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NOTE:  Items highlighted in RED are defined elsewhere in this Glossary, while items highlighted in BLUE are site links for further information.

So now you’ve got to worry about types of e-mail?  Unfortunately, yes.  But only if you want to receive and possibly sync your e-mail over several devices, i.e. your phone, your laptop, your home computer, your pad.  If not, you’re probably not going to need this discussion.

First, you have to consider how you are retrieving your e-mail.  There are two ways.  First, there is what we call “webmail.”  That is, you go directly to the Internet to a web site that links you to your e-mail server.  For example, go to www.comcast.net to get your Comcast e-mail, or to AOL.com for your AOL e-mail, or to Verizon.net for your Verizon e-mail.  In each case, your ISP (“Internet Service Provider”) is Comcast, AOL or Verizon.  That’s who you buy your internet connection from each month.  When these ISPs set up your Internet account, they also give you one or more free e-mail accounts to go with it.  With your webmail account, you go to the e-mail address in your browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc.) then type in your account name and password and, viola!, there’s your e-mail.  You can read it, forward it, reply to it, erase it, etc.

Some of us, however, don’t use webmail.  Either our computer wasn’t initially set up that way, or we wanted certain additional features or controls that weren’t available on webmail (which can sometimes be pretty much “plain vanilla”) or we wanted to get mail from more than one account (e.g. Comcast, Google, home and business) all in one place.  Also, there’s more of a privacy and archiving concern when your mail is stored in the cloud as opposed to permanently downloaded to your own computer, and many people like that.

In those cases, we are using a program.  It doesn’t matter what the program is.  Apple computers come with OS X Mail built in.  Windows computers come with either Outlook Express or (in later versions) Windows Live Mail or (most recently) outlook.com built in.  There are other programs such as Outlook (full version), Thunderbird, Incredimail and the like which are sometimes both free and paid.  The bigger the program, the more you pay, the more features you will get.  But, for most of us, the free programs work just fine.  We’re not that interested in special colors, fonts and backgrounds for our e-mail (besides, that usually slows the computers down anyway).  The main benefit is that the programs retrieve your messages from multiple accounts at the same time, and store them on your own computer in a single place, rather than going to the individual e-mail servers for each of the several accounts.  And it’s easier to use only one commonprogram interface rather then several different ones.

There’s one more important factor.  Regardless of how you get your mail from the ISPs server, how is it “handled.”  Any e-mail program will use almost any protocol, so it doesn’t care what your ISP is using.  Mail is delivered according to a specific “protocol” or language that is used by the mail server.  There are several protocols that can be  used, but the two main ones are “POP” and “IMAP.”  Each is different and affects how you receive your e-mail in its own way. Usually, you don’t have a choice about which protocol your e-mail provider uses, it’s just the way it is, although some ISPs have both so you can use either or both.  But you should know a little more about which one you have, because the features affect your ability to sync e-mail between devices and retrieve lost e-mails.

POP (stands for “Post Office Protocol”) is quite straightforward.  Your mail is stored on a computer known as the “POP server”.  When you request it (either with Web Mail or a program, as discussed above), the server sends it to you and, unless you instruct it to do so, it is then erased on the server and stored on your own computer. 

On the other hand, IMAP (“Internet Message Access Protocol”) operates in a similar fashion, but it only sends your computer a copy of your e-mail, and retains the original on the server until you purposely erase it on your computer.  (I’ve been told that some IMAP setups only send the mail to one device, like your computer, so it may not be available on your phone if you checked it on your computer first, so make sure you don’t have this type of setup if you have to get your mail everywhere.)  POP mail servers are faster and take up more disk space, but IMAP servers won’t let you lose your mail as easily if you accidentally erase it from your computer.

So, you say, this is all very interesting, but what does it mean to me?  Well, let’s say you have more than one computer or device.  Not necessarily on a single network.  It can be a home computer and a laptop you travel with.  if you have a POP mail server, unless you can tweak the settings, once you retrieve an e-mail on one computer, it will be erased on the server and it will no longer be available for retrieval on any other computer or device, or even the same computer if you accidentally erase it.  It’ll be gone.  If you retrieve your e-mail, for example, on your laptop while you are out of town on business, it can’t thereafter be retrieved on your home computer when you return.

