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E-mail: New services, programs

This week Netspeak looks at a couple of new e-mail services and one interesting project in which anyone with an e-mail address can participate.

EasyMail — An e-mail client with SMTP support: When you send an e-mail using an e-mail client such as Eudora, the mail first goes to the mail server of your Internet Service Provider (the SMTP — Simple Mail Transport Protocol — sever) which then passes it on to your recipient's mail server. The smooth flow of your messages therefore depends on the status and features of your ISP's SMTP server. This implies that your messaging process would be much smoother if your mailing system had its own SMTP server. The program, EasyMail, is a mail client which does just that. It has an SMTP component that lets you send your mails directly from your machine to the recipient's server. This not only enables you to avoid using the ISP's SMTP server, it also speeds up the e-mailing process — your mail will hit the target within seconds. Another unique feature of this software is the "autozip'' feature that automatically compresses file attachments. The program, which has many more features, can be downloaded from http://www.glocksoft. com/em/index.htm

E-Prompter — An e-mail notifier

Many e-mail users have several e-mail addresses, some of which are web-based accounts like Hotmail and Yahoo. Accessing the web e-mail is not always easy and the process can be monotonous, not to mention, having to read junk mails. What we need is a tool that automatically scans our e-mail boxes and pulls the mail content (the full text or just the headers) for us to read. Such products are generally called e-mail notifiers. E-prompter is one such product that was featured in this column more than a year ago. Apart from the facility to automatically scan POP enabled e-mail accounts, this program supports many popular e-mail accounts like HotMail, Yahoo and Rediffmail. (In fact, it was at the request of NetSpeak readers, who wrote to E-prompter, that Rediffmail was included in the service.) Many new features have been added to E-prompter. One useful new feature that E-prompter now provides is the facility to compose, forward and reply to messages. Of course, to do all this one needs to be connected to the Net. Check out http://www.eprompter.com

Small world research project

Apart from its natural utility in business and communication, e-mail technology can be used in creative endeavours. One example is its use by social scientists to verify the `Small World Theory' proposed decades ago by Stanley Milgram (http://www.stanleymilgram.com/).

When we need to contact some one we do not know, we usually approach a person who, we think, knows the person or knows someone who would know the individual we are looking for. There is a possibility that we can trace people through a chain of `friends'. How many hops one has to make to get to the target, depends on the diversity of a person's network.

This intuitive idea that suggests anybody in the world can contact anybody else through a chain of related people was explored by the illustrious social psychologist Stanley Milgram — well-known for his controversial work on `obedience to authority'. (For details read the article on Stanley Milgram, available at: (http://www.psychologytoday. com/pt62milgram.html.)

A few decades ago, after conducting an experiment using some three hundred people to send a packet to a target, Milgram suggested the theory — http://smallworld.sociology.columbia.edu/description.html — that every person in the U.S. "could be linked to anyone else by a chain of just six other people.'' This means the distance between you and the top person of your country is just six handshakes away. This theory, also called `six degrees of separation,' has not yet been proved conclusively and universally.

Using e-mail, Milgram's theory is being put to test by scientists of Columbia University's Sociology department — http://smallworld.sociology.columbia.edu/index.html. The project attempts to mobilise people spread across the world to send an e-mail message to selected targets using their network of friends.

To participate in the project, you have to sign-up with the service by just entering your name and e-mail address. After a few seconds, the participant will get an e-mail with a few details of the target person.

At this point, if you already know the person from the basic information provided in the e-mail, you can directly send the message to him/her. If not, the next step is to select a person who you think would be able to contact the target — the next link in the chain — and send an e-mail message to him/her.

This e-mail chain initiated by the participant may or may not reach the target. If it does reach the target person, the researcher can figure out the degrees of separation by tracing the e-mail's path to its eventual destination.

J. Murali

(The author can be contacted at: murali27@satyam.net.in)

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