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Ed Hanchett

Email: the perfect imperfection

Many of us send/receive hundreds every day. It has become such a common form of communication that we take it for granted. We expect that when we hit the “send” button that almost instantaneously, it’s going to arrive in someone’s Inbox.

Have you thought about what happens between “send” and “receive?
Trust me, it’s way more complicated than you might think. 
The moment you hit the send key, your email enters the black space of the internet. As it makes its way from your computer to your recipient’s, it may literally bounce all over the world before arriving at the final destination, the “inbox”. If everything goes as expected, that entire process only takes micro-seconds.

What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s start with the presumption that you didn’t forget to hit the “send” key. In reality, sometimes we get distracted and that email we wrote is sitting in the “draft” folder instead of being “sent”….so if your recipient hasn’t gotten your email, it’s a really good place to look. 
A close cousin to this error is the typo. It’s easy to transpose or skip a letter in an email address. Though we might think that computers are smart, they’re only as smart as the program being used and none of them are going to recognize a mis-typed address. What’s frustrating is that your email has been “sent” – it’s just didn't go anywhere.
Once you’ve actually initiated the send process, everything from there is literally out of your control. So exactly what happens?
The first action of the internet is to dissect and interpret the address you’ve given it. In doing this, it converts our readable content into something called an IP address. Once that is done, the internet can begin to figure out the pathway your email needs to follow to be delivered.
It is actually a lot like your GPS. You enter a street name, a property number, city, state and zip and in seconds, GPS is giving you directions. Depending on where you’re going, there may be only one route – or many – to get you there. And sometimes, the directions it gives you are completely wrong and you’ll arrive at someplace other than your desired destination.
Well, the same happens in the internet. For your email, your computer is the starting point. When you hit “send”, it starts the process of providing the address for your email recipient. Just as there are different components of a physical address, there are different components to an email address. 
Thinking of them in reverse to how we typically use them, let’s start with the zip code. The zip code directs us to a sizeable geographical area and our first set of directions guides us to that general area. When we define the name of the city/town, our directions are narrowed to yet a smaller area. That process continues as we define the street until we become very targeted by defining the final piece of information, the property number.
An IP address consists of a set of pre-defined components just as a physical address might. Each of those components help the internet to figure out on which email server your intended recipient’s email resides and then finally, the location of your inbox.

Has GPS ever given you wrong directions?
How often have you heard the horror story of someone driving into a lake because that’s where their GPS told them to go? Thankfully, not often – but it does happen! Well sometimes, the details get mixed up and the internet doesn’t get your email to its destination. Though it may not land in a lake, it does seem to disappear into cyber-space.
There are other complications that exist that may cause your email to fail to get delivered. For instance, the email server sending your email out into the internet is configured (or not) to include some validating data that the receiving email server has been configured to expect. If it’s missing or not in the expected format, the receiving email server rejects your email and doesn’t deliver it to your recipient. For these same reasons, your email might actually get labeled as spam which puts it into a spam folder – if it delivers it at all. 

Our reality is that we have become accustomed to expecting that our email gets sent and received – every time. Unfortunately, the true reality is that sometimes emails simply don’t get delivered – ever. 
So the next time someone tells you they didn’t get your email, they just may be telling the truth.

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