How I Handle Email
Monday, 8 November 1999
I get so much email that sometimes, it is simply impossible for me to deal with it all. It's only fair to those I neglect, to explain how I handle my emails and give them a better chance to get through to me. I hope to help people out as much as possible, and to have lots of creative exchanges with good people.
At times over the past year and a half, I have had 50 or more emails per day pouring in. This may not seem excessive, but often many of those messages ask for complex replies, involved instructions (how to remove this trojan or that, how to figure out what is or isn't the hostile app), and so forth. The time adds up and there's no way I can answer everyone in a timely manner.
Often I have homework to do, to give someone a sensible response. It isn't unusual for me to spend a half hour or more on Web searches, examining a file someone sent, or whatever -- in order to do honor by someone's plea for help or information.
Sometimes I'll take up the torch for someone who's been abused. An example is the recent affair with Softseek, presently detailed on my front page.
As a rule, I'm not just tossing off acknowledgements or thank-you notes.
I've avoided the temptation to set up an auto-responder, which I think is rather rude; but I may succumb to it sometime because no answer at all is still more rude.
I help for free, but life itself isn't free of charge. I have to earn an income, and I do that with most of my day.
How I Prioritize
I'm afraid I'm a bit inconsistent. On the one hand, I'm fairly systematic about it. I always hope I'll somehow manage to answer all my email, and I try to keep track of unfinished business. On the other, I sometimes just refuse to deal with it, while attempting to get other things done.
As a result, I'll sometimes answer an email weeks later, and sometimes I'll neglect a more important message to deal with others that just arrived.
Overall, I never discard emails. I archive them all, and I know which ones I've answered.
Once in a while, I go on a binge, working through as much of the backlog as I can.
I never catch up.
If you think you've fallen through the cracks (gaping canyons?) in my messaging "system," your best possible strategy is simply to email me again.
If you've sent me a file, you need not re-send it. I'll have the earlier message and its attachments. Just repeat your message, try to make the information clear and complete, and if I possibly can I will get back to you.
There Are Limits
I cannot be everyone's general-purpose personal computer guru. There isn't time. Often I must draw the line. Usually I do it silently, by simply refusing to respond.
Messages I Do Answer
Messages I Do Not Answer
I want anyone who talks with me to have confidence in my integrity and in their own security. Please be advised that I regard all email as completely confidential by default.
I will sometimes make an exception with abusive email. It's rare, but it does happen.
I never publish an email I have been sent in confidence unless an abusive situation exists; in which case I issue a direct warning to the sender that I will expose the messages publicly if the abuse continues. Rarely, if the situation is truly extreme, I may expose seriously abusive or objectionable email without warning. But that would only be in a circumstance that clearly warrants what I consider extreme measures.
Even people who ask me to help them in illegal acts (which happens regularly in the form of requests for help with retaliatory intrusions) can expect me to voice my objections only to themselves. I feel that strongly about honoring people's trust.