Sunday, December 14, 2008

Giving online email the bird

The other day I was trying to send an invitation using a popular web site. The result was unsatisfying, but it wasn't particularly the invitation site's fault.

It was my first time on that site, so it didn't know any email addresses, and of course that makes sending invitations a bit harder. So I went into T-bird and started writing a dummy email. T-bird dutifully filled in the addresses from the first few letters of the names. I then went to cut-n-paste those addresses into the site's text box. T-bird doesn't seem to want to select more than one address at once from a message being composed.

Bad T-bird (or dumb me for missing the obvious -- but when dealing with software with a seven-digit user base and an ostensibly infinite supply of eyeballs, I tend to be less forgiving).

Then I tried creating an ad-hoc mailing list in T-bird and copying that in. Turns out this was not T-bird's day (or mine, for that matter). So I finally did a silly-walk so unwholesome I hesitate to mention it: I saved the dummy email to a text file and cut-n-pasted the names in from that.

Well, clearly the problem here is that I persist in keeping my email address book in my own personal silo instead of on the web. The invitation site was certainly of that opinion. It offered me the opportunity to import my email addresses from any of a dozen or so widely-used sources.

That there are a dozen or so to choose from tells me that this "silo" problem is not quite licked yet, even on the wide wonderful web.

Besides the obvious concern about security -- which is maybe not such a big concern considering that everybody's bank accounts are online and your address book is more vulnerable to an email virus on your machine than on someone's secure server -- I think the problem here is granularity. I don't want everyone to see everything in my address book. I want different sites to see different portions.

I haven't done even the minimal research of finding out if this is possible online, and frankly, I hardly ever run into a situation like the above, so I have no idea whether this is a real issue or not. It sounds like the kind of problem personal datastores are aimed at, though.

In the meantime, I plan to continue hiding in my silo, though I'll try to look into how the online system at work works. It's one of the major providers, but I access it through T-bird, of course. Better the devil you know.

[This is one of the few posts that's struck me as seriously dated on re-reading, probably because it wasn't really that relevant in the first place.  It does hit on some interesting themes.  It just doesn't do much with them, and plenty of other posts have better takes on the same themes.  Now that you've read this far, feel free to skip it --D.H. May 2015]

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