Email is Not Instant Messaging

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skeleton waiting for emailThe growth in Email over the last two decades has been astronomical. It has pervaded all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Computers, Wireless PDAs, and Smartphones all connect into a vast network of electronic communications. With a click of a button, a short or long email message is effortlessly, magically and instantly delivered into the virtual mailbox of your intended recipient. Or is it?

Whenever you get a new computer, laptop, or smart phone, one thing you may do first is set up and test your email. When you send yourself a message you usually see the result within a minute–if not seconds. When speaking on the phone with a friend, you might send an email and expect it to instantly appear in your friends inbox. Most of us have come to expect email to be instant and assume that email was designed to be instant. However, sometimes email can take fifteen minutes, an hour, or even days to arrive. Why the delay? Well, the truth of it is: Email was not designed to be instant.

how email appears vs how it does work

Email has many stops along the way. Network traffic between the sender and receiver can slow down an email’s progress.


Big Inboxes

“My email is crawling! The speed of email (or, more accurately, the lack thereof) is a very common customer complaint. Often, however, the perceived performance has nothing to do with the speed of email delivery and receipt but rather with the speed of the actual email client. The email client is whatever program you use to read the email (e.g. GroupWise, Outlook, Mac Mail, Thunderbird, Webmail, etc.). If your email client is running slowly, the first recommendation is to check to see how many messages are in your inbox. In many cases, especially with webmail, inboxes containing a thousand or more messages can sometimes slow down how quickly the email program will launch and check for new messages. If you have a lot of messages in your inbox, clean them out. Throw away messages you don’t need. Archive messages you don’t need instant access to. Create subfolders to move messages into.


Weeding out Spam (we use Gwava at NC)

Email clients have features to help you weed out the Spam (unsolicited email messages). Be sure yours is turned on and working. The best is if you can have suspected Spam messages moved out of your Inbox into a separate folder. You will want to review that Spam folder for the occasional legitimate message that may end up in that folder. Like your trash, you should periodically empty your Spam folder as well.


Big Email Attachments and Slow Connections

In general, email messages are small and should download quickly when you check your mail. However, if you have a really long message or an email with one or more large attachments, it may be slow to download.
Furthermore, if you have a slow internet connection (e.g. dial-up, weak or intermittent wireless connection, etc.) that will further slow the fetching of email messages. For this reason, wherever possible you should avoid sending attachments in emails. In many cases you can send links to files, pictures, etc. which keep your outgoing messages small and fast and is more respectful for your recipients.


Email Delivery Speeds

When you hit send, your email message is sent over a series of servers before it reaches its final destination. If any of those servers or any of the network connections between servers is bogged down, the delivery of your message can be delayed. A delay of 30 to 60 minutes is not uncommon and it can sometimes take longer. In more extreme situations, the initial send may fail. In such cases email servers are designed to wait for a while then retry. They may do this several times. If a particularly long delay occurs, you may receive a “message delayed” warning email. In rare instances, messages may not be delivered until hours after they are sent. After a set number of failures and/or a long time, the message may be rejected outright and you will receive a bounced message alert to let you know the mail was never delivered.


Bounced Messages

If you receive a delayed message warning, do nothing and just wait as the message should eventually be delivered. If you receive a bounced, rejected, or returned message, your email did not go through. Take a close look through the returned message and you may be able to determine the reason. Here are some common reasons for email failing to be delivered:

  • email address was mistyped (call your recipient to verify the correct address)
  • email address no longer exists (call your recipient to find out if their email address has changed)
  • your recipient’s email box capacity is maxed out (call your recipient and let them know in case they are unaware)
  • repeated attempts to send the email failed due to a server or network error (call your recipient to let them know in case they are unaware)


When Deliver Time Matters

If you have a time-sensitive message, email alone may not be a good idea. Follow up the email with a telephone call or an Instant Message to verify receipt. If you or your recipient has more than one email address – particularly addresses at different hosts (e.g. GroupWise, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) – you might try sending from and to alternate addresses. If you have no alternate addresses to use there is unfortunately little you can do to speed up the delivery of your email if. You’ll just have to be patient.