Mail merge? Work, home and other e-mail addresses

I keep telling myself that one of ways I maintain what’s left of my work/life balance is to have separate home and work e-mail addresses. And yet I have to ask who I’m kidding when these two Google Apps accounts, each at its own domain name, constitute separate lines or windows in a mail client, and when I’m sometimes corresponding with the same person from each address on alternate days. Meanwhile, many people I know seem to function perfectly fine with one all-purpose e-mail address.

MailboxIn a prior millennium, it was an easier call. After having lost a bunch of messages from friends during a transition from one e-mail system to another at the Post–and then discerning the dreadfulness of the new Lotus Notes system–I had little interest in trusting personal correspondence to my employer’s IT department.

I also figured that I would have less trouble staying on top of friends-and-family e-mail if it weren’t competing for space and attention in the first screen of my inbox with random PR pitches, interoffice memos and chit-chat with other journalists. And the address that wasn’t listed on a major newspaper’s Web site should, in theory, get vastly less spam.

(Because I am this persnickety about my communications tools, I also have a regular Gmail account that I use for almost all of my online commerce, financial transactions and other things that are neither personal- nor work-related. I don’t mind the ads there, while my Google Apps inboxes have no such distractions, courtesy of Google ending ad scanning for Apps users–even those on the free version it no longer offers to new users.)

It’s been years since I’ve had to worry about IT-inflicted mail misery. What about the other virtues of this split setup?

  • Being able to flag messages for follow-up means I’m now less likely to forget to answer an important message, whatever address it was sent to.
  • But I don’t need 11 different folders to sort my home e-mail after I’ve dealt with it. Less cognitive load is a good thing.
  • Having to ask myself nit-pick questions like “since I’m asking a friend about something that may lead to him being quoted in a story, should I send this message from my work address?” increases my cognitive load.
  • Searching for messages and then looking over the results is faster when I’m excluding an entire account’s worth of e-mail. But when I ask Mail for OS X to query all of the gigabytes of messages that have accumulated at both addresses… ugh.
  • My anti-spam strategy has been a total bust. When I checked earlier this morning, Google had quarantined almost 1,500 spam messages in my home account, about 100 of which were messages on my neighborhood mailing list that shouldn’t have been screened as junk.

On that last note, here’s a question for you all to ponder: That mailing list will soon be moving to a commercial hosting service subsidized by ads, and of course I haven’t yet read its privacy policy. Should I switch my subscription to my Gmail address, where I can read those messages alongside those from my neighborhood’s smaller Nextdoor group, or should I keep using my home address there?

 

Re: Reader mail

I started answering e-mail from readers in the summer of 1994, and I’m still not done.

Close-up of OS X Mail’s interface.People keep sending more messages, true, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever reached Inbox Zero with respect to audience correspondence more than a handful of times, none of which followed the invention of blogging and social media.

The sad thing is that even as the tools I use to report and write keep improving, my options for staying on top of reader feedback haven’t advanced much since IMAP e-mail gave me the ability to flag a message for follow-up and see that annotation everywhere I check my mail.

So aside from those occasions when I have the luxury of writing back almost immediately, I still save too many of my replies for a frantic catch-up session, usually staged when I’m trying to finish a workday or during travel-induced idle time.

(Feature request for e-mail developers: Let me bookmark the point in my inbox at which I set aside reader e-mail and should resume answering it when I next have time.)

The “good job!” messages take the least time to reply–you write “thanks” and that’s about it–while I can’t resist taking the time to craft clever, snarky responses to the angrier feedback. That’s not healthy, and yet my colleagues at the Post and I used to debate the best way to reply to an unhinged reader’s spittle-flecked missive. I recall one more diplomatic reporter saying he’d simply write back “You may be right,” while a crankier co-worker half-jokingly suggested “Thanks for reading, as difficult as it must have been.”

E-mails asking “how do I do this?” or “how do I fix this?” take the longest amount of time to answer but can’t be neglected at all: They feed my USA Today Q&A column, and before that the Q&A I did for the Post.

