Monday, September 19, 2016

How to Avoid Annoying Your Colleagues with Huge Emails

I originally wrote this post for a software company’s blog in 2014. This company was bought out and recently their blog and website have been removed from the web permanently. I am reposting it here for posterity. 

The one tool I use a lot as a crime analyst is email. There are a lot of benefits to communicating via email. Unlike a phone call where you both have to be in available at the same time, Email is asynchronous, which is a fancy way of saying that both the sender and receiver can do their part at different times. I work during the day time on weekdays. However, some of my officers work nights and weekends. I send the email when it's convenient to me and they read it when it's convenient to them.

One of the biggest reasons for a crime analyst is to send email involves the distribution of bulletins and reports. This is also one area that a crime analysis needs to tread lightly to avoid annoying your colleagues. Probably one of the biggest annoyances for those on the receiving end involves the size of those BOLO's and reports in your emails.

I'm pretty fortunate that my IT staff gave me an unlimited size email mailbox. I send and receive hundreds of emails a week, many containing multiple attachments. However, not everyone is so fortunate. Some agencies impose strict size restrictions on user mailboxes. Plus, many users are now getting work emails on smartphones, tablets or other devices with storage size or bandwidth limitations.

Google suggests a 10 megabyte limit for email attachments. While many mail programs and services will handle bigger sizes, this limit will cover most services/applications. However, just because you can send a 10 MB file doesn't mean you should. It's also worth remembering some email systems add adds up to 33% to the size of an email with attachments so an email ends up being considerably bigger than the size of the attachments. Smaller is better.

I want to look at a few simple tips to help you reduce the file size for the bulletins and reports you send. First, we need to talk about how a computer handles text and graphics.

Text is the most efficient part of a computer file. You can send thousands of pages of text in a relatively small file size. For instance, the Project Gutenberg version of Tolstoy's epic novel War and Peace weighs in with a whopping 570,022 words or well over 3.2 million characters. However, as a text file it's only 3.3 megabytes (MB). If you compress the file, you can get it down to 1.2 MB.

However, computer graphic images such as pictures or image files are not that efficient. For instance, I took a photo with my cell phone camera and at it's natural size that single photo is 1.8 MB. That's as a JPEG file which is a compressed file format.  This one photo is larger than all of War & Peace.

If I create a blank Microsoft Word document and save the file, this file weighs in at 25 kilobytes (KB). A megabyte is 1,000 kilobytes. If I add five paragraphs of text or about 215 words, the file grows to 86 KB. If I also add my 1.8 MB photo, my Word document now grows to 1.9 MB.

The problem is that your computer doesn't often use all the information contained in a photo to display what you see on the screen. In fact, in most instances the computer down samples or throws out a great deal of the information in the image file when it produces what you see on the screen. Because of this, you can often reduce the file size of an image file by lowering the resolution of your image.

If you create your document in Microsoft Word, it's pretty easy.  If you select the image you added to your document it adds a Format Picture menu to the ribbon. Select that, then go to Compress. You'll get a dialog for Reduce File Size along with Options to pick Best for Printing, Viewing on Screen, or Email. You can also go straight to that dialog by selecting the File menu and the "Reduce File Size" option.

Each of these options decreases the size of the image embedded in the document. If your document contains multiple images you can have it reduce the sizes of all images in the document at once. In my test document they reduce the size of the document from 1.9 MB to 610 KB, 307 KB or 193 KB respectively. These size reductions also carry through if you save the Word document as a PDF (I prefer sending bulletins as PDF as it's compatible with many more devices than Word).

This reduction in size makes quite a difference. For an officer in the field getting his email on a smartphone, he can download your bulletin in a fraction of the time it would take if you were using images at full size. Plus, by reducing file size you don't have to worry about running up against mailbox size limitations with multipage documents that contain a lot of images.

It's worth taking the extra step of reducing file size prior to hitting send on that email. Your recipients will thank you for it.

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