Freedom Of Speech: Electronic Mail

Read at your own risk

This document dates from the early web period, and is kept for archival purposes only. It is no longer updated, and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.
  2. Freedom Of Speech
  3. Talking

My recommendation for e-mail software is a free package called Eudora”. It follows the “user interface” standards for your computer, allowing you to more easily integrate the rest of your work with your electronic mail. You can then copy and paste from your mail to your word processor, for example, and vice versa. Besides Eudora, you can also use the built-in e-mail software in Netscape Communicator, but it’s slow as crap.

Who Are You Sending It To?

You have to tell your mail software where the mail is supposed to go. D’oh. Usually, this is called “recipient” or “to”. Their address is going to look a lot like yours.

Address Books And Nicknames

Most e-mail software allows you to keep an “address book”. This is a list of people whose addresses you know. If “jerry” is in your address book, you’ll be able to say “send this message to jerry” instead of “send this message to”.

You can add addresses to your address book by hand, or you can tell your mail software to grab an address off of a message you’re reading. In Eudora, look for the menu item Make Nickname.

Electronic Mail: Subject

You don’t need to give your message a subject, but it helps. The subject gives your recipient some idea of what your message is about, and lets them know you’re not a complete putz. If you’re sending your message to a group of people, the subject lets those who want to read about your topic choose your message, and lets the others ignore it.

Whenever you Reply to a message, the letters “RE:” are added in front of the original subject. If you’re changing the topic, change the subject. Otherwise, this lets your recipient know that you are replying to their message.

Subjects should be short, a phrase at most, and to the point. Subjects such as “This is important”, “Important!!!”, “I need help!”, and “O.J. Simpson” tend to be left until there’s nothing better to do. “Sex” usually gets people’s attention, especially when combined with “free”, as in, “Free Sex” or “Sex Free”. YMMV. Some good examples of subjects:

FTD Order Confirmation
Recent Suicide Numbers from WHO
San Diego Convention Journal-Thursday
Eudora: Why a “username not found” error?

Carbon Copies

You can send your message to more than one person by putting multiple addresses in the “To” line. When you put someone’s address in the “CC”, or “Carbon Copy” line, it does the same thing: it sends the message to everyone you list. But it does it in a way that says “you’re not part of this discussion, but I thought you might be interested in this particular message”.

Some mail software allows readers to “reply” to all “recipients”. Usually, this form of reply will only reply to those recipients on the “To” line. It will ignore those on the “CC” line.


You can attach documents to your electronic mail message. If you’ve got a paper written in ClarisWorks, for example, or a budget spreadsheet that you want to send to someone, you’ll do it by writing them a short message and attaching the file to that message. In Eudora, you select the menu item “Attach Document”, and choose the document from the dialog box.

When you “attach” documents in this manner, they have to be encoded for electronic mailing. Basically, mail messages have to be all text, but most of your documents have special codes in them that the software put there. So your mail software encodes the document in a special all-text format. In theory, the mail software used by whoever you send the mail to will decode the attached document and it’ll be as good as new.

Remember also, that if you send someone a document that you wrote using a special software package, they have to have that software as well. If you wrote it with ClarisWorks, they need to have ClarisWorks. If you drew the picture using Adobe Photoshop LE, they need to have Adobe Photoshop. There are ways around this. Many document ‘types’ have a standard way of transferring information. You’ll need to read your manual to know how to do this, but usually the “Save As…” menu item will have them. Word Processors, for example, can almost always save in “Rich Text Format”, or “RTF”. Every modern word processor should be able to read a file that’s been saved in “RTF” format.

Did it Make it Through?

In general, if you don’t get any message back, the person you sent to is ignoring you. If your mail didn’t make it to the recipient, you will almost always get a message back saying that something went wrong. It is possible, albeit extremely rare, for mail to get completely lost, however, so you’ll want to keep copies of important mail that you send. You can tell your e-mail software to automatically keep a copy of all “outgoing” mail. (You’ll need to read the instructions to find out how.) You’ll also want to do this if you like to refer back to messages you’ve already sent.

There are two common errors that will cause mail to be returned to you. In Internet terms, mail that gets returned to you is “bounced” back to you. Mail will be bounced to you if the “place” is wrong or if the “person” is wrong.

• If the “place” is wrong, you’ll get a mail message back from the postmaster in your domain telling you that the “hostname” could not be found.

• If the “person” is wrong, you’ll get a mail message back from the “place” computer telling you that the “username” does not exist.

In both of these cases, double-check the address to make sure you typed it correctly. Be especially careful of letters and numbers: ‘1’s and ‘l’s and ‘0’s and ‘O’s.

Secure E-mail

You can send secure e-mail using “PGP”. This will allow you to send mail that only the recipient can read, and to verify that you know the person sending you mail. In both cases, they have to be using PGP as well. PGP is the most trusted and most common security software for Internet communications.

  2. Freedom Of Speech
  3. Talking