Can't Live with It, Can't Live without It

Article excerpt

Shirley Kennedy is the information goddess at Honeywell's aerospace facility in Clearwater, Florida. Her book Best Bet Internet: Reference and Research When You Don't Have Time to Mess Around is currently in production at ALA editions. Reach her by e-mail at skennedy@pobox.com.

Internet e-mail ranges from info glut to spamming to electronic commerce

How do you regard e-mail? As an indispensable modern convenience or as an oppressive contributor to your own personal infoglut? Or, maybe both.

At any rate, e-mail will not disappear any time soon. According to the Electronic Messaging Association (EMA), a trade association based in Arlington, Virginia (http://www.ema.org/ema-home.htm), about 2.6 trillion e-mails will flow through U.S. network pipes this year--up from 1.65 trillion last year. EMA also expects the number of U.S. email users to hit 50 million this year, up from 37 million in 1996.

Creative Networks, Inc. (http://www.cnilive.com/index.htm), a research and consulting firm in Palo Alto, California, surveyed 66 organizations and found that the average worker sends about 18 e-mail messages a day and receives 39. (Why the imbalance? Your guess is as good as mine.) Crucially, some 20 percent of these messages contain attachments--you know, that Word document, Excel spreadsheet, Dilbert strip, or, uh, jpg-you-wouldn't-want-your-mother-to-see.

E-mail is easy, fast, efficient, and--when your employer foots the bill for access--"free." No wonder it's such a "killer app." Alas, the ramifications of its booming popularity are becoming readily apparent. In the April 21 issue of Computerworld, reporters Kim Girard and Barb Cole-Gomolski detailed the problems corporate information systems (IS) departments are experiencing due to the e-mail boom. ("Hold that thought, IS tells e-mailers"--http://www.computerworld.com/search/AT-html/9704/970421SL 16flood.html.) "Greater volumes of e-mail and the increasing size of messages are forcing some network managers to invest more money in the redesign and structure of corporate net works," according to Girard and Cole-Gomolski.

Additionally, some organizations are tacking a size limit on e-mail attachments "to prevent a couple of big messages from tying up 10,000 users." According to Gary Rowe, a Roswell, Georgia-based principal of Rapport Communications (http://www.rapport.com), which does electronic communications/commerce consulting, "There's always the story of somebody who tried to send a 10-MB PowerPoint file that had screen shots embedded. You don't want to be overly restrictive, but you don't want a few power users affecting quality of service for everybody."

Some corporate IS types have discovered additional e-mail-related problems. "In our company, the pendulum swung 400 far to where people did everything by e-mail and nobody saw each other anymore," said David Frost, IS capability leader at Owens Corning in Toledo, Ohio. (Talk about bandwidth intensive--their Web page at http://owenscorning.com contains both Shockwave and QuickTime animations. Those who show up with a wimpy browser are encouraged to upgrade. Looks cool, though, since the Pink Panther is in residence.)

Also, while it's generally acknowledged that e-mail saves time and makes workers more productive, "there is a trade-off," said Ron Rassner, consulting and market research vice president at Creative Networks. Research at 75 companies, he said, "showed that workers waste about 30 percent of the estimated time they save using e-mail. They're going home early, surfing the Web, writing to friends."

The upshot of all of this seems to be an overall increase in the size and complexity of corporate e-mail policies. Typically, organizations have focused on the legal and ethical aspects of "acceptable use"-- i.e., forbidding the use of corporate e-mail to find another job, post personal rants to Usenet groups, transmit questionable content, etc. …