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Ordinarily I tend to agree with many of the things PCWorld's John C. Dvorak has to say, but a column he wrote this week has left me scratching my head. He asserts that the email system is fundamentally flawed and has pronounced it "dead." Email? Dead? What?

Dvorak gives readers nine reasons to support his opinion, ranging from an assertion that people sometimes give out email addresses with no intention of checking their inboxes, to an inability to confirm that emails have been received at the other end. While he makes some valid points, I just can't get onboard with the idea that email should be taken out back and shot.

Even though it's been around a while, email is an evolving technology. Just when it seems we've got the nuances of email all figured out, along comes another method of communicating that throws everything off. Instant messaging makes it possible for us to ask someone a quick question without firing up an entire email application. Facebook lets us know what our friends and colleagues are up to before we even ask. Twitter combines the best of everything: direct messaging for quick personal contact, micro-blogging so we can track what's happening with people we know, and the ability to interact with others in bite-size moments whenever we get the chance.

Instead of a primary means of communication, email has become another tool in our arsenal. It's still perfect for longer conversations, creating digital paper trails, or as a method for transferring files to one another. It's usefulness has changed not been eliminated, and there's certainly no reason to declare it dead.

Dvorak's main beefs with email seem to be based mainly on how people use (and abuse) it, not its technical merits. While I certainly know people who don't have email addresses or never check the ones they have, it's rare and not people I know professionally. I'm at a loss to think of a single industry or chosen profession that can successfully exist without email, except for perhaps Carthusian monks.

When email surged in popularity, people predicted the demise of the U.S. Postal Service. When VoIP technology because accessible to the masses, people predicted the end of plain old telephone service (POTS). I imagine when typewriters were invented some predicted the demise of the ink pen.

My point is, as technology changes we need to adapt and change with it. Email allowed us to communicate in ways we never could before, but now it's not the only game in town. I agree that anyone who gives out an email address and then doesn't check their mail should be swatted with an Ethernet cable. the email system overall isn't flawed. Often is just the people who use it.

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    The problem with spam is that you can't fix it without introducing a cost to sending a message that's higher than the potential return. So if the potential return on investment from sending a scam email to a million users is $50.000 stolen from the one sucker who fell for … Read More

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    diafol 3,669   6 Years Ago

    Since I uber-filtered my account, I don't get any spam. In fact I don't seem to get any email at all. My boss told me that she'd emailed me about some meeting or other and dragged me across the carpet for not turning up. I told her that I check … Read More

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lol@swatted with a ethernet cable!!!!!!!!! hehehehee

very nice post Lisa! :) (the ethernet cable remark got coffeee spitted all over my monitor!)

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You just revived a dead thread for nothing.
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Actually, I more agree with John than Lisa. Not completely, of course. IMO, email as currently designed needs to be shot (read redesigned). Looking at his points:

1. The ever-changing address.
For professional email addresses, his complaint is stupid. I understand where he's coming from, but the problem people here are those that use their job address as their personal address. If they don't want a personal email address, they should only use email for job purposes.

And his argument about emails from yahoo and gmail, he's right. How am I supposed to find my friend John Doe when his email address is jman1035734@whatever.com?


2. The Spam conundrum.
This is the main area why the email concept is majorly flawed. Remove spoofing in all it's forms. If the sent from address is not accurate, it should not be allowed. Period. I can't stand getting emails hawking products and the email was sent by me!

Fix this! Or kill email!


3. The empty box.
4. The e-mail tourist.
5. The dead-box syndrome.
Not a reason to kill email. But a reason to kill the address.

And with his 5th point, to be honest, regular mail is just as bad - in reverse. My wife just got a letter addressed to her using her maiden name. We were married 16 years ago! Isn't it about time that name was removed from mailing lists?


6. The useless filter.
Fix the email technology so the filters aren't needed. Or at least less so.


7. The competition: IM and closed systems.
Twitter as a replacement? You've got to be kidding! Talk about spam. I don't want to read 50 Twitter accounts daily (I have few friends) to find out they went to the bathroom twice, walked their dog, and forgot to get milk. IM and the others aren't quite as bad, but definitely not a replacement.


