Response to Editorial, September 15, 2004

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RE: Editoral, September 15, 2004 – v12 i36

As a staffer on the “Virtual Helpdesk”, I thank you for some of your points about email, but I have to disagree with others. Certainly a full description of the problem, from an email address that we can reach, would be helpful.

I absolutely agree about the frustration of having a perfectly good fix for a student’s problem, and not being able to tell the student about it because the email address used was invalid. However, putting an email address in a signature seems very odd to me. In the first place, some of those addresses we couldn’t reply to were in the body of the email in the first place. You’re right that sometimes information gets lost when email is forwarded, but this isn’t the fault of the originator. The etiquette here should be to _never_ forward a mail without CCing the person who sent it. Then both the sender and the new recipient have each others addresses and don’t need to work through an intermediary. Anyway, many email programs do not include [a signature] when forwarding or replying.

“Believe it or not, many people write formal letters to their tutors or other professionals with this kind of email address []! Do you think the tutor even opens that email?” I should certainly hope so! I open every single email that arrives at – even the ones I’m not responsible to answer – and I expect that of anybody who is being paid to respond to emails. As I pointed out to a professor, who once suggested we should block hotmail accounts, if you need to contact AU from work, and you’re either behind a heavy firewall or are banned by your employer from using your company email address for personal business, you may have no choice but to use a hotmail or yahoo account. [Ed. Is there a reason you could not use your home account through webmail for this purpose?]

Unfortunately, “large organizations … use spam reducing services and ‘black hole’ lists to reduce unsolicited email.” Yes, they do, and usually wrongly. If, instead of “quarantining” spam and making it necessary for the recipient to jump through hoops to find out what was in it, they simply refused to accept anything (a) with an unverifiable return address; and (b) that looks like spam; the sender would know immediately that nobody was going to read it (technically, their mail program would receive a message informing the user it couldn’t be sent, and why). This is quite within the realm of current anti-spam software, but AU didn’t choose to do it. [Ed. Therein lies the problem.]

I hadn’t heard that tutorial services was advising against using hotmail. Now I’m going to have to write to complain to them. [Ed. Actually, they are not advising people not to use it, but are notifying students that Hotmail and other free services may be less reliable than a home account]

Derek Broughton