Technology eReport
Volume 5, Number 2
May 2006

Table of Contents
Past Issues

Surviving Email

Lost in Space: When Email Goes Missing

By jennifer j. rose

Over the decade past, we’ve become addicted to email. Its ubiquity, ease of transmission, cost savings, and speed have made most of us forget the era when it took days for a uniformed agent of the United States government to personally deliver the missive we’d written on Crane’s Crest, personally autographed, inserted into a paper receptacle onto which we’d affixed a tiny colorful square and frequently sealed with a kiss. Along the way, we also managed to forget that the United States Postal Service occasionally failed to deliver. It’s all too easy to assume that the email sent from your computer is always delivered seconds later to its intended recipient. However, sometimes the email postman not only doesn’t ring twice, he fails to deliver at all.

Let’s look at some of the reasons for missing and lost email. Starting with the most obvious, let’s place the blame squarely on the shoulders of others.

Spam filters intended to protect us from unsolicited offers from VmtAGRA news, Highest qualities Replika Watches, Refinance and pay less!, and word salads have become overly aggressive, blocking wanted mail for no good reason. Just as a mailman may decide to quit delivering mail to an entire block just because an angry dog guards one house, a spam filter can block all IP addresses, servers, or an entire domain. Mail that sails through perfectly well may be blocked tomorrow, unblocked a week from now, or permanently blocked, all depending upon traffic levels and the whim of the ISP, because some spam filters only work sporadically. Spam control can exist on several levels—at the user’s very own desktop, at the server, or at the network. And sometimes a user can be completely powerless when it comes to asking that an ISP stop protecting him or her from unwanted mail.

Even though it appears transparent, transmission of email is hardly so. Each email message must traverse a series of “hops” from one system through another and finally to the intended recipient. Too many hops, too many timeouts, and too many disconnections can cause the system to simply give up, often with a kind reminder to the sender that the message could not be delivered. And sometimes the sender never even learns that much.

Absent a message that the email has bounced, the sender blithely assumes that the message was successfully transmitting and resides in the recipient’s inbox. And when we do receive the notice of undelivered mail, sometimes simply taking the reasonable step of resending that email just isn’t enough. How many times have you resent that email, only to have it bounced right back as undeliverable or rejected as spam? It’s enough to make a grown lawyer scream.

This spring Verizon Communications settled a class-action lawsuit over blocking email from certain Asian and European providers by offering its customers up to a whopping $28. See That’s small consolation to email customers with clients in those countries.

What steps should you take when email is blocked or undelivered? Beyond simply resending it and hoping for the best, determine whether the recipient has an alternate address to which email can be sent. Try sending the message from one of your own alternate email addresses, which may even mean sending it off from a Yahoo ( or Gmail ( account. Asking that the recipient unblock email from your address is one option, although many recipients are unable or unwilling to take those steps. And sometimes even doing so is about as easy or effective as calling someone whose telephone has been disconnected to reconnect the phone!

Now let’s look at some of human reasons why email does not reach its intended recipient.

At the recipient end, because it’s still easier to blame someone else, consider how the recipient may treat his or her incoming mail. Is your mail residing in the recipient’s own junk mail filter, which the recipient only cleans out during blue moons? Does the recipient have too many of the wrong rules and filters set up, relegating your mail to the “Jokes and Other Silly Stuff” folder? Maybe the recipient simply deleted it, either inadvertently or intentionally? And then there’s always the odd chance that the recipient is simply hiding out and ignoring your e-mail—like I’ve done with eReport editor Jeff Allen’s mail asking me where this column is.

And, finally, does some of the blame rest on your very own shoulders? Yes, here’s where the “duh” factor comes in. Check to see if you actually did send that email. Perhaps you only thought you did, planning to do so later, setting it for a delayed send, or otherwise doing something really, really stupid. Did you send it to the right person — instead of some other address starting with “Ja” on your autocomplete recipient field? Did you address it correctly? It’s easy to confuse an “l” with a “1,” forget a hyphen or period, or even type the name or domain name extension wrong. Did you create a subject line which that direct the recipient’s attention to your email? Subject lines that are completely blank or contain only something like “important information” can end up ignored or directed to the junk pile more easily than those subject lines that read “ Stanley real estate contract.”

When all else fails, consider the quaint solutions we used before the advent of email. Fax your message. Have it personally delivered in a plain manila wrapper. Pick up the telephone and call. And be thankful for all the email that does find its way quickly and efficiently to the right person.

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, receives her email at in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico.




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