The easiest way to get me to answer your message quickly is to tell me something I didn’t know. Think things like some breakdown in service or violation of the rules at a company or a government office, an error nobody’s seen before, or one weird trick to get a gadget or an app to do something that’s not in the manual. Otherwise, I can only fall back on the usual guidelines, which happen to overlap with the advice I’ve been giving to PR professionals for years: Use a descriptive subject header (as in, not “Help”) and make your case in the first sentence or two.

I’d like to tell you that from now on, I will do better, but I would be either lying or foolishly optimistic. This is a most honest statement: Please hold, and your e-mail will be answered in the order it was received.

About these ads

The spam alphabet

Yahoo Mail spam iconI have a lot of words for spammers, but “creative” isn’t one of them. The same subject headers come up every time, such that I have to wonder about the basic life skills of anybody who clicks on one. And at some point, I realized that these recurring lures constituted their own distinct a-to-z lexicon, one that speaks to a certain internationalization of junk e-mail and that must also annoy a few large companies’ brand managers.

AIG Direct Life

Bank Lottery

Credit Score

Debt Consolidation

Expert Annuities

Free [fill in the blank]

Grandes novidades

HARP

International Monetary Fund

JunkCarCash

Know Your Neighbors

lotto.nl

Make Money Online

National Lottery

Online Doctorate

Payment information

Qualicorp Saúde

Refinance Now

SEO

Target Voucher

Updated Notice

Vehicle Protection

Walmart Voucher

xxnoxben

Your Score Check

zphzkzywq

(Okay, the “x” and “z” entries are a stretch. But those gibberish subject headers do keep showing up in my spam folder. If you have a less-nonsensical candidate for each letter, please suggest it in a comment.)

 

 

 

Weekly output: e-mail hijacking, orphaned apps

Thursday’s delightful snowfall took a chunk out of my productivity this week, like that bothered me all that much. Except it kind of does–Saturday evening, I start my journey to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. Which means Monday can’t be much of a holiday for me.

2/10/2014: Why the Bad Guys Want Your Email, Yahoo Tech

This was originally going to explain the business models behind e-mail hijacking (I felt vaguely insulted to be told that in most cases, a hijacked e-mail gets used for nothing more ambitious than sending spam) and then critique the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But my editor said the CFAA parts read like a separate column, and I had to admit he was right. I’ll get back to that, but not next week: There’s a certain gigantic proposed cable merger that calls for my attention first.

USAT orphaned-app column2/16/2014: How to hang on to an orphaned app, USA Today

This was a somewhat shameless case of my taking advantage of the fuss over Flappy Bird (sorry, I don’t care about that game) to address a reader query I’d received months earlier about a different app. But Apple’s decision to boot a Bitcoin-wallet app from the App Store also factored into the timing here. The tip here about how developers keep less of the price of an app sold at the Mac App Store revisits a topic I’d last addressed in a January 2011 Post blog post.

At Sulia, I shared two sets of quotes from a great panel discussion among teenage social-media users led by my Yahoo Tech colleague Dan Tynan, recounted a tech startup’s testimony about its experience beating a patent troll in court, listed two questions left up in the air about Comcast’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable, complained about NBC Washington’s reportedly strong but now-unwatchable over-the-air signal, and provided an update about the fake Facebook account I’d set up when writing a privacy cheat sheet about the social network for Yahoo.

Weekly output: RapidShare, tech policy, e-mail privacy, Windows 8

There’s a new client in my list this week: a blog called the Disruptive Competition Project, set up this summer by the Computer & Communications Industry Association. (Back then, GigaOM and Techdirt separately noted its launch in the context of other attempts to connect the tech industry to Washington.) I’m going to be writing a couple of posts a week there about various aspects of tech policy through at least the end of the year.

11/13/2012: In Conversation: Daniel Raimer of RapidShare, Future of Music Summit

I’ve been going to and occasionally speaking at the Future of Music Coalition’s annual summits since their debut in 2001. This year, I got a chance to interview the chief legal officer of the Swiss data-locker service RapidShare–a company that has gotten a lot of heat for enabling copyright infringement but says it’s working to stop people from employing it for that purpose. I had to condense my questions after Raimer took too long with his PowerPoint, but I did hit the points I wanted in the time I had left (beginning at about 13:50 in the clip below).

