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Email management

Email management is a specific field of communications management for managing high volumes of inbound electronic mail received by organizations. Today, email management is an essential component of customer service management. Customer service call centers currently employ email response management agents along with telephone support agents, and typically use software solutions to manage emails.[1][2]

Background[edit]

Email management evolved from database management and customer relationship management (CRM). Database management began in the 1960s. IBM provided one of the earliest solutions and established standards for database management. Prominent database management platforms include Oracle, SQL Server etc.[3]Vern Watts, inventor of IBM’s Information Management System (IMS), and Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle Corporation, are pioneers in database management systems.[4][5]

As database management solutions became more sophisticated in functionality, marketing and customer service departments of large organizations started using information about customers for database marketing. Customer service managers soon realized that they could extend database marketing to store and retrieve all customer communications to improve visibility with key clients. This led to the development of CRM systems which managed communication with customers and prospective customers using various media, including phone, direct mail, web site, and email.[6] Pioneers in CRM include David Duffield, creator of PeopleSoft, and Tom Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems.[7][8]

As email became one of the most prevalent business-to-customer communication media in the 1990s, customer service departments needed specialized systems of tools and trained staff to manage email communication with their customers and prospective customers.

History[edit]

In 1994, Information Cybernetics, a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, developed tools for pattern analysis and categorization of emails and other electronic communication channels. The platform of tools was called EchoMail. The first company to adopt EchoMail was AT&TJC Penney adopted EchoMail in 1997.[9][10][11]

Another early company that developed email management software systems was FortÈ Internet Software, which produced Adante.[12] By late 1999, companies such as KANA Software, Inc., also emerged to support this effort.[13] Eventually, companies such as Siebel CRM Systems, Inc., incorporated components of email management into their CRM systems.[14]

Typical system components[edit]

An email management system consists of various components to handle different phases of the email management process.[15] These components include:

  • Email ticketing system – One of the key tasks performed by emailmanagement systems is to allocate reference numbers to all incoming emails. This process is known as ticketing. All subsequent emails relating to one matter can then be grouped under the same reference. This allows users to track their correspondence in a more time effective and productive way.
  • Email receipt module – Receives emails, filters out spam and unwanted content to a separate queue (sometimes calledemail filtering), and assigns unique ticket numbers based on certain conditions.
  • Bayesian spam filters – Statistical technique of filtering spam that most current email management systems utilize.
  • Data enhancement module – Adds tags to each email for further processing and may include the ability to connect to remote databases and retrieve specific information about the email author and his/her transactions with the organization.
  • Intelligent Analysis module – Reads the subject, message, and attachments, and any tags added by the data enhancement module, analyzing its content in an attempt to understand the subject matter of the email. This module may store this ‘intelligence’ as additional tags.

EMAIL

Electronic mail (email) is a method of exchanging messages between people using electronics. Email first entered substantial use in the 1960s and by the mid-1970s had taken the form now recognized as email. Email operates across computer networks, which today is primarily the Internet. Some early email systems required the author and the recipient to both be online at the same time, in common with instant messaging. Today’s email systems are based on a store-and-forward model. Email servers accept, forward, deliver, and store messages. Neither the users nor their computers are required to be online simultaneously; they need to connect only briefly, typically to a mail server or a webmail interface, for as long as it takes to send or receive messages.

Originally an ASCII text-only communications medium, Internet email was extended by Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) to carry text in other character sets and multimedia content attachments. International email, with internationalized email addresses using UTF-8, has been standardized, but as of 2017 it has not been widely adopted.[2]

The history of modern Internet email services reaches back to the early ARPANET, with standards for encoding email messages published as early as 1973 (RFC 561). An email message sent in the early 1970s looks very similar to a basic email sent today. Email had an important role in creating the Internet,[3] and the conversion from ARPANET to the Internet in the early 1980s produced the core of the current services.

Terminology[edit]

Historically, the term electronic mail was used generically for any electronic document transmission. For example, several writers in the early 1970s used the term to describe fax document transmission.[4][5] As a result, it is difficult to find the first citation for the use of the term with the more specific meaning it has today.

Electronic mail has been most commonly called email or e-mail since around 1993,[6] but variations of the spelling have been used:

  • emailis the most common form used online, and is required by IETF Requests for Comments (RFC) and working groups[7] and increasingly by style guides.[8][9]This spelling also appears in most dictionaries.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16]
  • e-mailis the format that sometimes appears in edited, published American English and British English writing as reflected in the Corpus of Contemporary American English data,[17] but is falling out of favor in style guides.[9][18]
  • mailwas the form used in the original protocol standard, RFC 524.[19] The service is referred to as mail, and a single piece of electronic mail is called a message.[20][21]
  • EMailis a traditional form that has been used in RFCs for the “Author’s Address”[20][21] and is expressly required “for historical reasons”.[22]
  • E-mailis sometimes used, capitalizing the initial E as in similar abbreviations like E-pianoE-guitarA-bomb, and H-bomb.[23]

An Internet e-mail consists[24] of an envelope and content; the content in turn consists[25] of a header and a body.

