Aust & NZ
This page considers electronic mail. It looks at technical
primers, regulatory issues (in particular spam, copyright
and privacy), hoaxes and developments such as ENUM and
It covers -
Electronic mail is a text-based asynchronous store-&-forward
application on the internet and many intranets. It predates
the emergence of the web. It is used by an estimated 79%
of the online population and has become a significant
part of life in most large organisations and many households,
as pervasive and unremarkable as the telephone.
Typically, messages are generated on a personal computer
or other device such as a personal digital assistant.
Those messages are held on a mail server and then forwarded
to the device used by the recipient - which might be a
personal computer, PDA or even mobile phone. That forwarding
might be direct (eg across a private network within an
organisation's building) or via another mailserver that
routes messages from the internet. Most email over the
net conforms with RFC
2822 (a standard format covering protocols such as
SMTP, POP3 and IMAP).
The speed and pervasiveness of email - like SMS - means
that many people assume that all messages are received
and that they are received instantly. In fact, some messages
go astray and problems with servers mean that delays of
several hours (or more in exceptional circumstances) are
The initial email systems were restricted to text ...
and text of the plainest formats. It subsequently became
possible to attach files (eg wordprocessed documents and
spreadsheets), to use enhanced text formatting and to
feature hyperlinks to web pages.
Apart from Palme's Electronic Mail (Norwood: Artech
House 1995), which offers a useful although somewhat dated
account of business and regulatory
questions, social impacts and technical such as X.400,
several short primers may be of assistance.
These include The E-mail Frontier: Emerging Markets
and Evolving Technologies (Reading: Addison-Wesley
1994) by Daniel Blum & David Litwack and Marshall
Rose's Internet Messaging: From the Desktop to the
Enterprise (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall 1993)
which replaces his The Internet Message: Closing the
Book with Electronic Mail (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall
For the X.400 standard consult Essential Email Standards:
RFCs and Protocols Made Practical (New York: Wiley
1999) by Pete Loshin & Paul Hoffman, Sara Radicati's
Electronic Mail: An introduction to the X.400 Message
Handling Standards (New York, McGraw-Hill 1992) or
Cemil Betanov's Introduction to X.400 (Boston:
Christina Cavanagh's Managing Your Email: Thinking
Outside The Box (New York: Wiley 2003) and David
Shipley & Will Schwalbe's Send: The Essential
Guide to Email for Office and Home (New York: Knopf
2007) are a useful vade mecums for people who feel overwhelmed
by messages or have a compulsion to email in haste, repent
For interaction studies consult Connections
(Cambridge: MIT Press 1992) by Lee Sproull & Sara
Kiesler, Intermedia: Interpersonal Communication in
a Media World (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1986) edited
by Gary Gumpert & Robert Cathcart or Psychology & the
Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal & Transpersonal
Implications (San Diego: Academic Press 1999) edited
by Jayne Gackenbach.
They're more impressive than The Psychology of the
Internet (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1999) by
Patricia Wallace and the often silly Life on the Screen:
Identity in the Age of the Internet (London: Weidenfeld
& Nicolson 1996) by structuralist Sherry Turkle. We've
pointed to other studies throughout our Digital Environment
guide; they include Jacques
Attali's gnomic Millennium: Winners & Losers In
The Coming Order (New York: Times 1992) and Digital
Nomad (New York: Wiley 1997) by Tsugio Makimoto &
There is no major study of the economic or cultural impact
The Network Nation (Cambridge: MIT Press 1993)
by Roxanne Hiltz Starr & Murray Turoff and No Sense
of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behaviour
(Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1986) by Joshua Meyrowitz are
dated but insightful.
Naomi Baron's Alphabet to Email: How Written English
Evolved & Where It's Heading (London: Routledge
2000) extends her 1998 Letters by phone or speech by
other means: The linguistics of email and paper
on Writing in the Age of Email: The Impact of Ideology
David Crystal's Language & The Internet (Cambridge:
Cambridge Uni Press 2001) explores the same territory
but is excessively reverent; we preferred the wit and
analysis in The Way We Talk Now (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin 2001) by Geoffrey Nunberg.
