Easy Email Campaigns

Many Facebook page owners are discovering the importance of building communication with customers and supporters on channels you control, namely Websites and Email Campaigns. (I’ll say a few more words about this toward the end of the post.) If you are new to managing email lists and sending campaigns here are a few platforms to help you get started.


MailChimp has all the bells and whistles and may seem a bit complicated at first but MailChimp’s documentation is very well done. Basically you’ll create a List, (e.g. Subscribers”) and publish a sign-up form for people to subscribe. Over time you might delve into creating sharp templates but to get started I highly recommend using their “Email Beamer” to send an update to your list directly from your email client. In other words you can send an email to all of your subscribers just as easy as you send an email to a friend. Here’s how:

  1. Send an email to your list’s unique email address (this is automatically created when you create the list)
  2. Mailchimp will reply with a confirmation that a draft has been created.
  3. Reply to the confirmation with the word “Send” and voila it will deliver.

Start with reviewing MailChimp’s Getting Started guide and then read about the Email Beamer feature.

I love Mailchimp and highly recommend them. If you have fewer than 2000 subscribers you can send up to 12,000 emails per month completely FREE. If you sign up for their service I’d appreciate you using my affiliate link to sign-up.


TinyLetter, which is now part of the MailChimp family, is the no fuss method of sending email newsletters. It’s very simple to use and free to setup. I haven’t used it extensively so I don’t know the limitations of the product but knowing its pedigree I think you’ll be very pleased with this stripped-down email campaign tool.


Letter.ly is similar to TinyLetter but focused on newsletters that charge a subscription fee. It’s fairly widely used and beyond simple to setup so if you want to charge a few dollars for access to the newsletter this is the fastest way to get up and running.

A word on Facebook Page Posts and visibility

If you manage a Facebook Page you are no doubt aware that your posts are no longer reaching as wide of an audience. Through edge rank algorithms and the introduction of promoted posts you probably feel like you’ve encountered a bait-and-switch. Here is the hones truth… Facebook doesn’t charge you for pages and they don’t owe you anything. Social networks can be an invaluable tool but realize that you are always at their mercy.

It is essential that you tie your community and communication to channels that you can control, (i.e. your website, your email database).

For further discussion on the subject I recommend reading these touchstone posts by @copyblogger:

In closing

There are many sites email campaign manager tools available (e.g. ConstantContact, Aweber) but Mailchimp is what I prefer, use and recommend. If you know of other email tools that focus on simple and easy email newsletters I’d love to hear about them. If you need help with Mailchimp feel free to contact me. I help a number of clients in the setup and management of Mailchimp and I’d be glad to help you as well.

Happy Emailing



How to add an HTML email signature to Outlook 2010

I confess that its been several years since I’ve been tethered to Outlook so when I went to create an HTML signature I found that the signature advanced editor had been removed. Ack! Yes Rich Formatted text would get me close but if you want more control it might be time to create an HTML signature. HTML signatures are useful if you are wanting to use images or attach a business card with actually attaching a file every time you send an email. It is preferable to link to your contact card and use html tags to include the image.

Personally I use well formatted text and hyperlinks in my email signature but find what works for you.

A few final design notes:

  1. Don’t include your important information within the image. If your image is blocked then your info is as well.
  2. Explore how to mimic your coporate colors and feel using rich text. See some good examples at “Creative design tips for e-mail signatures

For more do’s and don’ts read Smashing Magazine’s “The Art And Science Of The Email Signature


How to create an HTML Signature for Outlook 2010 (Windows 7)

  1. To get to the email signature settings click File -> Options -> Mail -> Signatures.
  2. Click “New” to create a new signature and name it to something you will recognize. We’ll use “Example HTML”
  3. Type in a few nonsense letters and click “Save”
  4. Leave outlook open and navigate using Windows Explorer to C:UsersYOURUSERNAMEAppDataRoaminMicrosoftSignatures (Note that the AppData folder is hidden by default so you might need to select show hidden folders)
  5. Within this folder you will find a file named “Example HTML.htm” right click this file and select edit.
  6. Windows will open your default HTML editor, usually Word. I use Notepad++ but whatever you choose now you can edit your signature. Depending on your editor you may need some help with the HTML code so remember Google is your friend.
  7. Once you have your signature created click save and return to the Outlook Options.
  8. Select your new signature and you should see it formatted based on the HTML file you modified.