Origin[edit]

Main article: History of email

Computer-based mail and messaging became possible with the advent of time-sharing computers in the early 1960s, and informal methods of using shared files to pass messages were soon expanded into the first mail systems. Most developers of early mainframes and minicomputers developed similar, but generally incompatible, mail applications. Over time, a complex web of gateways and routing systems linked many of them. Many US universities were part of the ARPANET (created in the late-1960s), which aimed at software portability between its systems. That portability helped make the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) increasingly influential.

For a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it seemed likely that either a proprietary commercial system or the X.400 email system, part of the Government Open Systems Interconnection Profile (GOSIP), would predominate. However, once the final restrictions on carrying commercial traffic over the Internet ended in 1995,[26][27] a combination of factors made the current Internet suite of SMTP, POP3 and IMAP email protocols the standard.

Operation[edit]

The diagram to the right shows a typical sequence of events[28] that takes place when sender Alice transmits a message using a mail user agent (MUA) addressed to the email address of the recipient.

Email operation

  1. The MUA formats the message in email format and uses the submission protocol, a profile of theSimple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), to send the message content to the local mail submission agent (MSA), in this case a.org.
  2. The MSA determines the destination address provided in the SMTP protocol (not from the message header), in this casebob@b.org. The part before the @ sign is the local part of the address, often the username of the recipient, and the part after the @ sign is a domain name. The MSA resolves a domain name to determine the fully qualified domain name of the mail server in the Domain Name System (DNS).
  3. TheDNS server for the domain org (ns.b.org) responds with any MX records listing the mail exchange servers for that domain, in this case mx.b.org, a message transfer agent (MTA) server run by the recipient’s ISP.[29]
  4. a.org sends the message to mx.b.org using SMTP. This server may need to forward the message to other MTAs before the message reaches the finalmessage delivery agent (MDA).
  5. The MDA delivers it to themailbox of user bob.
  6. Bob’s MUA picks up the message using either thePost Office Protocol (POP3) or the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP).

In addition to this example, alternatives and complications exist in the email system:

  • Alice or Bob may use a client connected to a corporate email system, such asIBM Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange. These systems often have their own internal email format and their clients typically communicate with the email server using a vendor-specific, proprietary protocol. The server sends or receives email via the Internet through the product’s Internet mail gateway which also does any necessary reformatting. If Alice and Bob work for the same company, the entire transaction may happen completely within a single corporate email system.
  • Alice may not have a MUA on her computer but instead may connect to awebmail
  • Alice’s computer may run its own MTA, so avoiding the transfer at step 1.
  • Bob may pick up his email in many ways, for example logging into mx.b.org and reading it directly, or by using a webmail service.
  • Domains usually have several mail exchange servers so that they can continue to accept mail even if the primary is not available.

Many MTAs used to accept messages for any recipient on the Internet and do their best to deliver them. Such MTAs are called open mail relays. This was very important in the early days of the Internet when network connections were unreliable.[citation needed] However, this mechanism proved to be exploitable by originators of unsolicited bulk email and as a consequence open mail relays have become rare,[30] and many MTAs do not accept messages from open mail relays.

Message format [edit]

The Internet email message format is now defined by RFC 5322, with encoding of non-ASCII data and multimedia content attachments being defined in RFC 2045 through RFC 2049, collectively called Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions or MIMERFC 5322 replaced the earlier RFC 2822 in 2008, and in turn RFC 2822 in 2001 replaced RFC 822 – which had been the standard for Internet email for nearly 20 years. Published in 1982, RFC 822 was based on the earlier RFC 733 for the ARPANET.[31]

Internet email messages consist of two major sections, the message header and the message body, collectively known as content. The header is structured into fields such as From, To, CC, Subject, Date, and other information about the email. In the process of transporting email messages between systems, SMTP communicates delivery parameters and information using message header fields. The body contains the message, as unstructured text, sometimes containing a signature block at the end. The header is separated from the body by a blank line.

Message header[edit]

Each message has exactly one header, which is structured into fields. Each field has a name and a value. RFC 5322 specifies the precise syntax.

Informally, each line of text in the header that begins with a printable character begins a separate field. The field name starts in the first character of the line and ends before the separator character “:”. The separator is then followed by the field value (the “body” of the field). The value is continued onto subsequent lines if those lines have a space or tab as their first character. Field names and values are restricted to 7-bit ASCII characters. Some non-ASCII values may be represented using MIME encoded words.