The Privacy guide elsewhere
on this site offers a detailed discussion of privacy issues
and regulation. In particular it notes differing government
and industry responses to ongoing reports demonstrating
that many businesses systematically monitor email created/received
by their employees, with the rationale that computers
and connections are corporate resources rather than private
The Security & InfoCrime guide
looks at privacy enhancing tools such as encryption.
Correspondence - whether in the form of ink on paper
or electronic mail - is not located in a copyright-free
The Intellectual Property guide elsewhere on this site
includes a page discussing
the copyright status of email, something that is recurrently
in the news following incautious ministerial statements
after passage of Australia's 'Digital Agenda' copyright
In principle, an email message addressed to a single recipient
has the same copyright protection as a handwritten letter,
ie it is protected by copyright (the author owns copyright
in the text, the recipient merely owns the physical embodiment
- paper and ink - of that intellectual property).
Defamation and hate speech
Most jurisdictions similarly make few distinctions between
defamation and that involving ink on paper. A detailed
profile about online defamation principles, cases and
academic literature is here.
There are broader pointers to particular studies in exploring
free speech and other issues in our Censorship,
Politics and Governance
Examples include Russell Weaver's cogent paper
Defamation Law in Turmoil: The Challenges Presented
by the Internet, the interesting but somewhat utopian
by Brian Martin, Lilian Edwards 1997 paper
Defamation & the Internet: Name Calling in Cyberspace,
Marty Sutcliffe's paper
Defamation on the Internet: Searching for Community,
Identity & Statutory Solutions and The
Law of Defamation & the Internet (Oxford: Oxford
Uni Press 2001) by Matthew Collins.
Our Politics guide includes a page
dealing with online vilification, hatespeech and hate
sites. Use of email for stalking
is covered by telecommunications, anti-harassment or other
legislation in many jurisdictions.
Unsolicited commercial email (spam) has emerged as
a major consumer, business and regulatory issue. AOL for
example estimated in 2001 that spam accounts for 30% of
email to its subscribers, with between 5 and 8.5 billion
messages pa. Some mail management services have since
claimed that the percentage is now higher. A January 2001
from the European Commission estimated that internet users
pay €10 billion in connection costs just to receive
We have explored the significance of spam
in our Security & InfoCrime guide.
It is supplemented by a more detailed profile that discusses
specific features of spam regulation in Australia (in
particular the Spam Act 2003) and a complementary
note on spam regulation in
the US, Canada and other jurisdictions.
The guide points to consumer and industry organisations
such as the US Coalition Against Unsolicited Bulk Email
and Australian Coalition Against Unsolicited Bulk Email
also discusses documents such as the 1999 CommerceNet
on Unsolicited Commercial E-mail: Legislative Solutions
and David Sorkin's 1997 paper
on Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail & the Telephone
Consumer Protection Act of 1991.
>Ultimately the best response to spam may be a combination
of national legislation such as Australia's 2003 enactment
(underpinned by international agreements), filters and
measures such as the IIA's When in Doubt: Don't Try
- Don't Buy - Don't Reply initiative.
forgeries, viruses and hoaxes
Email has also gained attention because of forgeries,
viruses and hoaxes.
Forgeries have essentially taken two forms -
theft (sometimes characterised as 'joe jobs') - discussed
in more detail here
manipulation of address information by viruses or humans
- discussed here
noted in this site's Contact page, not all email messages
are legitimate: it is quite easy to forge
an email address to give the appearance of a message from
Bill Gates, the Australian Prime Minister, the Telstra
CEO or indeed the operators of this site. Responses have
varied and, as yet, there's no consensus about authentication
mechanisms such as digital certificates or trusted email
systems that would provide comfort for SMEs and individuals.
Many users of Windows machines have found to their sorrow
that email is also a mechanism for delivering computer
viruses, ie software with effects such as corrupting a
personal computer's memory or unauthorised dissemination
of files and email address details. As suggested later
in this profile, management of devices on the internet
and of email is not a task that should be blithely left
to your ISP: closing open ports and regular updating of
anti-virus software is essential.