Screenshot of how to get to Outlook 2010 signature options


Linkedin provides a great tool for creating email signatures. Visit linkedin.com/signature to get started. It’s free but requires a Linkedin account.

  1. Fill out the info fields and select a template.
  2. Scroll to the bottom and click “Click Here for Instructions”. This will open a new window that gives you the HTML code.
  3. Paste this code into your HTML editor (step 6 above)
  4. Save and preview in Outlook


Your Turn

I’d like to know what you prefer in email signatures. Text only or well designed image signatures. How does your mobile use of email affect your answer?


Making the switch to Mozilla Thunderbird

At the beginning of each year I take time to organize and simplify my digital life and in 2012 I tackled a whale… email. My problem is not managing my inbox but rather I had too many email accounts. So I simplified and in the process decided to give Mozilla’s email client Thunderbird another look.

That was a great decision.


Why I switched

  • I was tired of switching accounts in Gmail.
  • I needed more email signature customization than what webmail provided.
  • I can set a reply to address to help people find and use my new single email.
  • I wanted to revive my PGP email encryption functionality.

…need more reasons to consider switching to Thunderbird?

If you have no need for managing multiple accounts, advanced security features, or a smart cloud based productivity system then I’ll save you the time – just stick with what you are using.

However, if you need to combine communications, encrypt emails, or you are ready for a powerful GTD alternative to Microsoft Outlook I hope you find my experience useful.

Getting started

mozilla_thunderbird_logoDownload Mozilla Thunderbird and configure your accounts. If your mail provider supports IMAP that is what you will want to use. If they only offer POP Thunderbird that will work but you might consider a new email provider *cough Gmail cough*.

Account setup is a breeze and Thunderbird will likely auto-detect the correct settings for your mail provider. For step by step instructions refer to the Account setup portion of the Thunderbird FLOSS manual. Bookmark that link for future use, it’s an excellent resource.

Next you’ll probably want to tweak a few settings:

  • Enable HTML email – Lots of email includes web formatting so to change from the default plain text view go to View->Message Body As-> Original HTML
  • Add a signature to your email by going to Tools->Account Settings then Click on your email address. On the right side add your signature text. You can also specify an image, html file, or directly paste html into this field.
  • The settings to compose email in HTML, include the signature, and quoting replies are all found in Tools->Account Settings-> Composition & Addressing

Thunderbird Add-ons

Just like Firefox you can improve Thunderbird with Add-ons. Here’s a few I highly recommend.

  • Google Contacts will sync your Gmail address book with Thunderbird
  • Provider for Google Calendar will sync your Gmail calendar
  • Web App Tab (WAT) a must have extension that gives Firefox like tabs inside Thunderbird.
  • Enigmail – Hassle free OpenPGP email encryption and SMIME support. This is the number one reason I went back to Thunderbird.

A view into my usage

A quick short hand into my current system


I still use Toodledo and I found no good alternatives for syncing tasks from Thunderbird to it or Google Tasks. So I use the Web App tab and keep my tasks open in the tab. It’s always open and signed in.


I’m still a Google Calendar junky and while I’ve played with Thunderbird’s Lightning calendar and I have synced to Google Cal I still use the web interface of gCal. It’s familiar and fast for me. Again I use the WAT extension and just keep gCal open in a tab.


The biggest change is I have 4 email accounts all in one panel and roll through them in no time. It’s saving me an enormous amount of time and easing my transition to a single account.

Encryption and Security

While almost no one ever emails with PGP anymore I want the ability. With Enigmail its simple to setup and I also got a personal S/MIME cert from Comodo and I’m digitally signing my email as well.

I’m a geek what do you expect? If you are just learning of PGP it’s data encryption often used to encrypt email. Enigmail has an excellent getting started guide to setup your first keys and use it with Thunderbird.

Want to make my day? Be the first person to send me a PGP encrypted email. My address is @keithcrawford.me and here is my public key

Your Turn

  • Email application or web based email, What is your preference?
  • How many email addresses do you actively use?
  • Questions about Thunderbird? Leave me a comment and I’ll try to help.

