Electronic Mail Netiquette


What's the Problem?

  • E-mail is built on text-only foundation

  • Modern GUI mail programs use "attachments", often hide real size

  • Inefficient; size balloons (binary -> base64), multiple copies

  • We still have limits: network bandwidth, mail spool size

  • Other mail servers don't allow large files (varies); bounces will fill our spool

  • Can bring servers to their knees.

Good Uses

Good Practices for using E-Mail

  • GOFUPT: Good Old-Fashioned Unadorned Plain Text

  • Lowest Common Denominator:

    • Don't send word doc to WP person (use RTF or GOFUPT)

    • Ask if recipients can read your format if binary is needed

  • Small attachments to a few people is reasonable

  • For Large attachments (> 100 Kbytes?), ask recipients before sending, don't send to a large list

  • Don't leave huge folders on the server! (Avoid lynch mobs)


Bad Uses

(Really) Bad Uses for e-mail

(don't try these; please!)

  • Sending your 128-channel 1024 x 1024 spectral line cube to your colleague (even if it is a breakthrough)

  • Distributing plain text files in an overhead-heavy binary format, e.g. badly prepared PDF files

  • Sending medium-size or large files to a large mailing list (>100 members)

  • Star Wars MPEG trailers (just say no)


Consequences of Bad Use of E-Mail

  • Your mail will likely bounce, because:

    • Other sites have (often small) limits on e-mail size

    • Other users may filter mail and reject large files

  • For really large files, or even modest size files with many recipients, it may fill up spool areas

  • It may fill up the recipient's disk quota on non-NRAO systems

  • It doesn't look good (you should show you know what you're doing)

  • It can have an effect on everyone (if mail delivery stops)


Alternatives to E-Mail

  • Publish it on the Web:

    • On Unix, use the /users/username/public_html/ directory.

    • On NT, use the \\polaris\username share, put files in the pubic_html folder.

    • URL will be: http://www.cv.nrao.edu/~username/myfile

    • index.html (or index.shtml) in this area is your "work page". No such file means anyone can do a directory listing on the area.

  • Use a binary protocol like FTP:

    • /home/ftp/NRAO-staff/username/
      (ask a sysadmin to set this up if it's not already there)

    • On NT, use the //polaris/ftp-user share (or //polaris/ftp-staff)

    • Access instructions for your colleagues:
      • connect to ftp.cv.nrao.edu
      • cd to /NRAO-staff/username
      • bin (if content is not plain text)
      • get myfile


Final Thoughts

If you really must use e-mail:

  • Check size and content: if plain text will do, use it. Use "save as" to an appropriate format.

  • For binary files, try zip, gzip, and/or bzip to compress it before sending (some files compress to 1/10 of original size).

  • Avoid using Sun's mailtool for attachments (most other mailers don't understand Sun's format

  • Avoid forwarding MIME content (attachments) from a non-MIME program like elm (temporarily use pine, mutt, or netscape instead).

Think before you send!

Pat Murphy