Header fields[edit]

Email header fields can be multi-line, and each line should be at most 78 characters long and in no event more than 998 characters long.[32] Header fields defined by RFC 5322 can only contain US-ASCII characters; for encoding characters in other sets, a syntax specified in RFC 2047 can be used.[33] Recently the IETF EAI working group has defined some standards track extensions,[34][35] replacing previous experimental extensions, to allow UTF-8 encoded Unicode characters to be used within the header. In particular, this allows email addresses to use non-ASCII characters. Such addresses are supported by Google and Microsoft products, and promoted by some governments.[36]

The message header must include at least the following fields:[37][38]

  • From: Theemail address, and optionally the name of the author(s). In many email clients not changeable except through changing account settings.
  • Date: The local time and date when the message was written. Like theFrom: field, many email clients fill this in automatically when sending. The recipient’s client may then display the time in the format and time zone local to him/her.

RFC 3864 describes registration procedures for message header fields at the IANA; it provides for permanent and provisional field names, including also fields defined for MIME, netnews, and HTTP, and referencing relevant RFCs. Common header fields for email include:[39]

  • To: The email address(es), and optionally name(s) of the message’s recipient(s). Indicates primary recipients (multiple allowed), for secondary recipients see Cc: and Bcc: below.
  • Subject: A brief summary of the topic of the message.Certain abbreviations are commonly used in the subject, including “RE:” and “FW:”.
  • Cc:Carbon copy; Many email clients will mark email in one’s inbox differently depending on whether they are in the To: or Cc: list. (BccBlind carbon copy; addresses are usually only specified during SMTP delivery, and not usually listed in the message header.)
  • Content-Type: Information about how the message is to be displayed, usually aMIME
  • Precedence: commonly with values “bulk”, “junk”, or “list”; used to indicate that automated “vacation” or “out of office” responses should not be returned for this mail, e.g. to prevent vacation notices from being sent to all other subscribers of a mailing list.Sendmail uses this field to affect prioritization of queued email, with “Precedence: special-delivery” messages delivered sooner. With modern high-bandwidth networks, delivery priority is less of an issue than it once was. Microsoft Exchange respects a fine-grained automatic response suppression mechanism, the X-Auto-Response-Suppress [40]
  • Message-ID: Also an automatically generated field; used to prevent multiple delivery and for reference in In-Reply-To: (see below).
  • In-Reply-To:Message-ID of the message that this is a reply to. Used to link related messages together. This field only applies for reply messages.
  • References:Message-ID of the message that this is a reply to, and the message-id of the message the previous reply was a reply to, etc.
  • Reply-To: Address that should be used to reply to the message.
  • Sender: Address of the actual sender acting on behalf of the author listed in the From: field (secretary, list manager, etc.).
  • Archived-At: A direct link to the archived form of an individual email message.

Note that the To: field is not necessarily related to the addresses to which the message is delivered. The actual delivery list is supplied separately to the transport protocol, SMTP, which may or may not originally have been extracted from the header content. The “To:” field is similar to the addressing at the top of a conventional letter which is delivered according to the address on the outer envelope. In the same way, the “From:” field does not have to be the real sender of the email message. Some mail servers apply email authentication systems to messages being relayed. Data pertaining to server’s activity is also part of the header, as defined below.

SMTP defines the trace information of a message, which is also saved in the header using the following two fields:[41]

  • Received: when an SMTP server accepts a message it inserts this trace record at the top of the header (last to first).
  • Return-Path: when the delivery SMTP server makes thefinal delivery of a message, it inserts this field at the top of the header.

Other fields that are added on top of the header by the receiving server may be called trace fields, in a broader sense.[42]

  • Authentication-Results: when a server carries out authentication checks, it can save the results in this field for consumption by downstream agents.[43]
  • Received-SPF: stores results ofSPF checks in more detail than Authentication-Results.[44]
  • Auto-Submitted: is used to mark automatically generated messages.[45]
  • VBR-Info: claimsVBR whitelisting[46]

body message[edit]

Content encoding[edit]

Internet email was originally designed for 7-bit ASCII.[47] Most email software is 8-bit clean but must assume it will communicate with 7-bit servers and mail readers. The MIME standard introduced character set specifiers and two content transfer encodings to enable transmission of non-ASCII data: quoted printable for mostly 7-bit content with a few characters outside that range and base64 for arbitrary binary data. The 8BITMIME and BINARY extensions were introduced to allow transmission of mail without the need for these encodings, but many mail transport agents still do not support them fully. In some countries, several encoding schemes coexist; as the result, by default, the message in a non-Latin alphabet language appears in non-readable form (the only exception is coincidence, when the sender and receiver use the same encoding scheme). Therefore, for international character setsUnicode is growing in popularity.[citation needed]