Notes from the Field

fieldnotes_smallA jumble of what I found useful and interesting of late…

If you only read one post about social marketing this week make it this one,

The Significance Manifesto”, by @umairh

Educate, elevate, and enlighten. I’m bored that most boardrooms see me as a "consumer," not a person. Business as usual shouts relentlessly at me to buy, buy, buy–to run faster and faster on a treadmill of hyper-consumption. But most–if not all–of it fails to make me healthier, wealthier, happier–or even slightly more interesting

Learn to master Twitter’s Advanced Search in 3 minutes –

HOW TO: Use Twitter’s Advanced Search by Mashable


As someone that lives and dies by email I strongly endorse these 10 tips from @the99percent

Email Etiquette for the Super-Busy – Learn it, love it, live it; I’ll love you for it.

If you’re into productivity you should check out a couple recent posts of my own,


I’m not the only hashtag evangelist – @RobinSloan has published 2 great posts about hashtags on the Twitter Media blog.

And in case you missed it I shared tips on effective hashtag usage using the Sugar Bowl as a case study.

Football, Hashtags, & Conversation Conversion

Link Dump

2 WordPress performance plugins I’m digging W3 Total Cache and Smush It

And finally, my friend @chad_gardner took a picture of his dog and it earned a spot on the local news’ snow coverage –


2 Tech Tips to Simplify Your Online Life


Mastering your productivity isn’t always about the latest apps or newest gadget but becoming more effective and efficient with the tools we already use. It’s time to evaluate 2 technologies you use every day and are probably getting out of control.

Email and Passwords.

Master Your Email with 3 Folders

Take back control of your inbox by creating 3 folders; Action, Hold, and Archive. Here’s how it works.

  1. Action – Every time you receive an email decide if you can respond in under 1 minute. If you can, then do. Otherwise drop it into the Action folder to be processed as soon as possible.
  2. Hold – If the email concerns an active situation but you are waiting for more info or a response it goes here.
  3. Archive – self explanatory.

That’s it. Simple but effective.

Mind over Matter

To keep your email from becoming a time drain remember

  • Check email 2-3 times a day and turn the notifications off. (More difficult in the smartphone error but learn to ignore the beep and stay on task)
  • Don’t get bogged down – Do, Defer, Delegate
  • Take your inbox to Zero everytime. It’s called an inbox for a reason.

Presort your Email with Rules

If you want to really boost your email productivity then presort your email with rules. Rules, also called filters, are ways to process your messages automatically and take action based on your defined criteria.

Some examples from my own inbox:

  • If email begins with FW or FWD then Mark it as Read. Prevents new mail notifications.
  • If email is sent to a particular distribution group or custom address then file in a separate folder.
  • If email contains the word “XYZ” automatically label “XYZ”

The possibilities are endless and it will save your hours of time. You can use rules in email clients like Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird, and Gmail has a rules feature built in. (I know I sound like a Google fanboy after my gushing over Google Calendar but Gmail is hands down the best webmail on the planet.)

Links to get you started:

Bonus Tip: If you use Gmail here is a killer tip. Use custom addresses for newsletter subscriptions by adding a + to the end of your gmail address and some custom text. For example, if johndoe@gmail.com wanted to signup for Groupon he could use johndoe+groupon@gmail.com. The email gets delivered to the same inbox but now you can use a filter that looks for that address.


Tired of remembering all those passwords? Every site in the world wants you to create an account these days and its extremely important you are using secure and unique passwords for different sites but who can keep up with all of them?


LastPass is a Password Manager that saves your usernames and passwords so you don’t have to remember them. It works across multiple browsers and multiple computers and it’s FREE. They do offer a premium version for $12 a year that includes access to their mobile apps, I pay for it and love it but for most of you the free account is all you need.

RoboForm is more widely known and a great product from all reports but it costs more and LastPass does everything I need.

LastPass includes a form filler and an excellent secure notes function. Did I mention its FREE? Go sign up.


  • Master your email with Action, Hold, & Archive Folders.
  • Use filters and custom addresses to presort messages.
  • Use Lastpass to manage your passwords and accounts.

I hope these tips helps simplify your life online and reclaim some of the time you spend managing your online life.

Email and Social Identity

Quick quiz: Name the largest social network on Earth.

Hint: It isn’t Facebook and it’s 40 years old.thumbprint2


It’s easy to overlook but your lowly email address is an integral part of your digital identity and social profile.

Your email address is your social thumbprint.

It is the common identity factor and the one piece of information that shouldn’t change. Here’s why:


The moment you join Facebook or Twitter they immediately want to connect you to people you already know and the default method is searching your address book.


Is the email you use to communicate the same email you register social networks?

