Lesson #7 - How to handle email
If you start a web site, and if you publicize an email address somewhere on your web site, and if your web site becomes at all popular, then one thing is for sure -- you will get email. Lots and lots of email in some cases.
In my case, one of the things that forced HowStuffWorks to become a business was the amount of email I was receiving. There simply was no way for one person to process all the email that was coming in on a daily basis.
WebKEW is only a few weeks old at this point, and I have not published an email address on WebKEW, but the email has started coming in. Here is an example of the kind of email WebKEW is generating:
- I've been a follower of your Robotic Nation series since it began and am an avid reader of your blogs. Your WebKew postings have finally led me to do something which I've been thinking about for the last couple of years, which is to start my own blogs.
I have yet to find a site which collects all the news and stories I'm interested in, so I've decided to start my own. Since I read numerous other blogs and news sites to collect the information, it's but a simple step to edit and post it to my site.
I just wanted to write and thank you for efforts to help budding web publishers like myself, and to let you know about the blogs, in case you might be interested.
The blogs are:
I can tell you that not all email that you receive will be this nice. Some of your incoming email will come in the form of "flames." People read what you write, do not like it for some reason, and want to make sure you know it. One option you always have with a flame is the delete key. In some cases, the flamer is sending the flame specifically to get a rise out of you (and will publish your response if you send one, even though that is probably illegal under copyright law), and the delete key is a good choice. Or, writing back to a flamer with a very simple "thank you for taking the time to write" email may be appropriate. Blogs will change your business offers several examples of the kind of things that can happen with email.
One other piece of advice that I would offer is this: Do not use HTML's "mailto" tag on a web page, and do not put a text version of your email address in a web page. That is, never embed something like this in your web pages:
- <a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">Contact me</a>
Another option is to use forms to handle incoming messages. The White House now uses a (pretty elaborate) form system. HowStuffWorks uses a much simpler approach, but it is the same idea. In the age of spam, a form system cuts down on most of the spam you will receive.
By giving visitors "other means" to express their opinions besides email -- e.g., comments and forums -- you can cut down on the amount of email that you receive. If you would like to receive more email, do not offer comments or forums.
Overall, I like it when people send email, and I think incoming email is a great thing -- it gives people a way to critique your site, and it lets them offer new ideas, links and so on. Yes, a few flames do come in too, but they are the exception rather than the rule.