June 7, 2004
Q: I occasionally get a "vacation message" from someone I emailed. How do I do that with my Outlook Express program? — Jill
A: There was a time when using an "auto-responder" in your e-mail program when you were going to be away on vacation or a business trip made sense, but in today’s spam- and worm-infested cyberworld, I am not sure I can recommend that you do it.
The main problem is in all of the automated responses to your automated vacation message response. It can create a tremendous volume of "pingpong" messages between automated responders.
If you are not careful, you will double your spam message volume because every unsolicited message that is responded to will likely bounce back to your inbox, because the return address is invalid. Or you could inadvertently "auto validate" your email address to dozens of spammers because you "responded" to their message.
All of the auto-sending email worms and viruses that most of us get on a daily basis will also potentially cause more undesirable mail traffic.
If you are part of a corporate e-mail system, you may want to check with your network administrator before you activate anything of this nature so you don’t create undue mail traffic. There is often a more sophisticated mail server-based "out-of-office" auto-responder that can be set up for your account.
If you are on your own, you can manually create a message rule in Outlook Express because it doesn’t have a builtin "out-of-office" assistant like Outlook, Microsoft’s full-blown e-mail program. Directions on the process for Outlook Express are available at http://datadoctors.com/
In order for the Outlook/ Outlook Express autoresponse system to work well, you should be connected to the Internet with an always-on connection, such as a cable modem, DSL or corporate network. You will also need to have your computer on and the e-mail program opened and set to automatically check for messages at a regular interval.
As a former user of this feature, I can tell you that the amount of work that it created (cleaning out my Inbox of all of the bounced messages) when I returned to the office was enough to swear off using it again.
You can limit who will receive the out-of-office message if you want to take the time to only have it respond to certain e-mail addresses, but that can be time-consuming.
A better way to let users that you care about know that you will be AFK (Away From Keyboard) is to send them a group message letting them know that you will be out.
Be sure to put all the addresses in the BCC: (Blind Carbon Copy) section of your message so you don’t share all of the addresses with all of the recipients. If you are not sure how to do this, search for "blind carbon copy" in the help section of your e-mail program.
If you use a Web-based email system such as MSN/ Hotmail, Yahoo or AOL, there may be a vacation or out-ofoffice feature that you can activate, but most are pretty unsophisticated.
With Web-based e-mail systems, it makes even less sense to activate an autoresponse because you can check your mail from just about anywhere in the world these days.
If your e-mail messages are that important, then you may want to spend more time thinking about how to check your mail while you are away. If they aren’t that important, just let the mail collect and deal with it all when you get home.