While many of us have multiple email addresses for a variety of reasons this is reason enough to consider having everything tied to a single address and making sure that address is permanent.


@ChrisBrogan shares this lesson he learned from @JeffPulver,

“You live and die by your databases”

In other words, you are only as effective as your address book. This is true whether you are doing email marketing to 100,000 or just keeping tabs on friends and business partners.

Email is the glue that ties your social world together.

Need proof? Take a look at the innovation happening around email:

  • Rapportive – A Gmail add-on that shows me your latest tweets and links to your social profiles
  • Xobni – An Outlook add-on that includes your social connections and our recent email conversations
  • MailChimp Social Pro – Analyzes your mailing list so you can identify who is active on which social networks. (Influencer Identifier)

Smart folks will be relying on these networks to find your social presence and having it tied to the hotmail address you created when you were 15 isn’t the way to create visibility.


The social web is constantly evolving and as our presences are scattered across the web it’s absolutely necessary to have 2 homebases that are constant.

  • Your website
  • Your email

Tie your identity to digital spaces that you alone control.

Looking to connect with me? Try keith@knowthenetwork.com most anywhere.

Organizing my digital life for 2010

My Desk

Perhaps I’ve got some OCD tendencies but I really like order and since a large part of my life is lived in the digital space I have to maintain a clean digital working environment. That digital environment takes time and tools. Here are a few of my systems and how I’m reworking them for 2010

Firefox Bookmarks

Bookmarks play a crucial role in maintaining my knowledge of the web. It’s a curated directory and an invaluable resource. My bookmark workflow looks like this

  1. Interesting Site – Worth Bookmarking? or Requires more reading?
    1. Bookmark –> Bookmark the site, immediately place it in the folder and add tags for the bookmark, add keyword shortcuts if you’ll be using it often.
    2. Read it Later – If I want to read this article more later but not clutter up my bookmarks then I use Instapaper with the “Read it Later” bookmarklet liberally.
    3. Social Bookmark – Certain tools or icons sets don’t necessarily need to be present in my local bookmark system so I employ a 3rd party social bookmarking service like Diigo or Delicious. With tagging and descriptions it’s easy for me to call these databases for info.

The trick here is to keep as few URLs floating inside your head as possible. Use the tech as a braindump. In short if I bookmark it, tag it, and sort it into an logical folder structure or choose to “Read it Later” then my processing on the information is done. The site has its place.

While this system works great it can become bloated, and requires pruning.

  • I manually inspect my bookmark folder structure looking for links that should be discarded or trees that should be combined or segmented.
  • I also use the Incredible Bookmarks Firefox plug-in to help identify broken links

Once my bookmark structure is satisfactory then I use the Xmarks Firefox plug-in to sync the pruned list to all my computers.

The additional challenge this year was splitting my wife’s bookmarks from mine. I needed segmentation and order. She now has her own profile and Xmarks acct so her system is now completely independent.


Every year I spend sometime changing my passwords in my most secure or at risk accounts. I won’t disclose my methods but essentially a site is assigned a category based on risk or sensitivity. My password structure changes based on site categorization. This past year I’ve introduced Lastpass as my password manager and I’ve been really pleased with it. Great security, identities, site sorting, I use the web in a very complex way and it has fit my needs every time.

The challenge this year was to once again segment my wife’s passwords and mine. I needed to be able to change and manage sites and not affect her access. So she gained her own lastpass account as well.

I spent some time manually updating some sites and categorizing the sites and that has really helped.

To Do List

I had to put dedicate some time to building RememberTheMilk.com as a primary tool moving forward this year. I’ve used it sporadically but I wanted to dump everything that I’m looking to accomplish big and small into RTM and use it on a daily basis to track progress. All my info has been added with due dates and the RTM calendar is integrated into my Google Calendar as well. I can be very productive but I must see what is being done and what is sliding backwards. RTM will be a big help.


I’m starting the year with a clean slate using my Managing Email with 3 folders method, I didn’t have a massive backlog because I’m usually pretty vigorous about my email processing. Never the less a few items needed to be followed up on, put on the to do list, placed on calendar of just plain deleted. I want to have no hangovers in 2010.

The Final Step

The last system I’ll be managing is my tackling is my content consumption. I’ll be looking at how I consume data from Reader, Reader Shared items, Friendfeed lists, and possibly alltop or netvibes pages. I need to cull some blogs and podcasts that I don’t use anymore and assign time values to the intakes that I choose to continue. Think of this as reading the morning paper but trying to design the input system to give you the best content the most efficient way. I don’t have this system quantified yet but I’ll share my findings as soon as I’ve made some decisions.

