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Lost e-mails

By Jean-Claude Elias - Nov 27,2014 - Last updated at Nov 27,2014

Do you sometime lose the e-mails you send or receive? Do they seem to disappear without you being able to tell how, where and why? You are not alone. This is becoming all too frequent and it is not something that is always easy to explain or understand.

Whereas countless aspects of life with IT have been well addressed now and have been removed from the worry list, e-mailing, one critical aspect by any measure, hasn’t yet been perfected.

It is not the process, per se, that everyone today understands and masters, including the very young. It is the complexity of the various subscriptions, of the software applications you use to manage the messages, of the intricate settings and parameters, and last but not least the lack of transparency (that’s a euphemism) of the service providers whenever you encounter difficulty sending or receiving e-mail messages.

You may be using Microsoft’s Outlook for example, or perhaps you check your mail directly on the Web, through one of the many available browsers like Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera or Safari. You may be using one of the free e-mail services like Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Hotmail. Or perhaps you have your own domain name, be it for business or personal use, operating addresses like for instance [email protected] Your mailbox could be hosted on a Microsoft-Exchange server or it may be on a cloud service like GoDaddy, Google or Network Solutions, to name only these.

The many different ways lead to difficulty in establishing a clear and quick diagnostic, and therefore getting a solution to the problem, when something goes wrong, typically being unable to send or receive, or not knowing what happened to an e-mail that has simply vanished.

The difficulty lies in the fact that your message travels on a virtual route on the Web that includes several “waypoints”. Generally you only are aware of two of them, your own mailbox from which you send, and your recipient’s address. In fact the message goes through other points of passage that you don’t want to know about and that, normally, you shouldn’t need to know about.

These include your ADSL subscription or WiFi iconnection or 3G. Then come your local service provider, the telecoms, the mail server(s) they have a subscription with, and then you’d find the same chain at the “other” end, the receiving party. It could be more complicated sometimes, but the bottom line is that it is hard to say where exactly your incoming or outgoing message got lost. That is unless all parties cooperate and tell the truth. All you know is that your e-mail message didn’t reach the mailbox it was supposed to reach.

Technicians apply a process they call Traceroute to track messages through all the “waypoints” and find where exactly they were lost or rejected for that matter. The virtual route, from your mailbox to your correspondent’s mailbox may include anything from six to 12 points of passage, anywhere in the world! Whether at home or at work you certainly don’t have the time to apply processes like Traceroute just to find were your message was lost.

Finding exactly what happened is tantamount to a criminal investigation and usually is not worth all the trouble. Resending, doing your e-mailing through a different software application and from another mailbox often is the simplest cure. Which is why most of us run and manage at least a couple of different e-mail addresses.

And you thought e-mailing was a simple matter.

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