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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 46: To: Be Or Not To: Be

I admit that I can be something of an anal retentive, so sloppy formatting in e-mail messages bothers me, but there's another reason to clean up your messages before sending them: You'll be helping reduce the junk mail of your friends and acquaintances.

If you forward a message to someone else, go into the text area of the message (where the joke or picture or, Omigosh!, an actual text is) and delete all the previous e-mail addresses of past recipients. Normally, if you do nothing, the default is that the forwarded text includes all the e-mail addresses of the 258 "best friends" of the person who sent the initial message to you. If the message has been forwarded several times, there can be several hundred e-mail addresses in the body of the message!

Now, other than channeling my inner Felix Unger, why do I care? Because there are people out there who gather e-mail addresses and sell them to spammers, or themselves use them to spam.

Here's an example: Joe Stamptongs has died. His best friend Harry Hingeless sends word to 25 stamp collectors who knew Joe. Each of them forwards it to 10 more philatelists. One of the second-generation recipients is a small-time not-too-ethical dealer who now has 35 more-or-less-fresh addresses of stamp collectors to whom he can offer his reperfed "gems." If the message of Joe's passing has gone through several hands, it could contain many more addresses.

There's another source of too many exposed addresses: The overcrowded "To:" field on that initial message. Your e-mail program may allow you to "suppress" the visibility of the recipient addresses; Outlook does. Or you can place the recipient addresses in the "bcc" ("blind carbon copy" ha! How many of today's software programs know what a carbon copy was?) field, and one address (maybe a secondary address you use) in the To: field. That way each recipient only sees one recipient address.

There's another reason not to crowd the To: field with a bunch of addresses: Some e-mail servers (that is, the Internet Service Providers' networks) interpret too many addresses as a sign that the message is spam. Some of your recipients may never see your message or bon mot.

Even better than hiding all those addresses, if you have a regular group to whom you send messages, is to have someone create a group address. For example, if you want to send a message to all the members of the Board of Directors of the American Philatelic Society, there's a single address you can use; some other philatelic organizations have similar group addresses. Not only is it neater and not as exposed, it's also a lot easier to remember that one address than 11 individual ones.

The administrator of your e-mail server (system), which is usually the webmaster of your organization's site, can create these.

One other way to fight To: clutter: Create a Yahoo! group for discussions. I belong to several, including two for community bands I'm in. I administer one of them, so I can tell you that's it's pretty easy. You go to http://groups.yahoo.com, register with Yahoo if you haven't already, and create your group. Then you "invite" people to join the group, by filling in their e-mail addresses in the "invite" area. They receive e-mail invitations and are then permitted to join. Or, if someone discovers your group and says, "Hey, I'd like to join in the discussions about left-handed trombones on stamps," he or she can ask permission to join the group.

No one who is not a member can send a message to the group. No one who is not a member can receive a message from the group (unless it's forwarded to them). In half a dozen years I've been a member of Yahoo! groups, I've never received spam from an outsider. (Some of the inane or over-esoteric messages, such as the proper fingerings on an oboe for an E-flat, were certainly of limited interest, but they weren't spam!)

There are other features of Yahoo! groups: You can have photo galleries, a database with member information, messages can be read by visiting groups.yahoo.com, and more. But you don't need to use them.

Two more bits of e-mail "netiquette:"

Don't put anything in an e-mail message that would embarrass you (or worse) if it got in the wrong hands. If Ron Sonfluid sends me a message that he recently sold a reperfed Lower Slobovia C898 at the price for a genuine C898, all I have to do is hit the forward button to get Ron in a lot of trouble.

And please don't hit "reply all" when you only need to reply to one person. If Harry sends a message to 25 people (including me), asking who's got a copy of the Gibbons Guide To Gummy Bears, all 25 of us don't need to see all 25 replies. I haven't seen an e-mail program yet that didn't have both "Reply" and "Reply All," so why do so many people hit "All" just to say "Not me?"

You can reach Lloyd at Lloyd@virtualstampclub.com or via The Virtual Stamp Club, www.virtualstampclub.com.

You can reach Lloyd at stamps@pobox.com or via The Virtual Stamp Club, www.virtualstampclub.com.

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