Tracking the Elusive E-Mail

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

May-June 2004


According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project over two-thirds of Americans are online using e-mail.  In urban areas it is closer to 90%.  Do you know anyone who does not use e-mail? Over the last 10 years we have come to embrace e-mail as our major means of business communication and our second most popular means of personal communication after the old-fashioned face-to-face talk. For most people e-mail is a valuable tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, and staying abreast of the world.  Without it we would be severely limited.

This trend is not without its problems.  In the July-August 2002 issue of TNP I discussed the problem of massive amounts of spam and how to handle the influx.  In the January-February 2004 issue I talked about how spam accounts for a huge percentage of our e-mail messages.  I gave you some recommendations for ridding yourself of spam.  Several readers pointed out to me that the top web-based e-mail systems (Hotmail, Yahoo) eliminate most, if not all spam.  Others e-mailed me about their favorite spam filters.  Finally, the government passed an anti-spam bill that was intended to reduce or eliminate spam.  Unfortunately, that law has been a dismal failure.

I recently sent an e-mail to a business contact and when I had not heard back three days later I contacted him by phone.  His guess was that his spam filter had determined that my message was just another advertisement from its subject header.  This is happening more frequently.  Why?  Most private ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have a spam filter for customer use.  Also, most e-mail software (Netscape Messenger, Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora) offer the ability to eliminate spam.  The problem with most of these filters is that you either rely on their own definitions of what constitutes spam or you indicate that any communication from someone not in your address book is spam.

So, what do you do when you send an e-mail to someone and get no response?  At the front end, you can set your e-mail software to request a “return receipt.”  (The web-based e-mail systems don’t offer this option).  In theory, this is equivalent to the postal service’s certified mail.  However, it simply doesn’t work.  First, it only works for some e-mail software.  Second, if you receive one of these messages your e-mail software indicates that the sender has requested a confirmation of receipt and asks if you are willing to do that.  If you decline, no receipt is sent.  Not exactly a foolproof system. 

So, what can you do?  Just this week I discovered a very cost-effective system that seems almost too good to be true. It is called readnotify and can be found at www.readnotify.com.  The system is amazing.  When you send an e-mail you simply attach the string .readnotify.com to your e-mail address.  So, if you are e-mailing me you send it to drlarryrosen@earthlink.net.readnotify.com (note the period after the .net and before the readnotify.com).  Then readnotify provides you with a wealth of information.  It tells you when your e-mail was opened, how long it stayed open, if it was forwarded and to who, if it was re-opened again, if it was printed and/or saved, and if you have included any urls (web addresses) it will notify you if the reader has clicked through to that website.

Oh yes, and it will notify you either by e-mail, cell phone, pager, or any instant message system.  And, unlike the return receipts offered by e-mail software, the person at the other end has no idea that you are checking on them.

I tried a free trial of readnotify and I was blown away!  It works just as advertised.  And even more amazing, it is cost-effective.  You can pay $3.99 per month for using the service on 350 e-mails or you can pay $24-$36 per year for 2,000 e-mails depending on the options you desire.  Two dollars a month for this service is a great bargain.  I have already signed up and plan to use it often.

I don’t think that I have mentioned this before, but if you don’t use Google as your search engine you are not searching as effectively as you can.  Now you can make it even easier to search with Google.  Go to toolbar.google.com.  Click on the download button and in just a few seconds your Internet Explorer browser will have a Google toolbar installed just below the address toolbar.  (Users of Netscape’s browser cannot use the toolbar.)  What you will see is a box where you can type in your search terms. If you are not getting the most out of your searching read my article in the July-August 2002 TNP (note that all of my TNP articles can be found at www.technostress.com/TNPtopics.htm).

The beauty of the toolbar is that you no longer have to go to www.google.com.  It is right there on your browser.  And there are several other cool features.  First, you can use Google to search within a website.  For example, if you are at www.technostress.com and you want to find this article you can ask Google to search the site by putting a search term in the box and using the dropdown menu to the right of the box to request “current site.”  Second, with the toolbar you also get a pop-up blocker that takes care of most of the annoying pop-up ads. Third, you also get an “auto fill” function that will put your personal information in boxes that you have to complete at some websites.  For example, if you are at Travelocity.com and it asks you for your name, when you click on the box a dropdown menu will display all of the names you have used to fill in similar boxes. Nice.  This is a must for anyone who uses Internet Explorer.

That’s all for this month.  I would love it if you would e-mail me to ask questions or simply request a topic