11/13/2012: Patents, Broadband, Privacy: Now That The Election’s Over, Can We Talk About Tech Policy?, Disruptive Competition Project

Back in 2008, candidates Barack Obama and John McCain put together lengthy, detailed descriptions of their tech-policy goals; this year, Obama and Mitt Romney barely mentioned the subject. This has been bothering me all year (earlier this fall, I unsuccessfully pitched an article along these lines to a couple of sites); in this post, I tried to outline where the absence of a campaign conversation on tech policy leaves us in three key areas.

11/16/2012: How Your Secret E-Mail Can Give You Up, Discovery News

I wrote this in part because e-mail security has been catapulted into the headlines, courtesy of the Petraeus/Broadwell scandal, but also because I thought it was a good idea to remind people that no technology measure can stop the recipient of your message from doing whatever he or she wants with it, while also summing up other risks to your privacy in e-mail. But I should have spelled out how encrypting your e-mail won’t close most of these vulnerabilities (even if most people can’t be bothered to try that).

11/17/2012: How to add a Start menu to Windows 8, USA Today

This is the first Windows-centric piece I’ve written for USAT in a while. It leads off with advice about ways Windows 8 users can either replicate the program-launching functions of the Start menu or outright restore that feature (for what it’s worth, I will see if I can get by with filling out the taskbar with shortcuts to programs), then wraps up with a tip about Win 8’s helpful system-refresh and reset tools.

Weekly output: blog hosts, QAM, Kojo Nnamdi, iPad rumors, Web chat

This week involved more real-time interaction with readers than usual.

2/12/2012: Tip: For a personal Web page, keep it simple, USA Today

First a reader e-mailed to ask about the easiest way to host a blog under a personal domain name; then, between my filing this piece and USAT posting it, two friends asked me the same question. I guess the timing was right for the topic. The column also offers a tip that emerged from a comment thread here: You can recharge an iPad over any random charger with a USB port, not just a higher-powered model labeled as iPad-compatible.

2/14/2012: Qualms Over QAM, CEA Digital Dialogue

Here I discuss the cable industry’s proposal to encrypt the local, public, educational and government channels that “QAM” (Quadrature Amplitude Modulation) tuners in digital TVs can receive without a box. Would you trade that–cable operators say encrypting QAM will free new customers from having to wait for the cable guy to show up–for the Federal Communications Commission making its “AllVid” proposal for box-free reception a standard for both cable and satellite? For further reading: The National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s Paul Rodriguez explains why cable operators don’t like the “traps” they now use to control access, while venture capitalist Fred Wilson argues for keeping clear QAM and providing the broadcast channels for free.

2/14/2012: Our Love/Hate Relationship with Email, The Kojo Nnamdi Show

I discussed ways to tame an overloaded inbox with WAMU host Kojo Nnamdi and two other guests, etiquette author Anna Post and IBM social-computing evangelist Luis Suarez. You hear more of me in the second half of the show, after Suarez’s call-in segment ended. (Tip: You can speak in paragraphs on public radio, but they have to be newspaper paragraphs.)

2/17/2012: The Only ‘iPad 3′ Story You Need To Read, Discovery News

The headline I wrote may oversell this story a bit–but, really, the feature set on the next iPad should not be that hard to figure out. And if this post isn’t the only next-iPad piece you elect to read, it’s certainly the only one I plan to write, just as I only wrote one next-iPhone post last year.

2/17/2012: Living a Connected Life (Web chat), CEA Digital Dialogue

My second monthly chat for CEA started a little slow, but I wound up getting enough questions from readers to stick around for an extra 15 minutes. One query I got confirmed my decision to devote next week’s CEA post to the upcoming reallocation of some spectrum from TV to wireless data mandated by this week’s payroll tax-cut bill. Another may yield an item for my USA Today column: how to connect an ’80s-vintage Nintendo NES (no, really) to an HDTV.