Let me hear from you. What changes are you making to be more efficient and productive this coming year. What technology do you rely on to keep you informed and on track. I welcome your suggestions.

Branding and Staying Power in the largest social network ever

The ugly truth is that many individuals and small businesses don’t understand the importance of branding and permanence when it comes to this 30 year old social networking technology we call email.

Most people don’t even realize that they are making a dreadful mistake or have any idea there is a better way.

The Problem Exhibited

Exhibit One

My wife and I were wandering around at Riverfest this past spring and I noticed a nice vendor selling widgets. (I honestly don’t remember their product but it was creative and marketed to families with children). I was impressed by their product and by their setup. Their wares were nicely laid out in a great trailer and had some well produced signs and a nice logo. Here was a very small business making a go of it and I was pleased… then I saw their email. buymywidget@comcast.net (ugh)

Exhibit Two

Today I received an email from a friend notifying me that his email address had changed from jdoe@comcast.net to jdoe@att.net, while I was glad to get the update I immediately thought, “you are making a mistake”

Both of these nice folks fell into the trap of not understanding the importance of branding and permanence of email.


The Problem Explained


There is no easy way to say this, If your small business is using an email address that contains @comcast or @aol then you are giving people the impression of being a small time operator.

This doesn’t mean people are prejudiced against small businesses it just means we all make a judgment call. If you are planning a party who are you more likely to contact first?

We immediately assume that MyPartyRocks.com has their business more in order and they are more established. This first impression is invaluable and you want to give the right message.


How long will your contact info stay the same?

Consider the following standard contact form:

FirstName LastName
Street Address
City, State, Zip
Phone #
Email Address

What if you decided to accept a position with a new employer in a new city next week?

Every piece of contact information you possess is going to change except two. Your name and your email. Our address, phone number, and work email addresses are all tied to situations that life can alter. Once you realize how permanent your personal email address is then we must consider ways to help preserve that address.

My friend (Exhibit 2) is a world traveler and regular speaker had to change his email address simply because he changed his telcom provider. Sometimes, it isn’t even our choice. Southwestern bell rebranded as SBCGlobal then merged with AT&T years later. Their users had to migrate from swbell to sbcglobal to att because of boardroom decisions.

It’s an unnecessary evil to rely upon such a fluid relationship for your email. What we need is a email provider that is going to be around for the long haul and isn’t affected by your choice of internet service.

The Solution

For individuals

The answer is simple, find a good stable webmail provider. In today’s world I can only recommend

All 3 have proven staying power and all three offer mailbox sizes that should be adequate for most anyone.

If you are a power user or prefer to use Outlook then you need to look no further than Gmail. They offer more options like POP3/IMAP for Outlook, larger box sizes, and advanced filtering rules. I’d never use anything but Gmail but choose who you like.

As a side note get a real name. monkeyboiz2012@msn.com just isn’t a good idea. If you can’t find a good email address consider the small biz solution.

For businesses

The right answer is to purchase your own domain and get an email address associated with that domain. Don’t worry it isn’t hard and its cheap.

I won’t go into Domain branding but if you get creative there are plenty of good domains out there. Try sticking with a .com but .net and .us names are better than nothing.

Surf over to GoDaddy.com and start searching for available domain names. Once you’ve found the right name you just need to add email. An email plan that will give you 10 addresses and unlimited storage is around $2 a month. In total you can have your own domain and email address for around $25 a year and that is a small price to pay to make a good impression.

But before this sounds like a GoDaddy commercial let me give you another option.

Google Apps Standard Edition

Google Apps is a way to use the Gmail system with your own domain name. They offer a free service that will support up to 50 users. Sign up for Google Apps and then follow the instructions to verify your domain. Once the process is completed you can use Google Mail, Calendar, and Docs all from your own domain.

The free version doesn’t included support so if you want someone to call when your email goes down stick with the paid products.

Don’t forget that you can use forwarding rules to do all sorts of magic with email delivery. Gmail and Google Apps can offer you a ton of options to send a receive emails from multiple accounts all within Gmail.

Email is important and you should have access to it anywhere you have an internet connection and it should only change when you decide. Can your email do that?

