Monday, May 12, 2008

Using Email In The Twenty-First Century

I often end up explaining to my web development clients about how best they should use email. To those without a great deal of experience it can be a confusing area. In this article I will explain about the types of email applications and which is best to use.

The first type of mail client is a software programme you must run on your computer. It accesses the internet and retrieves your email from a POP server (Post Office Protocol), storing it permanently on your computer. Examples of such applications include Microsoft Outlook and Eudora, but there are dozens more.

At one time all email was handled this way. Back when the internet was in its infancy, it was less expensive to read and compose your mail without being online. While there is no longer any advantage to such software, some businesses still use them to control or integrate corporate transactions.

The second type of mail client includes public webmail sites like Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail. You access these through your web browser and have the freedom to do so from any computer, anywhere, since mail is retained on the server.

The third type are private branded webmail clients (like Squirrel Mail and Horde), as commonly provided by your web hosting company. These are similar in use to public webmail apps but have several distinct limitations.

I always strongly recommend to my clients who are individuals and small businesses the second option, specifically Yahoo! And there are many reasons why:

1. No storage limit. If there are several email accounts on your server your web host likely only grants you 10MB storage (or maybe less). For business use this will be filled up quickly, especially if you send attachments. Once your quota is filled you will get errors about mail not being sent, or email you expect to receive simply will not show up. This is no way to do business! In Yahoo! each email can be 10MB in size and you can store as many as you want.

2. Email is permanent. Should you ever change website hosting companies, you will lose all your previous email stored with them, and will need to start over in the new web host's system. This is annoying to say the least! Email and web hosting are separate services that should be kept separate. (Of course it might be possible to archive old mail and import it into a new application, but this is a hassle.)

3. View mail sent to different email addresses. This means you can read your business mail alongside personal email sent to a completely different address. Or have multiple business destinations (say support@mydomain.com, sales@mydomain.com and linda@mydomain.com) all pointing to little old you. When you send an email you can choose which of your identities it comes from. This is incredibly handy and far better than logging into multiple sites or programmes to handle different addresses.

4. More features; nicer interface. Yahoo! has seen a decade of development with a base of 260 million users, something private systems cannot touch. It is also part of a wide range of integrated software including news groups, instant messaging, calendar, and so on, all accessible from one place. And it is extremely reliable.

Yahoo! is free to join and use. In return the pages and your outgoing emails will include small adverts. For a small annual fee (currently US$20 per annum) you banish these and gain a few features useful for business users.

Here's my advice: pay the twenty bucks.

This doubles your limit to 20MB per email. Plus you'll be able to download email to Outlook and other desktop applications. And you'll be able to forward your Yahoo! email to addresses like your Blackberry account.

When I set up a new web hosting service for a client, I ask them what email addresses they want on that domain. They tell me guy@mydomain.com, montag@mydomain.com, linda@mydomain.com, etc. I ask what webmail address each person has. Then I set up automatic redirections so that mail to linda@mydomain.com gets forwarded to linda@yahoo.com, and so on. This service is free and included with the hosting package, since it is easy to do.

My clients use one email application wherever they are; they do not ever need to learn a new programme. They have no arbitrary limits imposed on their use. They are protected against future changes to their web hosting setup. I do not need to charge them web mail maintenance fees. And the website itself is not compromised by having to share disk space with large email attachments.

Anything else is so last century!


Note 1. I use Yahoo! as my example, since I have used it for many years. I get nothing for this endorsement. Gmail is also full-featured, though the interface takes some getting used to. I do not recommend Hotmail, as its service record has historically been poor.

Note 2. I don't use a Blackberry but I'm told that Yahoo! integration is a piece of cake. So long as your service provider is on the ball, you simply go to "Set Up Internet Mail" on your Blackberry, choose to add a new email address, and enter your Yahoo! address and password. Emails you read or delete on your Blackberry will be synchronised with your webmail and vice versa.

Note 3. Larger firms might prefer an online web office suite, since this allows shared documents, calendars and contact lists. Solve360 is an excellent choice that costs about $1000 per annum for ten employees. There are many other choices.

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