Sending the same message to a group of people once meant preparing multiple paper copies of a memo, letter, or party invitation. Then the copies went into the office mail, or the corner mailbox.
Electronic mail has revolutionized the whole process of getting your message out to groups of people. Most e-mail software allows you to create “mail groups” and automatically send the same message to dozens of people.
Yet many computer users still keyboard the names of multiple recipients into their e-mail address line, separating each name with a semi-colon. That makes sense for two or three recipients.
However, if you routinely e-mail the same message to larger groups of people, you'll save time and frustration - like misspelling addresses and having messages bounce back - by creating “mail groups.”
A mail group is simply a list of individuals who will get the same e-mail.
Business people use mail groups to make sales pitches to clients and communicate with customers in other ways.
Physicians who have entered the online era may have a mail group that includes their entire patient list, or patients getting certain treatments. That's a great way of informing patients about new office hours or policies, or alerting certain patients to newly identified side effects of prescription drugs.
I'm in dozens of mail groups started by government agencies, universities, computer companies, and other organizations that inform newspaper reporters about new developments.
Families, churches, sports teams, and clubs can use mail groups to keep everyone up to date on reunions, meetings, and other activities.
Before moving on to instructions for creating e-mail groups, a word of advice about e-mail group manners.
Employees obviously have no choice about being on the boss's group e-mail lists. Almost every- one else should have the option of staying on, or opting out. Offer that choice in your first e-mail to the group.
Be sure to inform recipients if you plan to send photographs or other big attached files. Those attachments take a long time to download on standard dial-up Internet connections, and will slow down receipt of e-mail.
People who often download e-mail via a long-distance telephone call at sky-high hotel rates, for instance, may not want to spend 15 minutes getting the latest high-resolution image of Aunt Emma.
Then be sure to remove people who don't want future group messages.
Creating mail groups is simple. Procedures vary with the specific software used for e-mail, and with the version of the software.
Here are directions for creating e-mail groups with two of the most popular e-mail programs - Outlook Express and AOL software. Use the “Help” feature to get directions for your own software.
To create a group with Outlook Express:
Click on Address in the Toolbar. In the new screen, click on File, and select New Group. Now follow the on-screen instructions for naming the group and adding addresses. Names might be “Family,” “Soccer Team,” “Management Group,” or “Friends.” You can create dozens of different groups.
Adding names to a group is a lot easier if you configure Outlook to automatically add the addresses on each new e-mail to your address book. Then you can select names for a group from the address book. Use Outlook's Help feature for instructions on adding names to your address book.
To create a group with AOL software:
On the Mail Center menu, click Address Book. Next click on New Group. In the Group Name box, keyboard the name for this particular mailing list. In the Addresses box, type the screen names or e-mail addresses of people you want to include on this mailing list. Be sure to separate each name with a comma.
Michael Woods is the Blade's science editor. Email him at email@example.com.