On the other hand, if you have an IMAP server, it’ll still be on the server, and you can retrieve it again and again until erased. It’s like keeping an automatic backup of your e-mail. With the IMAP client, even sub-folders you create to sort your e-mail will be accessible anywhere and on any device, because you created them on the server and not just on one of your devices (see below for more discussion).  And, if you erase something, it will be erased on all your devices, because it’s erased from its location on the server.  It saves you the trouble of erasing the same thing over and over on every device you have.

Now, don’t despair:  If you are using one of the popular e-mail programs discussed above, you can tell the POP server not to delete the mail on the POP server until either you delete it on all your computers, or after a certain period of time, or up to a certain total number of e-mails or even “never”.  But this procedure doesn’t always work so well:  Sometimes, if you alternate between webmail and your program, things may not be exactly the same, and you may see duplicates in webmail.  And, if you’ve created mail folders and rules in your e-mail program to sort your incoming mail, you won’t see them on other devices or on web mail unless they use that same program (Outlook, for example.).

Finally, there are an increasing number of users who have multiple devices (phones, pads, laptops, netbooks, desktops, etc.) across multiple platforms (Apple, Linux and PC), and they want them “synced” so that they all display the same information.  If you are using either of the two types of e-mail accounts discussed above, you will be able to make adjustments to the stored information in just that account, but that’ll be all you can do.  If you are expecting to create a complete synchronization of all of the information on your e-mail programs (including the address or contact book, the e-mails, the task list, the calendar and the like), especially across platforms (e.g PCs, Apple, Linux, etc.) you’ll have two choices to make:  Either change your e-mail address and program to a “cloud” computing programs such as Google’s “G-Mail” or Microsoft’s outlook.com or go to a paid service.  Both types of services store a complete copy of your information on the web, such that your computer and every one of your other devices and computers can access that data on the Internet and will see exactly the same thing.  If you make any changes, additions or deletions on the program, it’ll then show up everywhere.  But this involves possibly changing your existing e-mail address and having your information now stored on the Internet, which isn’t much of a privacy issue (theoretically no one can get to it) but nonetheless bothers some people, particularly businesses, which worry about industrial espionage and proprietary data leaks.

Aside from IMAP, which works well across platforms and with mobile devices, you may also hear about two other protocols that are used for synchronization.  If your office uses these protocols or your computer has these installed, you will probably know about it.  The first is EWS (“Exchange Web Services”).  This is a protocol introduced by Microsoft for it’s corporate Exchange e-mail program that were using desktop programs like Outlook.  EWS replaced a previous protocol called MAPI.  The second is EAS (“Exchange Active Sync”), which is another Microsoft protocol originally introduced for use with phones and tablets, but which is also part of Microsoft Outlook 2013 and Windows 8 Mail, People and Calendar.

What do I recommend?  IMAP, if its available.  Especially if you have lots of messages, say over 5,000 messages or over 1Gb of space used to store them.

Add-ons to reduce clutter:  Despite our best intentions, e-mails sometimes get away from us and we wake up one morning to discover hundreds of unerased and unsorted e-mails.  Aside from creating folders, cutting and pasting e-mails and creating mail rules, many companies have taken a stab at improving the e-mail experience.  An app named Mailbox used folders and gestures to make sorting e-mail easy.  It was acquired by Dropbox and is part of that app now.  In October, 2014, Google introduced its own app, Inbox, which sorts and turns e-mails into reminders, highlights the important ones and adds outside information the app thinks might be helpful.  It might, for example, bundle all e-mails about bills together, highlighting the part of each message it thinks are key parts.  Shortly after that, IBM introduced Verse, similar to Inbox, which searches and classifies e-mail based on both the e-mail content and user’s behavior pattern with the messages.

