Note: My Web pages are best viewed with style sheets enabled.
Recently, I received an E-mail message that was over 1 MB. It contained a newsletter from the recreation and park agency of a nearby city. The newsletter was only three pages long, in an 800 KB PDF file, which contained colored graphics. (Without the PDF file, the message was only 8 KB. I don't know what happened to the other 200 KB needed to make the full size reported by my mail server.)
I receive other newsletters via E-mail, many of them HTML-formatted with many graphics. One such weekly newsletter is always more than 100 KB; a recent issue of this newsletter was 151 KB. This newsletter usually begins with a link to a Web version. Since I block E-mail messages that exceed 100 KB — only downloading the first 100 KB — I use the link to view the complete newsletter in my Web browser. However, I recently downloaded the entire E-mail version and noticed holes where graphics appear in the Web version; those graphics totaled 460 KB. The E-mail version of this newsletter issue had 784 HTML errors.
What is the point of this? There are several problems with distributing newsletters via E-mail.
Users hate coming across a PDF file while browsing, because it breaks their flow. Even simple things like printing or saving documents are difficult because standard browser commands don't work. Layouts are often optimized for a sheet of paper, which rarely matches the size of the user's browser window. Bye-bye smooth scrolling. Hello tiny fonts.
Worst of all, PDF is an undifferentiated blob of content that's hard to navigate.
PDF is great for printing and for distributing manuals and other big documents that need to be printed. Reserve it for this purpose and convert any information that needs to be browsed or read on the screen into real web pages.
Every January, my wife and I send a newsletter to our family and friends. Some copies are sent as hard-copy via postal mail. For recipients whose E-mail addresses we have, I setup a Web page with the newsletter. Then I send those recipients a brief E-mail message with a link to the Web page. The Web version of our latest annual newsletter included a Web page depicting the envelope used for the hard-copy version with graphics (including the image of a postage stamp); a page with the letter itself with our letterhead and signatures as graphics; and a page with photos of our three grandchildren. When printed, the letter itself was three pages long; printed, the page with the photos was two pages long. The six Web pages for our 2009 letter (done in January 2010) were 80.2 KB, including the photos and other graphics. The E-mail message announcing the Web version of the newsletter was 1.2 KB.
Obviously, I think any newsletter distributed through the Internet should be created as a Web page; then, a brief, non-HTML E-mail message containing a link to the Web page can be distributed. This is the most efficient use of the Internet, and it creates the least amount of annoyance for recipients.
Not only should the E-mail message be brief, however, so should the Web link (URI) to the newsletter. The same organization that sends me weekly newsletters also sends me a larger monthly newsletter. The URI to the Web version contains 194 characters! None of the URI is meaningful. While the URI to the page you are currently reading contains "newsletters.html", the URI to the latest version of that monthly newsletter contains:
render?llr=k7pdgucab&v=001UGlpv9WiH3Vuugn-hXwsn7BI-m-9F_yB4MzXNBdso_zVbhEGudnvHJXZ8nlSlsORSi9Y5q-4n6sx8na4JSHYc2nZmCsPjzSgjvxikFK1aQCi13QeuJiCbqa0iwOley7Ba result of using an outside service to create and distribute the newsletter, which is afflicted with 227 HTML errors. There is no excuse for either the length of the URI or the errors. There are several Web-based services that will shrink a long URI to about 20 characters or less, and there is an excellent Web-based tool that will check Web pages for errors.
The city mentioned earlier (Agoura Hills, CA) sent out an urgent public-service E-mail notice supporting a fund-raising activity by the Las Virgenes Unified School District. The fund-raising activity is intended to offset part of the cuts in education funding in the California state budget.
As received at my E-mail client, the message appeared as follows (after removing many, many blank lines):
From: Agoura Hills Rec <email@example.com>
To: Agoura Hills Rec <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: =?Windows-1252?Q?City_of_Agoura_Hills:_Public_Service_Notice_=96_LVUSD_?= =?Windows-1252?Q?=93Save_Our_Schools=94?=
Thread-Topic: =?Windows-1252?Q?City_of_Agoura_Hills:_Public_Service_Notice_=96_LVUSD_?= =?Windows-1252?Q?=93Save_Our_Schools=94?=
Date: Wed, 13 Apr 2011 15:15:24 +0000
City of Agoura Hills - Department of Community Services
30610 Thousand Oaks Blvd.,
Agoura Hills, CA 91301
TEST LOGO 2.jpg
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Attachment Converted: "D:\downloads\Eudora attachments\image005.png"
Attachment Converted: "D:\downloads\Eudora attachments\image006.jpg"
Attachment Converted: "D:\downloads\Eudora attachments\image0071.jpg"
Viewed in my Web browser, this HTML-formatted message did not look much better. Several things were wrong.
24 January 2010
Updated 3 February 2013
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