Since you’re interested in learning more about email, we’re going to be honest. It’s no “Back to the Future” thrill-ride, but the story does start further back than that movie did. Fact is, even Doc experimenting in his lab in 1985 had a pretty good chance at already using an early form of email on his Commodore 64. If you don’t remember what that is, don’t worry, we’re just setting the tone for the fact that email is really old. 1971 kind of old. Electronic messages were nothing new, at the time, but the idea of a server storing the message and waiting for the recipient to call it up whenever they chose was a pretty convenient, new factor. Enter, the @ symbol. This was the symbol that the inventor, Ray Tomlinson, attached to the recipient’s name so the servers could identify them when checking their email. Probably a good thing this happened so long ago, or we might have ended up with a poop emoji in the middle of our email addresses instead.
Here comes the exciting part. Since then, email basically hasn’t changed. Sure, the devices we check them on, the internet structure that sends them, and even our etiquette and use has drastically changed the way we use email, but the coding is structurally the same. There are 3 flavors that the code is written in. POP3 (Post Office Protocol, known as “receive and delete”), IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), and MAPI (Messaging Application Programming Interface). In short, POP3 email is the type that is best from A to B, one device to another with NO other devices needing to check the same box. In other words, it doesn’t sync between devices. Activity like reading, sending, and deleting emails is not reported by the server to other phones, computers, or users. IMAP email is what’s best for use if you check your email from the office, then on your phone on the way home, then at your desk in your home office at the end of the night. As for MAPI, it’s a fancy way of saying “this email was designed to work with programs.” When you think MAPI, think Outlook email. Wildly popular for the programs and applications that come with it, but it’s complicated with all the bugs that come along with it, too.
Fun fact, Gmail, for all its fancy add-ons, user tools, and high quality interfaces, is run on a basic coding for IMAP email. Don’t worry, we love Gmail, but most people assume they’ve written their own email structure when in reality that’d be extremely difficult to do. Email basically works on the old time premise “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We can do everything we want on basic email structures from encrypting it to tracking it, and from archiving it to marketing with it.
Now, for businesses, there are some definite rules to play by. Times have changed with how email gets used, and abused, in the real world. Thankfully, we’re mostly past the days of Arabian Princes offering millions of dollars and unsolicited bulk emails, but new concerns are always emerging. Here’s a few ways to stay legitimate with your email use and not get accidentally confused for someone with malicious intentions.
Avoid Spam Language – Marketing is just fine and calls to action are common, but if you sound like a robot or use spam catch phrases you’re going to get nailed and have your email turned off.
Limit Your Links – This rule goes for anything you’re adding into an email that’s not a direct attachment. Links, logos, clickable images, anything that will draw your customer to click can be considered spam by email clients like Outlook or Google’s segregation tools. You may be legitimately email marketing to customers, just know there are programs looking out for the fishy stuff.
Provide and “Unsubscribe” Button – Legally, this is the only way to email a large group of customers that aren’t expecting your messages. Intent is a big part of the law here, but just by giving them the option to unsubscribe, which major email marketing platforms automatically do, you’re telling the email servers that your message is legit.
Limit the number of sends from your regular email box – Don’t get it wrong, email marketing programs are made to send bulk email. Your personal email box though, not so much. Most email servers, both in and out, have limits on them known as Relays. Send too many from the same place in too short a time and your email will likely be shut off altogether until you make a call to your provider to unlock it. Then you get to explain just why you’re claiming to be that long-lost Arabian Prince relative.
There’s obviously some things that can go wrong with email, but the most common problem is using what’s called an Email Client, like Microsoft Outlook, to check your email. Here’s how to think of email clients. You’ve got a bunch of different mailboxes at the end of your driveway. One’s labeled Yahoo, another for Gmail, and even one with your business name on it. Instead of logging onto each of those boxes one by one and then logging back out, it’d be nice to see ALL their contents in just one place, right? And email client is like a window at the front of your house you can look through and see inside ALL of those boxes at once. The problems arise when that window can’t connect properly to the box. Your email client has to log into that box for you every time you want to use it to see a given box. So, if you go changing passwords to boxes, or removing them and plugging them back into the email client, you’ve got to make sure your passwords and settings are right. Other issues arise when the email client is programmed to make the email server do things WITH your mail. You may check your mail and expect it to remain there even after you’ve checked it so you can come back to it again, but if your fancy window thinks its supposed to trash it forever after you’ve read it, then you’re out of luck later on. It gives that order directly to the server, and the server doesn’t know how to talk back the way your kids might. It just does what it’s told. This happens a lot when you plug an email address into a new phone. The moral of the story is, check the settings on new devices you plug an email box into.
Some email is top secret. Well, OK, we were going to try to go this entire post without mentioning Hillary Clinton, but let’s say it’s not THAT important, it’s more like HIPAA Compliance important. Your privacy matters. There are some companies and tools that allow you to take regular old email and encrypt, protect, and even deliver it for you. Think of it like having your mail delivered by armored car as opposed to bike messenger. Another need may be archiving. Some laws require businesses to retain and record communications for a certain amount of time in certain industries like attorneys and healthcare providers.
As an email consumer, now that you know where it came from, which tools are available, and what to avoid, you can confidently go about your business with Business Email. We’re still waiting on flying cars and hoverboards, but we can say with some certainty that the email servers Marty McFly ran into were IMAP, and yours will be around long into the future as well.