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SSIS Junkie

Attachments must die!

Am I the only person that is bothered by email attachments? I ask the question because I'm of the opinion that the proliferation of word documents, PDFs, installer binaries and other such detritus that litters my and many other people's inbox is an unnecessary and unjustified cancer on the technical infrastructure of enterprises and of the web. Woah, quite a statement you might say so let me attempt to justify it.

I'll begin with a little anecdote. I knew a team where the responsibilities of one of the team members included disseminating information to everyone else in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. He would update the spreadsheet on a near-daily basis and then email a copy of it to all of the other 7 team members. The body of the email explained the changes that had been made.

Here are the problems I have with that approach:

  • Every day 8 new copies of the spreadsheet were created. Extrapolate that out over a multi-week project and you can see that there was a lot of pointless drudgery cluttering up and slowing down everyone's inbox [Granted they could just delete old copies but no-one should really have to spend time purging all of this crap]
  • Inboxes were synced to a centralised server which meant that all of this pointless disk usage was replicated to multiple places
  • The rest of the team only ever saw copies of the spreadsheet. The master copy was (and probably still is) locked up on the guy's personal hard drive.
  • The master copy wasn't being backed-up
  • The audit trail of changes that had been made to the spreadsheet became scattered over multiple emails and were thus impossible to aggregate

What really bothers me is that this was so completely unnecessary. The team had an internal intranet-based collaboration tool ready and waiting to be used but the culture of the company seemed to be that no-one bothered to use it. Strange given that the company had invested a lot of money in installation and maintenance of said system - I guess there's a lesson here about specifying proper usage guidelines and providing training for the users.

If intranet-based collaboration tools aren't an option for you then there are plenty of free tools out there that you can use instead to host the information that you want to share with other people; Google Docs, Live Mesh, SkyDrive, Box.Net, Listas and Office Live Workspaces being just some of them. They all offer some combination of the following features:

  • Permalinks to information (thus there only needs to be one copy of the information)
  • Commenting (thus providing the opportunity for an audit history)
  • Version history (thus providing the ability to rollback erroneous changes)

As an aside, one feature that I would like to see in these services but that (as far as I know) isn't available in any of them today is resource expiration. i.e. I can specify that the information provided at some permalink disappears after a specified time limit or after a specified amount of activity.

Until the use of such services become commonplace I guess that we're all going to be slaves to email attachments. It all just seems so stupid though. I chortle at the fact that the expenses administrator at one company I know of probably receives in excess of 200 spreadsheet submissions every month via email. I don't know what that person does with them but I suspect its something along the lines of manually saving each and every one of them to some centralised backing store, either that or his inbox is the de facto storage for a significant portion of the workforce's financial records. I'm not sure why all the employees don't all simply submit those spreadsheets to a specified place on the intranet. Take out the middle-person as it were.

So, I'll ask the same question again. Am I the only person that is bothered by email attachments? As ever I would love to read your comments.


Published Sunday, August 17, 2008 9:02 PM by jamie.thomson



Angus Logan said:

hey, attachment hell isn't cool; and blowing up inboxes isn't cool either - but you can't argue with the user experience of attachments - anyone can get to them anywhere


August 18, 2008 12:00 AM

Derek.Dunlop said:

sending you an attachment with my comments...


August 18, 2008 10:32 AM

Carl Freeman said:

Totally agree ! I use SMEStorage.com to email link to any files with expiry dates for anything I need to send, or I just set up a collaboration group so I and my friend can shared videos, jokes etc - as soon as anyone uploads we all get a mail - keeps my email inbox slim !

August 18, 2008 12:29 PM

Scott Marchione said:

The solution is already available in the enterprise world as well, 2 competing products.... MS Sharepoint, and Lotus Quickr, both are HUGE life savers in terms of not shuffling the same document around and around from inbox to inbox, and they both save server disk by either not permitting duplication of files, or by providing reporting tools to show who has duplicated what. Fantastic tools.

August 18, 2008 1:18 PM

Jack Corbett said:

Couldn't agree with you more.  It really comes down to a lack of training.  Companies are not willing to take time and money to properly train workers how to use the software available to them.  Manufacturing companies would never dream of allowing someone to work on the line without properly training them, but office workers are expected to know how to use software like email without any training.

August 18, 2008 1:33 PM

Joe Harris said:


What's needed (IMHO) is an automated service that takes all attachments and pushes that, auto-magic-ally, to SharePoint and gives permission to the addressee's of the email (internal and external). It should embed something in the mail that looks like an attachment by is actually a hyperlink. A "hyperttachment"! Or an "attachlink".

Outlook/Exchange only stores a single version of any given attachment. For instance if you send a 20mb spreadsheet to 100 people only 1 copy exists on the server. Same applies to .PST files

Also, disappearing (e.g exploding) permalinks sounds like a Really Bad Thing. It kind of breaks the paradigm of the internet. Permalinks that always go to the most recent version, with version history behind them sounds more practical.

August 18, 2008 2:20 PM

jamie.thomson said:


The expiring permalinks idea came from the idea that some resources are only valid for a certain period of time (e.g. event information). I'm not saying that the resource itself should disappear, only that the link should not work anymore. I certainly take your point about this being less relevant in an enterprise however.

I didn't know about Outlook/Exchange only storing 1 copy so thanks for that. Good news, although the point still stands.

cheers for all the comments everyone. Keep them coming.


August 18, 2008 2:41 PM

tia said:

Great post! I couldn’t resist commenting!   I'm sooo with you Jamie!  It's all about getting your employees, group teams, friends, etc. on the same page.  There are so many solutions out there.. ready and available.   Have you ever heard of Central Desktop?  Central Desktop is a very simple to use collaboration and task management tool that was created for business teams.  It was Voted Business Week's "Best of the Web" for Collaboration.  

...check it out when you have a moment...




Community Manager


August 18, 2008 8:27 PM

Alexis Kennedy said:

It's a worse-is-better issue.

(1) The barrier to entry with email collaboration is zero in your average corporate environment - open, double-click. A good intranet app is slightly higher than zero (browser, bookmark, bugger my session's timed out, log in)...and there's usually the faint sluggishness of a web app, plus the fact that it's another system to remember.

(2) Email is push, intranet is pull - if it's fresh daily information then you may forget to go update yourself. (This is obviated of course if your intranet app sends out reminders).

(1) tends to be more of a problem for biz types ('er, what's the URL again?') and (2) more of a problem for tech types who are in-flow and forget to check their feed.

I strongly agree with your main point (the master task list for the entire development department when I started at my last place was an endlessly forwarded HTML email highlighted in Velvet Elvis). It's a colossal pain and the ecosystems that grow up around these process are full of wonderfully hyperevolved mutants. Like most worse-is-better issues, the key is lowering the faff factor of the better solution. I like Joe's idea above. Or groupware that puts intranet RSS updates and emails in the same mailbox, and treats subscription updates and emails to distribution lists much the same.

August 21, 2008 12:50 PM

Hugo Rodger-Brown said:

I totally agree - and I'd go further and say that email itself is a problem. We use Basecamp (but could be any one of a dozen alternatives) as our project portal, and having message threads stored centrally and visible (in the correct order - i.e. first to last) to all those with access is much, much more effective that trying to audit a month long email trail.

If you email more than one person, within a couple of Reply-To's the distribution list will have changed completely (cf "Philosopher's Axe" paradox on Wikipedia - is it now the same email?), and tracking any decision-making process is nigh on impossible. Trying bringing a new person into a long email thread and asking them to make sense of it.

September 2, 2008 8:52 AM

Websites tagged "attachments" on Postsaver said:

November 10, 2008 4:47 AM
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