Monday, December 1, 2008

Is English-only a viable mail management strategy?


By Nancy Hand

Tech is not a warm, cuddly Ewok. It's not quite Jabba the Hut, but then what is? Unwanted mail is a problem whether it's electronic or paper. It's just that the electronic stuff can be so much more annoying. At last count, the various filters at the company gateway were stopping over 90% of mail directed at the domain, and e-junk was still getting through.

"A while back, one of the managers decided to spin up the CEO."

Explaining this to users has limited effect. The same person who merely grumbles about the paper junk arriving at their home can find ways to either crash the mail servers or spin up a manager to breathe down your neck while you "fix" the unfixable. A while back, one of the managers decided to spin up the CEO.

It started with an uptick in unwanted mail. Over the weekend, the volume of mail addressed to the company's domain jumped exponentially. On Monday morning, as the people in charge of the gateways dug their way out of the mess, users started opening mail. Some people found they had hundreds of unwanted messages and promptly called the help desk. They were given a shoulder to cry on and directions to delete the e-junk.

At the end of the week, some people were still getting more e-junk than they thought they should. So they started forwarding it to the help desk. The folks on the help desk then, very graciously, forwarded it to the mail admins. We gave them a lecture and deleted the e-junk they sent us.

One manager felt this response was inadequate. He forwarded a piece of e-junk to several other managers, a couple of vice presidents, and the CEO demanding such mail be stopped. From there, the message was forwarded back down the chain and, eventually, landed in the Inbox of the admin who could do least about it, me.

I opened the memo and scrolled to the bottom. Turquoise lettering on a bright pink background made it difficult to look at the original message. The alphabet appeared to be Cyrillic and the language might have been Russian but the message itself was an HTML image, so I couldn't even copy it into a translation program to see what it said.

I scrolled back up through the memo to see what was being requested. The first manager had demanded that all mail not using the "English alphabet" be rejected at the gateway. None of the recipients had offered an opinion before forwarding the message on to the next group. The manager who had sent it to me simply wanted to know what it would take to implement the request.

Like most large firms, our company has a multi-national staff doing business globally. I'd opened enough mailboxes to see the business-related messages using the "English" alphabet, to communicate in Vietnamese, Hindi, Spanish, and French. I'd even seen some using "non-English" alphabets, including Cyrillic.