This is a composition about email. A story, which quite rapidly degenerates into a rant about the practices of one big internet company. This time, the culprit is not Nigerian. Grab a cup of whatever beverage you are fond of, and enjoy.
So, a couple of phone calls around 8am woke me up from my slumber. One of the few privileges of being a school teacher in a predominantly Muslim state is that you can wake up late on a Monday like today, with Sallah still fresh on everyone’s mind.
As I got about my morning mishmash of singing random bits of different songs, cooking noodles, and scattering my clean clothes all over my bed in search of what to wear for that day, I was contemplating how to structure my trip to town for maximum efficiency. I needed to get some things done on the Internet, making a few coins in the process, and marching a few more steps forward on an important life project of mine.
In a squeaky-clean, bleached, white, short-sleeved shirt, grey trousers (with grey stockings visible from under the legs) and my favourite brown moccasins, I set off for Katsina town at about 9:15am. I spent three rather short hours in an Internet café which was fast enough to download all my emails, download all my RSS feeds and sadly, not much else.
It’s 1:30pm. What to do next? Well, what’s the rush in going back to the village when you can roam about town almost with no particular aim, and just be happy? He he. I even ran into someone I met way back in March, at NYSC Orientation camp. Did I say my roaming about was aimless? Well, I visited my bank, and a few friends, including the one I ran into at the bank.
All is well that ends well, they say. I made my way back to my village by 6:20pm, to avoid the early and hazy darkness that makes night-travel in a box moving at almost 2km a minute on a narrow, windy road dangerous at this time of the year. At least I’ve got my email and RSS feeds to go through, and thankfully, my school now runs their generator for 2 hours every week-night. I’ll have ample juice to power my laptop long enough to read everything of interest. Put a pin here.
Fast forward to 940pm. I’m done reading my RSS feeds. Now for the email. I read my inbox while in town so that I could respond to any thing that needed my urgent response while I was online. Dive into my Mailing Lists folder. Hmmm, there are lots of subjects where I only see "[ATE-u-Tiv] [Tivnetinc/Ate-U-Tiv/KAO…".
That is utterly useless characters making up the entire preview of the subject, and thus making it quite difficult to decide whether or not to read the email at all. Let me explain. My email program has three columns. The first column lists "folders". This is where you find stuff like "inbox", "sent" etc. It is where my email is sorted. The second column displays a long list of all the emails in any selected folder. At this moment, "ATE" is the active folder, and all the emails emanating from the "ATE-u-Tiv" Mailing list are listed in the second column.
The second column makes it easy to quickly tell who any particular message is from, and what the subject is. Since the column is small, it only displays the person’s name, message date, and about 40 characters of the subject line, plus an icon to mark the message as read/unread/new.
The last column displays whatever message you have selected from the second column, in full. It is the biggest one of the three columns. Quite a nice way to read email I must add. I wonder why this particular person keeps sending emails where the first forty-something characters of the subject are totally irrelevant to the subject of the message. An annoyance that etiquette won’t allow me to complain about. Or did it? He he. I make a note in my note-taking application to think about a solution to this problem.
That is just a minor annoyance that can be borne silently by me. The next problem I run into isn’t quite so.
I skim many emails in this folder and eventually come across one where the author talks about a "Nigerian Demographic Health Survey". The author is kind enough to attach a PDF containing this survey. Mwa! Such a kind and considerate person. He even thought it wise to include the report in the email to make it easier for interested people to read it. This kind of email suits my email consumption style so perfectly. My email client would have retrieved the email, including the attachment while I was online, and now, all I have to do to access that attachment is to open it. No Internet required.
Believe it or not, Email is older than the World Wide Web. Most people think that the world wide web is the internet, but honestly, the world wide web is just one fraction of it. You see, before we had the web, we had email, and most people consumed email by having a computer program access their mail server, and retrieve all the unretrieved emails from their account storing them on their local machine for later perusal and any subsequent actions. The web just added a simple and nearly universal front-end to email. Hence, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, http://mail.yahoo.com is actually just one way to consume email. Of course, Yahoo makes that the only way to consume mail if Yahoo happens to be your mail service provider, and they charge you money if you wish to consume it any other way.
I consume my email "the other way". You now know why I don’t use Yahoo for my email. In fact, I consume my email in any form that is convenient at the time. When my phone happens to be the only computer I have handy, I consume email via a more restricted, but nearly equally functional interface on the phone. When with my computer, I use the "retrieve and consume later model", when on a public computer, I use the "web mail". Yahoo does not make it easy for me to consume my email in all the various forms through which I prefer to.
So I don’t like Yahoo Mail. Why should you care? Ideally, you shouldn’t. Which is why I have not embarked on any massive campaign to get people to stop using Yahoo mail. Which is why I just carry on, secure in my conviction that Yahoo Mail does not meet my needs, and so I use something else that (nearly) does so. Since I am such a nice guy, I usually also feel sorry for people who don’t realize that their email experience could be much more suited to their needs, and who thus, are stuck inside a world of Yahoo. But I painstakingly avoid trying to tell them to switch when they haven’t come to me asking me for help in accomplishing something which Yahoo Mail doesn’t make easy. It is your pain, and fortunately for you, your ignorance is your bliss. I tell my worrisome self, and thus, sleep peacefully at night.
Why then am I going on rambling about Yahoo Mail? You see, this extremely likeable author who sent this health survey happens to be a Yahoo Mail user, and by all the powers, above and beyond, vested in Yahoo Inc., Yahoo has decided to break away with the age-old and time-tested convention of "attaching" attached files to an email in such a way that any retrieving program also retrieves the attachment.
Yahoo! Mail (yes, the exclamation mark is so apt) has unilaterally decided to start stripping emails of all attachments. Storing them instead on its mind-boggling expanse of servers, and supplying a simple link instead, inside of the email, in place of the attachment, to a place where viewers can "download" or "view" the attachment in their web browser! They even shamelessly make sure to indicate that there is an attachment in the email by adding some more rubbish characters "[X Attachments]" to the subject of the message. It looks like they recognise how counter-intuitive this practice is, and yet they persist.
What are the practical implications of this?
- I cannot access the famed attachment, or any other attachment sent by a Yahoo Mail user unless I happen to be online.
- My email consumption style: download, store, consume later is now broken for all Yahoo Mail with attachments.
- I shall now, and until this practice ceases, more actively encourage people I interact with to stop using Yahoo Mail.
My predicament, you say?
- Your attachments are now, a lot less private than before. They are available on the Internet, and the only thing stopping someone else from seeing them right now, is that they don’t yet have the link to the files. Unless of course, as they probably would have, they implemented some form of security based on embedding some unique code in the URL (file address), and depending on its secrecy thereafter. I wonder whether they ever delete the files.
- It is my fervent prayer that one day, you shall wish to read your email in "outlook" and come to face the same disappointment I now face. That is, you shall grow up, and grow more annoyed with simple, annoying displays of veto power such as this.
If you have managed to read up to this point, please, do the wise thing. Get yourself a better email account. Visit (in order of decreasing preference) www.gmail.com , www.ovi.com or even www.hotmail.com and save civilization. I hereby volunteer to teach you how to consume your email in the various ways I have outlined in this narrative.
Finagle’s Eighth Law: If an experiment works, something has gone wrong.
Finagle’s Ninth Law: No matter what results are expected, someone is always willing to fake it.
Finagle’s Tenth Law: No matter what the result someone is always eager to misinterpret it.
Finagle’s Eleventh Law: No matter what occurs, someone believes it happened according to his pet theory.