit your email address entirely from your Web page, or use a disguised address as I discussed above. Remember, spammers use automated programs that troll Web pages, looking for mail addresses.

7. Don't put your address in your Web browser.

When you configure your browser, there is a place to specify your mail address. For complete privacy, do not do so. As you navigate the Web, it is possible for a Web site you happen to be visiting to run a program on your computer that, without your permission, sends back your address as well as all the other personal information your browser knows about. Omitting this information from your browser's configuration data protects your privacy.

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Some mail programs have a facility called FILTERS that allow you to process incoming mail automatically in various ways. For example, you can arrange that all mail from a particular address should be deleted before you even see it. (This is an easy way to eliminate some types of unwanted mail.) Or you might want all messages that have a specific Subject line to be moved to a special folder.

You can create as many filters as you need, each one having its own name and its own characteristics. To create a filter, you specify one or more criteria and choose what you want to happen whenever an incoming message meets those criteria. As incoming messages arrive, your mail program will check each message and perform the appropriate actions automatically.

As you gain experience with mail, you will probably come up with useful ways to use filters to preprocess your messages and to help you organize your incoming mail. One nice thing is that you can create as many filters as you want, and turn them on or off to suit your needs.

The details of creating a filter differ from one mail program to another, so it is best to spend some time experimenting with your particular program.

— hint —

To use filters within Outlook Express, pull down the Tools menu, select Message Rules, then Mail.

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