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Email communication - Troubleshooting

What can go wrong with email communication?

It is important to keep in mind that the post office analogy only goes so far; when you put a stamp on the envelope you use to mail your bills out every month, the post office has an obligation to make sure it gets to your landlord, utilities, lenders, and so on. Unfortunately, the Internet, though it can be faster and more efficient in many respects, has no such legal obligation.

There are a wide variety of reasons an email might not arrive at the intended email address in a timely fashion, or at all. Here is a shortlist of possible scenarios:

  • Incorrect email address: This is a very common mistake; a misspelled name, inverted number, or a comma where a period should be can lead to your email sitting undelivered in a server, essentially forever, in the electronic equivalent of a dead letter office.
  • Old email address: People don’t necessarily retain the same email address forever. When an individual changes jobs, moves to a different Internet Service Provider (ISP), or even gets tired of their old email address, they can get a completely different email address. While it is possible that the person might set up their old account to forward emails from the old address to the new address, it is not something that can be counted on.
  • Large Attachments: If you are sending a large file as an attachment to your email, it can often cause a delay; if you intend to send a large photo or document, it’s often a good practice to send another email without an attachment, letting them know that it may be delayed.
  • Busy Server: When the SMTP servers are busy or otherwise under strain, it can cause an email to be delayed or, if the server is broken, never reach the recipient at all.
  • Server Limits: Some servers have limitations on how many emails a user may send during a specific period of time.
  • Spam: If the intended recipient has received emails from you before and marked them as Spam (meaning unwanted bulk or commercial email), it can cause your future emails to be blocked from their inbox. While there are things you can do to improve your relationship with the intended recipient, such as altering the frequency of contact or sending them messages that pertain more directly to them, there is nothing you can do to change the Spam mark.
  • Blacklisting/Greylisting: When an email has inconsistent information in regards to who sent it or where it comes from, it can be mistaken for Spam by the receiving server and Blacklisted. This is a practice where certain Internet Protocol (IP) Addresses might be marked as untrustworthy or suspicious. The IP address could be associated with sending Spam messages, or so-called Spoof or Phishing messages, where the sender intends to steal information or passwords from the recipient. It could be associated with a company with which the SMTP server has no relationship.  Often, there is little one can do to avoid being Blacklisted or Greylisted, unless they build a relationship with the mail servers as a reliable and honest sender (instead of one that sends bulk emails to unsuspecting individuals they have no previous relationship with, or some other malicious Internet behavior).

It’s important to note that, while email is a fast, effective tool for communicating with clients, business associates, co-workers, family, and friends, it isn’t perfect or foolproof. As the scenarios above outlined, neither you nor your recipients have complete control over the process. Like a misprinted address on a letter or a down wire in a remote area might knock out telephone service, there situations where an email might be delayed or not arrive at all.

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