NOTE:  How safe is your e-mail?  Lately, in view of the NSA snooping revelations, this is a common question.  It’s even been revealed that the FBI has tapped the supposedly secure TorMail anonymous e-mail servers (see Tor).  The answer is, and has always been, that if you’re transmitting e-mails, texts or anything else over the Internet, it’s public and can be intercepted.  Between the sender and the recipient, your messages pass through lots of servers, most of which will let the government or others view your information.  And if you’re using the free cloud e-mail services like g-mail, all of your e-mail is scanned for advertising (and possibly other) purposes.  NSA has openly admitted collecting your e-mails, but also mobile phone metadata and probably more.  And cybercriminals are constantly attacking e-mails and other transmissions in search of Social Security, credit card numbers and other forms of ID to perpetrate identity theft schemes.  The solution is not to send any type of sensitive information in an e-mail. 

However, if you must, there are solutions: (1) You can use so-called private e-mail services.  Right now, the best private e-mail programs are probably Hushmail, VaultletMail (a desktop program instead of a browser app) and Enigmail (a free browser extension).   There are also some stand-alone apps that can be incorporated into e-mail programs such as Open PGP (Google Chrome only right now).  (2) You could encrypt your messages yourself so that only the recipient could read them.  But that’s a rather difficult process.  And the recipient has to have the same program.  Password protection of any type has to be a number of characters, at least 256 bytes, because anything less could be broken in minutes by a dedicated hacker (see encryption for more). Popular programs are InfoEncrypt and SafeMess and another simpler app named miniLock is in beta.  Many applications, like ZIP file encoding, do offer alternative AES-256 bit encryption, which should do the trick.  Try 7-Zip (free) or Winzip (also free trial) for this purpose.  (3) There’s also software named Bitmessage, which creates email addresses which are 36 characters long, then stored in a QR code, (4) There’s also a new encryption tool named Virtru, which can be added to either Chrome or Firefox broswers or Mac Mail or Windows Outlook e-mail programs.  To use it, you can click on a button that turns it on and off and has other options. (5) Finally, if you only need this security occasionally, or you think your recipient couldn’t handle the decryption process, then you could use one of the web-based services like Sendinc, which easily handles the whole process for you.

If you are concerned that others (travel sites, ordering sites, old flames, etc.) will retain your cherished e-mail address, most ISPs like Comcast or Verizon will give you seven or more free addresses, so you can use a new one and just delete it when you’re finished.  There are also several “disposable” e-mail providers available, including some that will simply disappear after as little as ten minutes.  See, for example, Guerrillamail, Mailinator, Airmail, Maildrop and 10 Minute Mail.

For free and secure chat tools, try one of these:  ChatSecure, Cryptocat, Surespot Encrypted Messenger, Tox or ChatCrypt.

Either way, while these alternatives mean that there won’t be any snooping by private companies, it won’t protect you from Government snooping, ordered or not, if Big Brother thinks you’re engaging in any illegal activities.  Consider secure messaging app Lavabit, which was forced by the U.S. government to circumvent its own encryption, granting the government full access to all customer accounts and even keeping messages it had deleted.  Three months later, on August 8, 2014, the owners closed the site (see the link).

How effective is e-mail as an advertising tool?  You’ve heard people claim that e-mail is dead, social media is now king.  A 2016 McKinsey & Co. study found the opposite - that e-mail is still an extremely effective marketing tool, more than 40 times more powerful than Facebook and Twitter combined!  Moreover, the average order value of e-mails that prompt purchases is 17% higher than that for social media.  But, since the average user receives about 121 e-mails each day, which ones are proven to be the most effective?  According to Square, automated birthday offers generate the highest engagement rate, with opening rates and redemptions more than 2.5x higher than all other types of e-mail campaigns.  While blasts still work in some instances, e-mails with welcome messages, birthday offers and winbacks far outperform standard blast campaigns, which are nevertheless useful for those people who sign up for and expect almost daily sale and redemption notifications.  The people who claim that e-mail is dead are most likely referring to those social users who have abandoned it’s use in favor of texting, because the text pops up an immediate notification to prompt a timely response, rather than waiting for the recipient to open their e-mail app at their own convenience and receive it in order to respond.  But even in social instances, e-mail is still more useful for sending or incorporating attachments, whether it be blueprints, .pdf’s or the like.

>>>For a discussion about confidentiality of text messages see TIP #84.

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