Out Of The Mailbox, Into The Dumpster

Well, I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to read that popular House Representatives are so overwhelmed by their "heavy" e-mail loads-as many as 8,000 messages a month-that many messages are being deleted without being read.

Well, I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to read that popular House Representatives are so overwhelmed by their "heavy" e-mail loads—as many as 8,000 messages a month—that many messages are being deleted without being read. Gosh, I get about 4,000 messages a month myself. And while I surely dont read all of those, I do read all messages with any importance, and I dont have even a single, part-time congressional title to my name.

The difference between Congress and I, according to the information contained in the Congressional Management Foundation and George Washington Universitys E-Mail Overload in Congress: Managing a Communications Crisis, is that they dont have a clue on how to manage e-mail, and I do.

Now Im no genius, but you can take any of todays e-mail clients and do enough basic e-mail management to cut down those 8,000 messages to 2,000. It would take me about two days. One day to listen to the customers and figure out how they want to use mail, and another day to review their messages and implement a basic mail-management policy based on filters and folders. The bottom line is that its not that hard to set up a filter sending all Napster (or whatever the hot topic of the day is) messages to a "hot topic" folder. But according to the report, it seems that is too much trouble for 90 percent of all congressional offices.

Pardon me if I seem ill-willed about the future of our wired country. This is 2001 and, joshing aside, I find it more than a little scary that my 11-year-old can manage her e-mail better than most congressional staffs.

Looking on the bright side, theres still lots of room for consultants and integrators to help people with even the most basic tasks. Trust me, with users like those in Congress out there, none of us is going to need to get day jobs outside of technology anytime soon.

Were not talking rocket science here or forcing writers to use fancy e-mail subject headers. Just blasting spam away with professional-strength antispam server programs like Lyris MailShield (www.lyris.com/products/mailshield) or BrightMail cuts down my mail load by a third. If youre an ISP or e-mail administrator, you can attack the problem at its root by following the sage advice given by the California not-for-profit group Mail Abuse Prevention System (www.mail-abuse.org). Add in a little client-side mail management and, presto, even someone who types 12 words per minute can manage his e-mail.

You just need to make sure your customer understands that by delivering simple mail management, youve made their life easier. People have a bad habit of always taking infrastructure improvements for granted.

All of that will help your business. However, I cant help wondering: Is Congress really that technically inept, or is it that they really dont care what people think?