I recently received an interesting e-mail, full of information about the state of the world’s economy and cultural demographics, and was asked if I could verify any of the information in it. You see, on occasion, I and others rush off to snopes.com to verify the authenticity of forwards of forwards of forwards of messages claiming such things as Barack Hussein Obama’s ties to radical Islam, a tiger mother nursing orphaned piglets, etc. In this case, the e-mail turned out to be an op-ed piece by Herbert Meyer, describing worldwide economic and cultural trends, how they came about, and, more or less prompting us to think about what lies ahead and what it means for us.
I started to respond, more to the method of delivery than to the content of the article, coining the term “e-mail stewardship” in the process, and decided that I would put into practice what I was going to preach in my response. So here it is:
It took me 19 seconds to find something decently Google-searchable in the message – chosing the strings “WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON” and “FOUR MAJOR TRANSFORMATIONS” out of the introduction of the article – and find several web sites that published this article:
- …etc, including a PDF: http://www.dreckless.com/what_in_the_world_is_going_on.pdf
So, if I found this article worthwhile and wanted to pass it along to others who might also find it worthwhile, I would MUCH RATHER send them a little bitty e-mail with a link to the article on the web, rather than forward the whole ginormous glob of text, for several reasons:
- It reduces clutter in my e-mail box.
- It reduces clutter in the recipients’ e-mail boxes.
- If you forward an e-mail, you risk accidentally forwarding it as an attachment, which is just plain evil.
- If you forward an e-mail, you are likely sending along information that you don’t usually think about:
a.) if headers are included, your recipients get the contact info of all of the people that got it when you got it, as well as the person you got it from. The previous sender might not want your recipient to know that he sent it to you. So if Dwight sends an e-mail to Michael and then Michael forwards it to Kevin, Kevin could know that Dwight was the previous sender, and even who sent it to Dwight, and even the other people who got it along with Dwight (including everyone’s e-mail addresses); Dwight and the other previous senders and recipients might not like that.
b.) you’re sending along irrelevant information like people’s signatures, ‘this e-mail was scanned by hooby-jooby virus scanner’ messages, and ads that free e-mail services like Mail.com and Yahoo append to their messages.
- The web sites that publish this article took great pains to format it properly for viewing in a browser window, so it looks better and is much easier to read than a forward of a forward of a forward of an e-mail. You can’t win when it comes to forwarding e-mails. If you forward a message in plain text, the client reader chops up the lines. If you forward an HTML e-mail, you’re asking for trouble, as e-mail clients, especially web-based clients, are famous for butchering HTML e-mails (mangling fonts and colors, breaking images, etc.).
Contrast this representation of the e-mail I got with one of the sites above.
- There is YET ANOTHER copy of THE SAME THING in the world. Wow, in 19 seconds, I already found four copies. How many more are there? Now, if 22 people send it on to 9 others who send it on to 11 others, then we have 33,962 copies of THE SAME THING scattered all over the world. I know, my math isn’t right – but you get the idea. No, the Internet is not getting full, but it’s an incredible waste of resources if millions of people store millions of copies of the same thing. I’m not saying this in the spirit of “greenness”, but in the spirit of efficiency.
- The content is more credible if it’s published on a credible Web site. Of course, we all know that just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true, but if it’s a real article on the BBC’s site, it’s just a little more credible than if it’s an undocumented post on Kazic Kymnaczykowicz’s blog, which is a little more credible than a forward of a forward of your Uncle Ivan’s e-mail that he got from that nice dude he bowls with. The people whom you alert to this inspiring content will think much more highly of you if your source is obviously credible rather than suspect.
So it all comes down to this: if you find some good information that your e-mail buddies would love to see, find as original a version of it as you can published online somewhere, check out its validity, and then send your buddies a link rather than a bloated e-mail. Your buddies and their buddies will thank you for your good E-mail Stewardship practices!