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Some musings on e-mail

May 14, 2001

E-mail. I get a lot of it, and I'm sure you do too. By the time I finish writing this, I'm sure I'll have another five or six e-mails in my inbox. I already have 838 in there.

You think I'm joking?

E-mail's a wonderful thing, as I'm sure you know. At commencement exercises last Saturday, RPI planned to honor Vinton Cerf, a senior vice president of Internet architecture and technology for WorldCom Inc. and considered the "Father of the Internet" and e-mail.

I wonder if he's the reason we surf--or Cerf--the Net. And who's the mother of the Internet, anyway? And why do we capitalize the "I" in Internet and the "W's" in the World Wide Web but not the "s" in that life-sustaining force known as the sun?

But I digress.

It is amazing when you think about it. Not that long ago, people actually wrote letters and called each other. E-mail was something just a few geeks were doing.

Sure, there are problems with the phone and mail (snail mail to those elitist techie types) such as telemarketers calling at supper and junk mail that piles up on the kitchen table. But it didn't take long for someone to invent "spam"--junk e-mail--either. (Who's the father of spam?) im not even going to talk abotu email ettikit (sp?). :)

"It probably wasn't four or five years ago, someone sending you an e-mail was a weird thing," John Botti, CEO at AuthentiDate, told me a few months ago. "Five years ago, e-mail was not very common."

Botti remembers his introduction to the Internet when a businesswoman told him to contact her by e-mail.

"It's embarrassing to say," he said, but "I couldn't get the concept. I'm going to dial up on a telephone to send an e-mail address that she has to dial up on a telephone. That's supposed to be easier?"

Now Botti's business has a lot to do with e-mail and the Internet.

Kelly Lovell, president of the Center for Economic Growth, has used e-mail to keep in touch with her husband, Robert, who works is the senior military liaison to the National Science Foundation in Washington. When he went to Antarctica in that role, the two e-mailed each other. And at midnight going into 1999, when the two couldn't be together, they were able to chat online.

"He was in Antarctica; I was in Saratoga Springs," she said.

I like e-mail because I can send a note to Craig Skevington's Blackberry PDA when I'm on deadline, and the CEO of Flow Management Technologies can help me out.

E-mail has become essential. As the summary statement to a new technology bill state Sen. James Wright is sponsoring states, "Computers and other electronic mechanisms are an integral part of modern business."

No stretch there.

It can also be a pain in the neck if something goes wrong. Just ask the folks at PR Newswire, who recently upgraded their e-mail system (why do we hyphenate e-mail?).

On May 6, the news wire made software changes that were used to push out corporate notifications for Southwest Airlines. Unfortunately, it allowed recipients to reply to the entire mailing list, which grew into an avalanche of angry e-mails, some with not-so-nice language.

"When recipients received this note containing vulgar language, it led to a chain reaction where numerous recipients responded," the newswire said in--well, in an e-mail.

E-mails like this from someone known as Donjo11, who wrote: "whatever you have done, please fix it, i am getting response to the mass mailing sent from luv@prnmail3 etc."

And poor Linda Erickson wrote frantically to the list: "What is happening? Can you help me, I have no idea why this is happening."

Then came the response the next day.

"Rest assured that this glitch will not recur," said Michelle Savage, PR Newswire's vice president of investor relations. "If you require further assistance, please contact us via e-mail." (She listed a phone number too).

So, have any good e-mail yarns to spin?

E-mail me.

Richard A. D'Errico can be reached at

Copyright 2001 American City Business Journals Inc


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