8. The lack of assurance.
He's right. Fix it.


9. The black hole.
Moot point in my opinion. All communication mechanisms have this problem -- including the phone. I called a friend of mine once 6 times with no answer. On the 7th, I started leaving a message and he picked up. He was screening. Black hole, eh?

IMO, his statement that

E-mail is essentially unreliable; it needs a major, world-class overhaul in its basic design.

is the real problem. It needs to be redesigned to alleviate some of the problems technology can fix, and for people that don't use it properly they get left behind. After all, if you move and don't tell the Post Office, you won't get your magazines either. Come to think of it, though, you will get your spam...

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The problem with spam is that you can't fix it without introducing a cost to sending a message that's higher than the potential return. So if the potential return on investment from sending a scam email to a million users is $50.000 stolen from the one sucker who fell for it, a million emails should cost you at least $50.000 to send, or $0.05 per message.
In reality the actual return on investment from sending spam and scam emails is probably a lot higher, so you're looking at a cost of say $0.25 per sent message per recipient that needs to be leveraged just to prevent spam from being sent.
This is why such things are less commonly sent through regular mail (though they do appear as fax messages at companies regularly, and unaddressed advertising flyers pushed into your mailbox by kids paid peanuts are a constant annoyance).

Technical means to make spoofing harder might be possible, but would be vulnerable and will never be airtight.
Procedural systems like "do not spam registries" of course have no effect whatsoever, as those who send the most spam are shady types that won't respect those (and in fact might well harvest them for "known good" addresses of potential victims).

These problems were introduced initially because the internet started as an open network for a small group of trusted people in acedemia and the military, and was only later adopted as-is by the world at large as a commercial and social network. In the original concept the openness that's now perceived as a problem in that it allows shady and illegal practices like scams and spam was a strength in that it allowed users to do pretty much whatever they liked, and social control was strict because everyone knew everyone else.

Of course replacing the entire email system we have now is at the very least highly impractical, at worst impossible, because of the scale of things as they stand.
We're talking about literally millions of servers and possibly billions of client machines that all need to be equipped with new software and possibly hardware in order to create a new email network spanning the entire userbase of the internet.
If we take a look at what it took to get IPv6 introduced (and the majority of internat users still doesn't use it, despite pretty soon large chunks of the net being unreachable to them) I doubt this is going to happen unless there's a complete breakdown.
Such a breakdown was threatened several years ago when spam/scam email volume grew out of control completely, but that seems to have since died down somewhat to the point where it's now "only" about 75% of all email traffic (down from >99%) and falling slowly. Laws put in place in many countries that make it illegal to send such messages help, ISPs and network providers very agressively filtering anything sent over their networks helps as well (so messages get blocked and deleted before ever coming close to their recipients, also saving bandwidth).
It's a far from perfect world, but it's a start.

Will we ever be free from it? No. Just as we're not free from such things in physical mail, telephone, fax, people calling on your door to sell things.
But it seems like we can, through laws, procedures, and technology, contain the problem to a managable level.

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And with his 5th point, to be honest, regular mail is just as bad - in reverse. My wife just got a letter addressed to her using her maiden name. We were married 16 years ago! Isn't it about time that name was removed from mailing lists?

I got a letter awhile ago addressed to my mother-in-law who has been dead over 10 years.

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I got a letter awhile ago addressed to my mother-in-law who has been dead over 10 years.

Never had it that bad, but still get mail for people who've not lived in the house I purchased in 2008 for several years before that. And that includes official communications from banks, insurance companies, etc.

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Wonder about the proportion of emails that fail to get to proper addresses compared to snail mail, excluding spam / unsolicited stuff.

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Received scam email daily. Have become a part of my life. They sent and ask me to donate money to their dead flea. lol

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Since I uber-filtered my account, I don't get any spam. In fact I don't seem to get any email at all. My boss told me that she'd emailed me about some meeting or other and dragged me across the carpet for not turning up. I told her that I check my email every few hours. She didn't believe me. I showed her my inbox. She still didn't believe me. You must have deleted it, she said. So I showed her my deleted folder. She still didn't believe me. You must have deleted it from your deleted folder, she said. Sheesh, you just can't win can you?

There's a conspiracy going on, I'm sure of it. My ISP told me that they're stopping my account because I'm on my limit. I keep telling them that there's nothing in there, but they won't have it. Gits, all of them. :(

Edited by diafol: n/a

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