Past communication revolutions
indicate that the growth of media literacy has been somewhat
slower than the opportunism of scammers.
The US government Computer Incident Advisory Center (CIAC)
has an excellent set of resources
about email hoaxes and chain letters.
There is an analysis of the latter at Donald Watrous'
Chain Letter page.
This site features a detailed note
on the 'Nigerian' or '419' email scam and chain email
the email tax?
The Taxation guide features a detailed discussion
of proposals for a Tobin-style 'byte' tax, typically a
fraction of a cent on every email sent/received. Initial
proposals centred on funding initiatives to bridge digital
divides, in particular various 'north-south' divides'.
More recently there have been suggestions that some form
of tax would inhibit spam.
Those proposals have been reflected in recurrent hoaxes;
one example is discussed here.
the death of email
2006 and 2007 saw pronouncements of the 'death of email',
variously attributed to generational change ("email
is for old people") and to recipients abandoning
the medium because of information overload and spam.
Pundits have announced that it has been "replaced"
by SMS, IM, microblog
tools such as Twitter and online social
spaces such as MySpace. Claims of the death of email.
like that of Mark Twain, are overstated. Email in advanced
economies should instead be considered to have normalised,
become just another communication mechanism in commercial
and personal life rather than something that replaces
existing media. With much of the population now online
double digit growth in the number of people using email
for the first time is no longer to be expected. Significant
growth is however still occurring in emerging economies
and will presumably do so, barring global catastrophes,
in the coming decade.
Many of the laments for the supposed demise of email are
deeply traditional, echoing denunciations that the telegraph,
the telephone and
then email meant the death of letter writing.
Chad Lorenz pontificated in Slate in 2007 that
sense of loss I feel about the decline of e-mail has
less to do with how we communicate than with what we
communicate. The means by which we deliver a message
affects its content. While the rise of the BlackBerry
has proven that e-mail can be adapted for fast-burst
communiqués, the medium is best-suited for longer
musings. As opposed to instant messaging, e-mail provides
the breathing room to contemplate what we're writing
and express nuanced thoughts. A well-tended e-mail inbox
and outbox can serve as a sort of diary, an evolving
record of your curiosities, obsessions, introspections,
apologies, and heart-to-hearts. Instant messages, on
the other hand, are like Post-it notes, handy
for a few minutes but hardly worth saving. While IMs
and text messages have a throwaway quality, e-mail is
for the sentimental. I still have some of the first
flirtatious e-mails I exchanged with my wife in college.
I have thoughtful monologues from friends in the midst
of crises. I have e-mails from my parents that I envision
showing to my children someday.
predictions of 'the death of the net' (aka internet meltdown)
are discussed here.
The Network guide on
this site discusses email-related addressing initiatives
such as ENUM
(a standard adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force)
and the proprietary WebNum standard. Both should, in principle,
permit electronic mailboxes that allow a single contact
identifier for individuals - covering email, mobile phone,
home phone, business phone and fax, and associated services.
For a brief introduction see Anthony Rutkowski's
September 2000 column
ENUM: the Internet's Glueball Infrastructure and
the ITU's ENUM page.
Rich Media and usability
Although statistics are problematical, it is clear
that there's increasing commercial interest in 'rich media':
HTML for the display of text within email messages
of still graphics and animations within messages
of audio and even video.
much of the enthusiasm seems unfounded, since the firewalls
used by many organisations exclude such messages and different
browsers display the information in a substantially different
The Usability of eMail Subject Lines, a
by John Rhodes, Daniel Sloat, James Griffith & Gregory
Benoit explores one of the neglected areas of the usability
and marketing literature, surprising given the volume
of email dealt with most days and its significance.
Its authors highlight comments by Jakob Nielsen in his
September 1998 Alertbox article
on Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles
& Subject Lines, noting however that there is
little empirical information about responses to email
and there is disagreement about aids such as the Uni of
Among other comments it concludes that users are
more likely to open a message that begins with "RE:".
They are also very likely to delete one beginning with
the @ symbol
A brief note on use of the @ symbol in email and popular
culture is here.