I get a lot of email, and I get a lot of spam (a couple of my accounts collect thousands a month). Very few of them get through to my primary account — perhaps a dozen a day. Gmail’s filters are exceptional.
Plenty other trash does get through, however. Because my time is more valuable to me than some of my correspondents’ seems to be to them, I have a few little tests that control how I handle my mail. You might consider them for your own use, and if you’re one of the folks who emails me, it might explain why you get fewer responses than you expect.
Subject line: If it contains Fw: Fw: Fw:, this is funny, LMAO, So True, Hi, or other non-specific stuff — forget it. It goes straight to the trash. In fact, I have filters set up to get that stuff; I never even see it. If you want me to read what you send, use the subject line. That’s what it’s for. It’s your one chance to get my attention. If you can’t be bothered to inform me what’s in the email, it’s not important enough for me to read.
Attachments: Gmail shows thumbnails of all the attachments. If your offering contains more than two or three photos of cute animals it gets trashed without opening. The name for this stuff is “glurge.” Next to spam, it’s the number one problem on the Net. It eats up people’s time — the most important thing they have — and Internet bandwidth that someone has to pay for.
Photography is my hobby. I know good photography when I see it. Spare me the pictures of garish sunsets and purple dolphins in a turquoise sea. They’re painful. This is a good photograph. If it meets that standard, send it by all means.
If I want inspiration, I have several books by the Dalai Lama and others. I’m not interested in something forwarded to you by the woman who casts your horoscope.
Links are good. Send links, and tell me what they’re about!
I don’t respond to pleas to sign petitions, forward email to benefit cancer victims, etc., because all that stuff is bogus! Take the time to check it out at http://www.snopes.com/. Don’t have time? I don’t either. Don’t send me something that “might do some good.” Check it out, or don’t waste my time with it.
Forget the politics and religion, too. Politically, I’m Progressive. Religion-wise, I’m agnostic; I don’t know, and you don’t either. If you agree with my views, I already know what you think. If you don’t agree, I probably still know. There aren’t that many basic philosophies in the world, and I’m a bright guy.
Bigotry: if your offering is biased racially, ethnically or with respect to gender, it goes in the trash and your address may go with it…and I’ll be the judge.
If you’re passionate about something, go do something about it! Then write to me and tell me what you did. I know the world’s a tough neighborhood. What are you doing to improve it? Now that’s interesting!
Send simple, un-formatted text. I like to decide what’s important for myself, without a bunch of boldface, underlining, caps and other insults to my intelligence. If email looks like a cheap advertisement, I’ll treat it like one.
Get an email account of your own, and use it. They’re free, for goodness sake! Shared accounts are awkward at best, and can cause embarrassment at worst. Go on — you deserve it.
Finally, and most importantly: before you forward ANYTHING, get rid of the other addresses. Hit forward, then highlight all the old addresses and delete them. Then use your email’s BCC (Blind Copy) feature to hide your recipients from each other. That way you don’t send your and other folk’s email addresses to a bunch of strangers. That’s one of the places spam lists come from.
Just good manners, folks. Just good manners.
Email is a wonderful thing when it’s used to impart useful or interesting information, or to forge real connections. Unfortunately, 99.9% of the email that gets sent is garbage, because people don’t think before they send or forward. If you had to write it out by hand, then take it to the mailbox and spend 43 cents to mail it, you’d be more respectful — because it was your time and effort. Why not be just as respectful of mine?