If you have questions or need help getting setup I’m Keith@aol… just kidding, you can contact me here.

Disclaimer: All domains and email addresses are completely made up and any resemblance to persons real or fictional is due to the fact you’ve got nothing better to do than see if kate really exists

Email – You’re Doing it Wrong

It’s not hip. It’s not Web 2.0 but email is still the primary method of communication of almost every internet user worldwide. Yet after popular use for over a decade it’s stunning how many users still can’t grasp how to properly use and manage email.

Just so we are clear I’m not talking about web based email accounts like Yahoo and Google. This article concerns your corporate email account. To be more precise many of the issues I deal with in this piece are unique to Microsoft Outlook because it is the dominant client email application in the Microsoft world in which I operate. Regardless of the backend system (POP3/IMAP/Exchange) these tips will help you reassess the purpose and practice of email.

Email is a communication medium. This is such an obvious statement that it seems silly to state it. However, the sad truth is that most email users have forgotten the primary purpose of email and tried to extend its functions to the point of being inefficient, ineffective, and unusable.

The Problem

Let’s begin with an story. I contact my friend Bob and ask him for some information about a client and a upcoming meeting. Bob then proceeds to dial into his voicemail and sort through 208 messages in order to retrieve the pertinent information.

That’s lunacy you say. Who would use voicemail as a warehouse for that information? It’s inefficient, not very reliable, and voicemail just wasn’t meant to be used that way. Correct. Voicemail was meant to be a communication medium not a database. Bob’s use of voicemail in this manner is indisputably insane, yet we commonly accept these same practices when applied to email.

Email is such an efficient communication technology that users have outsourced many database type functions to their email client.

Allow me to provide some common examples of this abuse.
1) The user that has 1346 emails in their inbox because they can’t bear not being able to find an email or bothered with sorting them into folders.
2) The user that cannot empty 1874 sent items because they may need to be referenced at some unspecified future date.
3) The user that manages 3 archived PST files because you never know what information you might need from 7 years ago.

You might agree that these examples show an inefficient use of email but you don’t see any issue worth solving yet. Allow me to elaborate.

All three practices are going to contribute to very poor Outlook performance and likely corruption of the user’s PST file. PST files can be nasty. The larger they become the more likely they are to corrupt (1Gb is dangerous trust me) and they are so unstable that Microsoft will tell you that the simple transferring of a PST file over a network can corrupt the file.

The conundrum is that the practice of using email as a database contributes to the very problem a user is trying to solve. Namely the user is trying to maintain all of this information for future use by using a method that can cause the entire file to become unusable! (Not to mention that 90% of the time these PST’s are located on the local hard drive and we all know hard drives never fail.)

Before you start with the “but there are legitimate needs to backup email argument”, I agree. If your organization has a business cause to archive email or is under a legal or compliance obligation then you should absolutely backup your email but only by doing so at the organization level, not the user level. Backup your Exchange database or subscribe to a 3rd party email archiving service. If email archiving is an essential then spend the money and do it right. If it is NOT essential then don’t use faulty half measures.

The Fix

The most frustrating part of this entire scenario is that this problem is so easy to fix. You simply need a system for managing the information and your email.

Start with the 3 folder method.

Your email client should only contain 3 folders. Action, Hold, Archive.

  1. Action – Everytime you have a receive an email decide whether you can respond in under 1 minute. If you can, then respond immediately. If you cannot then file it into the Action folder to be processed ASAP.
  2. Hold – If the email concerns an active situation but you are awaiting response or more information then file it into the Hold folder.
  3. Archive – If you need to keep it, file the message into Archive.
  4. *Working Projects – I have extended the original formula to include folders for Working projects that are not ready for archiving because I need to track the ongoing communication.

In addition try using the following rules to make your email more productive. (via Michael Hyatt)

Empty your Inbox Everyday.
Don’t get bogged down, keep moving – Do,Defer,Delegate.
Use email rules to help presort incoming mail.

To replace the other functions that were once assigned to your email I recommend a combination of the following.

  • Vigorously maintain your Contacts/Address Book
  • Vigorously maintain your Calendar
  • Always save attachments to the appropriate folder and delete the original email. You can always include any pertinent information in an accompanying text file.
  • Use Evernote (personal fav) or OneNote to manage any quick reference information that you might need.
  • Use Project Management software or a client database application to maintain tasks, info, etc…

Managing your email takes discipline but the reward of having a organized system is greatly improved productivity and a safeguard against a catastrophic loss. Email is a communication medium and you should use the right tool for the right job.

