Maintaining Email Sanity with Rules and Filters
(Published in the TechEdge 2001-02)
by Wesley A. Fryer
checking email a much anticipated or a dreaded event? The overwhelming
volume of information available in the twenty-first century network
economy takes on a very personal dimension when checking email.
The proliferation of SPAM (unwanted email from unknown sources), email
newsletters, jokes forwarded by well-intentioned friends, as well as valuable
messages from friends and professional contacts can create chaos in the
inbox. Educators at all levels need help maintaining sanity when it comes
to email, to maximize precious minutes devoted to electronic communication.
Technology integration is a noble goal, but if teachers are drowning in
email, their motivation to move further along a continuum of technology
literacy may be weakened.
This article presents an overview of email rules, or filters, available
in most email software, to assist in managing wanted as well as unwanted
email. Online tutorials including
the specific steps for setting up mail rules and filters in six different
programs are also available. A copy of this article is available online
Where is all this SPAM coming from?
The more time a person spends surfing the internet, the more email he/she
seems to receive. This is not a coincidence: every time a person downloads
something that requires a name and an email address to be submitted, registers
at a website using an email address, or includes an email address on a
mail-in product registration form, the persons email address is
subscribed to mailing lists and likely shared with other companies collecting
email addresses for marketing purposes. Tech savvy marketers have set
up many websites to automatically harvest web surfer email addresses (take
information from the surfer computers memory and insert it into
a database) without any permission on the surfers part to share
that information. Internet Explorer and Netscape, the two most popular
web browsers, surreptitiously pass along a wide variety of information
to websites without the knowledge of the user, if they are configured
with default settings.
If a persons email address is listed on a website with a contact
link (created with the hypertext code mailto:email@example.com,
a virtual invitation to SPAMMERs has inadvertently been created. Web based
programs, called robots literally scour the internet searching
every page for mailto links like these, and create mammoth
databases of email addresses sold and shared with online marketers. Depending
on the privacy policies of the company providing an email address, the
address may be sold and shared with other companies, with or without prior
consent of email users. In these ways, the quantity of email received
by even casual internet users can increase quickly.
Drowning in Email? Heres Help!
If the number of unwanted email messages presently received is out of
control, drastic action may be called for. Although inconvenient, the
best way to quickly change the amount of received SPAM is to change your
email address. This can be done by contacting the network administrator
or ISP (internet service provider) managing the email account, or if the
account is a free one (like Yahoo Mail or Hotmail) signing up for a new
account with a different username. It is not necessary to change service
providers: a new username can be requested. After the address is changed,
notify those people who you want to continue communicating with (perhaps
with a polite request to minimize the number of forwarded jokes and other
leisure-time reading, if desired). Do not request or authorize temporary
forwarding of email sent to the old address, otherwise this procedure
will be worthless. If desired, the old account can be accessed periodically
for several weeks to make sure you receive any important email that was
not sent to the new address. In this case, check the old account with
a web mail interface instead of a program that will download
all email to the computer hard drive, like Eudora or Outlook Express.
Essentially, the old email address should be shed like an old skin and
left behind forever.
Armed with a new email address and a heightened awareness of internet
email privacy protection, web users can change their online behavior to
minimize the number of times their email address is harvested by web marketers.
Some suggestions include:
- When filling out a web form to register software or download something
else, read the privacy agreement carefully and UNCHECK the box that
authorizes the company to share your email address with others offering
- Look for the TrustE logo indicating the companys professed commitment
to privacy (www.truste.com).
Although display of the logo indicates a professed commitment to privacy,
logo does not offer any guarantees. Still, a professed commitment is
better than none.
- Consider entering a false name and email address when filling out
a web form, if you do not want to be contacted by the company. The format
for the email field is usually validated, requiring that the typed address
be in proper email format, but the address does not have
to be a real or working one. Enter a name like Joe Joe and an email
address of firstname.lastname@example.org.
to harvest information about you without your knowledge when you visit
it off in the web browser preference settings.
- Consider entering a false name and email address in the options presented
in your web browser and internet control panel preference settings.
As long as the web browser is not used for email (for example, using
Netscape Mail), this name and email address information does not need
to be correct. Web forms auto-filled by the browser will
need correction, but this is a small price to pay for heightened anonymity.
- Use mail rules in your email program to organize and filter received
An Overview of Mail Rules/Filters
Mail rules provide a mechanism for computer users to process email messages
automatically based on specified criteria, to organize and pare down the
number of email messages regularly received. Mail rules can be used in
many ways. Some of the common ones include:
- Automatically deleting offensive / inappropriate email
- Organizing messages depending on the senders email address or
text included in the message, either in the subject line or the message
body. For example, all messages from my mailing list with the words
Tools for the TEKS Update can be moved into a separate email
folder for later reading.
- Categorizing messages as suspected junk mail or by the category assigned
in the address book (if categories are available)
- Adding or deleting a senders email address automatically to
an email distribution list in the address book
The steps for creating and invoking mail rules vary slightly depending
on the software used, but the procedure is essentially the same:
- Click on a mail message to be processed by a new rule
- From a menu, choose to create a new rule
- Specify the CRITERIA the rule will look for (the IF condition)
- Specify the ACTION to be taken if the criteria is met (the THEN condition)
- Apply the rule to email already received and/or apply it automatically
when new mail is received.
The number of mail messages in the inbox can be dramatically reduced
while still retaining important/desired messages from known contacts.
To determine the specific steps required to create email rules/filters
in your email program, consult the help menu. Search for rules,
filters, or agents, as different programs use
different terms. The basic principles and procedures for email rules in
all programs are similar, however. Many web-based email services, including
Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, also allow mail filters to be created in the account
options menu, so web-based email (accessed through a web browser like
Internet Explorer) can be filtered also.
Some email programs provide junk mail filters,a mechanism
that helps identify unwanted email. Whether using a junk mail filter or
a mail rule of your own creation, use caution when choosing to permanently
delete email with an automated function. One alternative is to make the
filter or rule move suspicious email to a separate folder and periodically
review its contents before deleting. This can reduce the chance of inadvertently
deleting important email.
It is said There can often be too much of a good thing, and
that is certainly the case with electronic communication. By creating
and regularly updating appropriate email rules and filters, educators
can effectively stem the powerful tides of information in the inbox and
still benefit from the power of digital communication in our information
Ready to set up email rules / filters for yourself? Online
tutorials are available for Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora,
Microsoft Entourage ( Macintosh only), Yahoo Mail (webmail), and Lotus
Wesley Fryer is the Director of Distance Learning and webmaster for
the College of Education
at Texas Tech University. He provides instructional technology training
and support to K-16 educators as a consultant and through his free website,
'Tools for the TEKS.' Contact him at email@example.com.
Addition in October 2002:
Rather than taking the time to create your own email rules and filters,
consider using inexpensive, shareware programs like Spamfire
(Mac OS X) or Spameater
(Windows) which use hundreds of filters created by others to pre-screen
email before it is downloaded to your email client.
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