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Why e-mail is not just e-mail

By Jean-Claude Elias - Mar 31,2016 - Last updated at Mar 31,2016

Few people realise what their e-mail box really represents until they experience a crash or hacking and then lose all its contents. Though sending and receiving messages is what it is all about in the first place, the phenomenon has reached gigantic proportions in terms of size and even more so in terms of importance, of actual value.

Whatever your trade, your occupation, your age or your social position, virtually all your written communication goes through e-mail today, except for instant mobile channels like WhatsApp and the like, that remain confined to very short messaging. E-mail usage has become so common that it has replaced a good part of our telephone calls too. Don’t you make appointments, send invitations, ask simple questions and just say “good morning” with e-mail?

According to the Radicati Group, an American technology market research firm based in California, e-mail traffic in 2015 in the world was an average 196 billion messages per day of which 116 billion were business and 80 billion were consumer messages. Figures speak for themselves.

Because we have made it a habit to communicate essentially by e-mail our mailboxes have become the area where most of our digital contents are stored, with all that this implies. If you use Microsoft’s Outlook, just look at the size of the “.pst” file, the one where Outlook keeps everything, and you’ll realise how utterly important it is for you. In most cases the size reaches gigabytes, often exceeding 10 of them. I have seen Outlook files that were 40GB big.

The number and the variety of messages is one thing, and the attachments we often send or receive in the messages is another. They alone account for a huge part of the contents. They just come to add to the importance of the mailbox that has this way become our main filing cabinet, outdoing all other filing places.

Indeed, how many of us take the time to save an extra copy of this or that attachment, in a separate file, outside the mailbox, as an extra precaution, just in case? Very few. In the overwhelming number of cases we just rely on the mailbox itself, be it Outlook, Gmail or other. It’s where we work from, where we store most of everything and where we like to search for data, present or past.

A well-maintained mailbox can actually come to the rescue in some cases. Assume you have lost some documents or files that were placed in folders on your hard disk. If these documents were initially received or send by e-mail as attachments, you can retrieve them from there. Even better, acknowledging the importance of attached documents, offers a simple, free application that can automatically and globally extract all pieces attached to messages from Outlook and then save these pieces in a separate folder, as discrete files, one by one — no need to do a manual, tedious search-and-extract operation.

Those who use local Outlook sometime think of making back-up copies of the .pst file. Those who use an online system (cloud-based…) like Gmail trust the server to take care of making back-up copies. Whereas indeed reputable services like Gmail or Hotmail can be trusted for being careful with your mailbox contents, they all have experienced “memory loss” at some point in the past, albeit not very often.

Even if these otherwise trusty services do take care of your mailbox, human errors happen, mailbox hacking happens (this one all too frequently), and they all lead to the painful, often irrecoverable loss of precious and big amounts of data, messages, photos, documents, videos and information of all kinds.

What is very important must be managed and maintained accordingly; it’s plain, common sense. Again, this is rarely the case, and it is not just about making extra security copies of the mailbox and its contents. It is also about keeping the place tidy and well-organised (good sub-folders naming and structure, etc…), using strong passwords and being extremely careful with suspicious contents received.


Those who apply these basic rules live a happy life with their mailbox, however big it gets.

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