Plain text and HTML[edit]

Most modern graphic email clients allow the use of either plain text or HTML for the message body at the option of the user. HTML email messages often include an automatically generated plain text copy as well, for compatibility reasons. Advantages of HTML include the ability to include in-line links and images, set apart previous messages in block quotes, wrap naturally on any display, use emphasis such as underlines and italics, and change font styles. Disadvantages include the increased size of the email, privacy concerns about web bugs, abuse of HTML email as a vector for phishing attacks and the spread of malicious software.[48]

Some web-based mailing lists recommend that all posts be made in plain-text, with 72 or 80 characters per line[49][50] for all the above reasons, but also because they have a significant number of readers using text-based email clients such as Mutt. Some Microsoft email clients allow rich formatting using their proprietary Rich Text Format (RTF), but this should be avoided unless the recipient is guaranteed to have a compatible email client.[51]

Servers and client applications[edit]

The interface of an email client, Thunderbird.

Messages are exchanged between hosts using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol with software programs called mail transfer agents (MTAs); and delivered to a mail store by programs called mail delivery agents (MDAs, also sometimes called local delivery agents, LDAs). Accepting a message obliges an MTA to deliver it,[52] and when a message cannot be delivered, that MTA must send a bounce message back to the sender, indicating the problem.

Users can retrieve their messages from servers using standard protocols such as POP or IMAP, or, as is more likely in a large corporate environment, with a proprietary protocol specific to Novell GroupwiseLotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange Servers. Programs used by users for retrieving, reading, and managing email are called mail user agents (MUAs).

Mail can be stored on the client, on the server side, or in both places. Standard formats for mailboxes include Maildir and mbox. Several prominent email clients use their own proprietary format and require conversion software to transfer email between them. Server-side storage is often in a proprietary format but since access is through a standard protocol such as IMAP, moving email from one server to another can be done with any MUA supporting the protocol.

Many current email users do not run MTA, MDA or MUA programs themselves, but use a web-based email platform, such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo! Mail, that performs the same tasks.[53] Such webmail interfaces allow users to access their mail with any standard web browser, from any computer, rather than relying on an email client.

Filename extensions[edit]

Upon reception of email messages, email client applications save messages in operating system files in the file system. Some clients save individual messages as separate files, while others use various database formats, often proprietary, for collective storage. A historical standard of storage is the mbox format. The specific format used is often indicated by special filename extensions:

eml

Used by many email clients including Novell GroupWiseMicrosoft Outlook ExpressLotus notesWindows MailMozilla Thunderbird, and Postbox. The files contain the email contents as plain text in MIME format, containing the email header and body, including attachments in one or more of several formats.

emlx

Used by Apple Mail.

msg

Used by Microsoft Office Outlook and OfficeLogic Groupware.

mbx

Used by Opera MailKMail, and Apple Mail based on the mbox format.

Some applications (like Apple Mail) leave attachments encoded in messages for searching while also saving separate copies of the attachments. Others separate attachments from messages and save them in a specific directory.

URI scheme mailto[edit]

Main article: mailto

The URI scheme, as registered with the IANA, defines the mailto: scheme for SMTP email addresses. Though its use is not strictly defined, URLs of this form are intended to be used to open the new message window of the user’s mail client when the URL is activated, with the address as defined by the URL in the To: field.[54]

Types[edit]

Web-based email[edit]

Main article: Webmail

Many email providers have a web-based email client (e.g. AOL MailGmailOutlook.comHotmail and Yahoo! Mail). This allows users to log into the email account by using any compatible web browser to send and receive their email. Mail is typically not downloaded to the client, so can’t be read without a current Internet connection.

POP3 email services[edit]

The Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) is a mail access protocol used by a client application to read messages from the mail server. Received messages are often deleted from the server. POP supports simple download-and-delete requirements for access to remote mailboxes (termed maildrop in the POP RFC’s).[55]

IMAP email servers[edit]

The Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) provides features to manage a mailbox from multiple devices. Small portable devices like smartphones are increasingly used to check email while travelling, and to make brief replies, larger devices with better keyboard access being used to reply at greater length. IMAP shows the headers of messages, the sender and the subject and the device needs to request to download specific messages. Usually mail is left in folders in the mail server.

MAPI email servers[edit]

Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI) is used by Microsoft Outlook to communicate to Microsoft Exchange Server – and to a range of other email server products such as Axigen Mail ServerKerio ConnectScalixZimbraHP OpenMailIBM Lotus NotesZarafa, and Bynari where vendors have added MAPI support to allow their products to be accessed directly via Outlook.

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