Is there room for innovation in Email?

The average user gives little thought to email. It is the most common application of the internet and we just expect it to work. It’s simple really, type in a email address and quick note, click send and your message is magically delivered. Unfortunately the truth is radically different. Email is one of the most cumbersome, most abused, and increasingly complex technologies that the internet has ever produced. Email in its current state is hopelessly broken and yet it is the 800lb Gorilla that everyone pretends isn’t in the room. It’s time to reexamine our folly and to discuss how to solve this monstrosity.

Email is still very much the frontline in an decade old game of cat and mouse. Back in July I explained that the inherent problem with email is that it is based on a protocol (SMTP) that was developed in the stone age of the internet. (Email – A House of Cards). That post covers the history and problems with SMTP so I won’t revisit that aspect of the problem. However, I want address the abuse of email known as Spam and the retrofit countermeasures that we continue to rely on.

Countermeasures – The tangled web we weave.

Initially, we simply configured our mail servers to not relay other organizations email. Then we had to implement Antispam software that used metrics and monitoring systems to score email as to the probability it was spam and take actions based on the message’s resulting score. Then we began to subscribe to “Real-Time Blacklists” (RBLs) which were maintained by third-party organizations that blacklisted certain IP addresses as being spammers. In the past few years we’ve taken a stricter approach to DNS configuration and specifically implementing Reverse DNS so that recipient mail servers could verify the originating party. The most recent machination involves Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records to specify which IP addresses are authorized to send mail on our behalf.

Each approach offered a better quality of service but in turn creates an additional maze that must be navigated to send a simple email.

As an example of the circus that has been created by email you only have to look at the industry that has been built to “solve” the email issue. There are literally hundreds of Antispam software solutions and just as many appliance solutions. Not to mention the myriad of email scrubbing services and email hosting services. Name any major technology vendor and I guarantee they offer an “Email Security” or Antispam product, but here is the nasty little truth, they don’t want to solve the email problem they want to help you live with it. There is simply too much money to be lost if they actually solved the problem.

Hello, my name is ______?

What is the problem? Identity Verification and Authentication. That ultimate problem of an electronic communication. How do I know that you are who you say you are? How do I prove to you that I am who I say I am?

This is not a new issue. The best minds of the internet ecosystem have been wrestling with this problem with years. We’ve see technologies like PGP encryption and OpenID begin to tackle small bytes of this issue but email is its own animal mostly due to that archaic underlying protocol of SMTP.

How do we solve it?

Think back to this past summers amazing DNS hack and aftermath. (For the uninformed or short-term memory loss sufferers check our Wired’s “Secret Geek A-Team Hacks Back, Defends Worldwide Web” article or Dan Kaminsky’s post “An Astonishing Collaboration”). To over simplify, Dan found a major DNS flaw that was consistent among almost all vendors. To solve the issue he reached out and was able to bring all the parties to the table to discuss the problem and cooperate on a fix. It was truly a watershed event as they all worked to patch the problem and release those patches in the same day.

This event lingered in the back of my mind until today when I had a minor epiphany. Why can’t we do the same with SMTP?

I wasn’t able to find current statistics of email server market share so I’m going to make some assumptions. I’d wagre that Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes comprise the lion’s share of corporate email systems while many other smaller organizations rely on an Open Source Linux solution for their email. Therefore, why can’t Microsoft, IBM, and a handful of other relevant parties collaborate to create a replacement to the SMTP protocol.

The main obstacle to an overhaul of SMTP has always been the issue of adoption. In laymen terms SMTP is simply used everywhere, how would you ever replace it. Here is the roadmap.

The major vendors and relevant parties form a consortium to create a protocol to replace SMTP. Then once the protocol has been co developed and ratified they begin to rollout their latest software with support for the new protocol while still supporting SMTP. Within 3-5 years many organizations would have servers that supported the new protocol and then you could begin to phase out SMTP. Realistically it would take 10 years to accomplish but Rome was not built in a day. (Look at the timeframe for IPv6 adoption.)

Imagine the coup for Microsoft and IBM to jointly announce such an endeavor and to showcase their latest software and the benefits of the new email protocol.I refuse to believe that this could not be made reality.

So the answer to the initial question, “Is there room for innovation in email?”. Absolutely. Even more so the community demands it.