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Your return address should make sense. Check it out!
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
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Your return address should make sense. Check it out!

Bit Player for May 9, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

I was setting up a new e-mail program the other day to try it out. I sent myself a letter, and, boy, was I surprised.

It came back right away. Everything looked OK except for one little detail. The letter said it was from "" Or something like that. It was a name full of numbers. I didn't put them there.

The same day I got a note from "Dreamscape" that wasn't from Dreamscape. The folks at Dreamscape didn't send it. Was someone faking it? Was someone masquerading as an Internet Service Provider?

This was curious enough, but the next morning I got a letter from "Hotmail." Just "Hotmail." And it wasn't from Hotmail, the Internet site, at all.

Usually, I'm just like everybody else. I might glance at the "From:" line in mail that comes in and that's that. A lot of times it doesn't register on my brain. I read the mail and not the salutations and all that.

But I've started noticing things lately. You know how it is once you spot the crack in the plaster, you ALWAYS notice it, no matter how hard you try to avoid looking at it. It just sticks in your vision like mental glue.

The more I look, the more I see. It's discouraging. I'd guess that most e-mail writers have no idea how their return address looks. I'd have to say many e-mail writers don't even know what their return address is. And, of the ones who DO know, some just happen to think weird or crazy e-mail names are OK.

I don't, and I'll tell you why. Back when only a bunch of geeks knew how to do e-mail, it was OK to have cereal-box names and things like that. You could be "Screaming Yellow Zonkers" or "CornFutz" or something just as dumb. It marked you as a member of an exclusive club.

But guess what? The "club" now includes half the creatures on the planet who have fingers and toes. E-mail isn't just a cute diversion any more. It's the way millions of us communicate. We need to treat it just like we treat regular mail. I'll bet you'd toss out a letter that arrived from "Mr. Magic" or from "HighScorer." Return addresses should have real names.

And that's the problem. Your return address isn't automatically created for you. You need to do it yourself. If you leave it out, the e-mail program will stick one in for you. You'll get something stupid as your name and address.

Like It turns out I had typed in the IP address of a mail server, and the dumb e-mail program figured it would turn the numbers into the return address.

Or like Dreamscape. Or Hotmail. In both those cases, the software used the name of the service provider.

Your return address can be a real name. It doesn't have to be your e-mail login name. It doesn't have to be jsmith. It can be John W. Smith Jr. (Your software will hide the "jsmith" part until it's needed by the return-mail system.)

So take a look at your mail. Send yourself a letter. You might be surprised at what you see.

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