Just Use Email
How to use Email for Everything



Email Superpower 2: Limitless and no finger-wagging

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We all know the occasional frustration of using messaging services or attempting to comment on a blog or forum, like Reddit or LinkedIn: we type out what appears to be a reasonable message, or comment, and then the "service" tells us that our message was too long. Or it accepts the message, but later when viewed by other readers, the text is truncated after a few lines with a tiny 'see more' link that someone must click or tap to, well... see more (nope, first try didn't work so tap/click again). Sometimes we are finger-wagged for not typing enough because our message was too short.

Maybe the service does threaded comments and because you are the fifth person to comment to the fourth person, your comment will now be 11 characters wide on a smartphone screen and, essentially, unreadable by everyone.

Or you finally get that free Saturday afternoon to catch up on some much-deserved internet reading on your favorite forum. You fire off a few replies to posts from the past few weeks, but suddenly the forum warns you that you have been throttled and have to wait to post any more comments. You haven't posted in weeks, but that doesn't matter; you're suddenly posting too much now.

Never mind that these same services have massively bloated webpages and very powerful systems and professional engineers behind them. Apparently, if they let you type a twelfth paragraph on this Saturday afternoon, it will break them so they limit you, throttle you, finger-wag you, or browbeat you into submitting to their very tiny allowable kilobytes.

More exasperating is that every service makes up arbitrary rules. Here's a fun experiment: copy this entire article and try to post it in its entirety on every service you have an account with. Try it with Snapchat, iMessage, WhatsApp, Reddit, other forum software like vBulletin or phpBB, LinkedIn, as a comment on blogs, in Telegram, Instagram, Signal, Skype, Zoom Chat, Slack, etc. While you're at, link to this post, link to the home page of this website, and add in about 5 other links you think relevant (hint: check the resources). For real fun, throw in a PDF or two, and a few family photos.

Consistent results across the board? No. Hardly.

You'll be finger-wagged, scolded, edited/hidden, or even blocked.

Devil's advocates will reply with the following:

  1. Nobody would really do the above experiment in real-life. (Let's grant them this one for a moment).
  2. I'm just trying to get cheap exposure for my blog here by getting readers to use this article. (Let's grant them this one for a moment).
  3. Email has limits too. (Let's fight back on this one).

The point of the above is that most services attempt to conform you to their 'subculture'. They also arbitrarily decide to choke or edit your messages, even in closed groups with only a few people in them.

It's not about the technology. In fact, in the case of "see more" buttons, the website has often loaded the entire text behind the scenes but uses an app or javascript to hide part of the text because they, in their so-called wisdom, have determined that their readers only want to see 'excerpts'. (If you haven't visited Grumpy Website before and want to be reminded today of everything you've ever hated about these 'experts', feel free to go do some rage-browsing now).

Email has no (real) limits

When you compose an email, you decide how you want it to look, not your email service provider. You can put in crazy fonts or just use plain text, add background colors, attach all sorts of things (even computer viruses!) including new file formats or retro ones not yet approved by Big Tech, make it as long as you like, or even as short as you like. (Slack claims to be developer-friendly, but you can't even send a javascript file to another developer with it, or a wide-variety of other common code files).

You don't have to have a subject line at all if you want your recipients to hate you. You can even put emojis in your subject line so they'll hate you even more.

You can send just an image, or 20 images. You can send 50 links in a single email. Or 500. Or 5,000. No one will stop you.

You can send 100 messages in a day, and likely quite a bit more. More than you could possibly type or compose.

You can write to your regular group, but this time exclude one person. Or add two more not normally in the group. Or with a click or two, forward an older message to someone else. Or to 100 people.

You'll never hear your email client complain. You won't get finger-wagged. You won't get censored or 'cancelled' (well, not yet anyway). If those things do happen, they'll come from your recipients, not your email client or your email service provider.

What about Email limits?

There are a few (tiny) exceptions to the above.

Spam Creation

Almost every email service has a few measures to prevent their service from being used to facilitate spam. We're talking real spam here, the kind from Nigerian princes who have an abundance of cash, not the kind of 'spam' you do when you send your friends ten emails in one day because you're binge-surfing the web and finding all sorts of 'cool links' they absolutely must read. You don't do that anyway, do you? Good.

So, if you exhibit email sending behavior that confuses their watchful robots, you might get boxed in by your service. Read your email service's rules if you worry that you may be teetering on the brink. Most are quite liberal and allow for quite a variety of mistakes, and 99.999999% of normal users won't come close to violating these.

For example, Fastmail's daily limit for their Basic users (cheapest plan) is 4,000 messages/day. Gmail's free plan is 500 messages/day.

Contrast that to typing more than five paragraphs in a messaging app and getting truncated.

Email Size Limits

Okay, I somewhat lied in the title and said email was "limitless". But for all practical purposes, it really is.

Proponents of messaging apps will be the first to say "email sucks" because of attachment size limits, but they are wrong. Very wrong.

They say this because they think it's "frustrating" that they can't send a 3.4 gigabyte video file by email. I'm not even going to argue that such things are not the intent of email. One does wonder a little bit who's sharing video files by email and why.

But no regular messaging app would allow that size anyway. You would have to use a file-sharing service like Files.com, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Apple's Mail Drop, SendAnywhere, an FTP server, or maybe even courier an entire hard drive to your recipient's physical address.

But here's something you probably didn't know. Email itself actually has no file size limit. That's right. The email standard specifies no limit on MIME attachments (which is what modern attachments are always sent as).

But the reality is that email service providers have to place arbitrary limits, lest they suddenly get bombarded by senders (or spammers) sending 1 Gb attachments all afternoon. I mean, there is a difference in running an email server and running a video-streaming service in terms of cost and complexity.

If you're not paying for email — and you should be — you can expect that your email service provider isn't about to give you the same ability to send or receive massive attachments. They restrict what you can send so you don't burden the whole internet with your missives (at least, not without paying for such privileges).

One might argue that "A-ha! So, email service providers also place random and arbitrary limits that create a confusing patchwork quilt across the internet landscape leaving users confused and bewildered as to how much data they can send per email!"

That arguer/troll would be mostly out-of-touch.

Nearly all email providers allow at least 10 Mb, and many are at 20Mb and above. That's actually quite a lot and equal to or more than most messaging services would allow in a single message.

Fastmail's hard limit is 70Mb, Gmail's is 25Mb (50mb for Google Workplace), Yahoo's is 25Mb, ProtonMail's is 25mb (with no more than 100 attachments per email), and Outlook's is 34Mb (not a typo).

In other words, plenty big enough for both normal daily business and personal use.

This isn't really a surprise. Although your typical UPS van has a maximum gross vehicle weight of nearly 7 tons, your individual box will be limited to about 70 pounds. Practical limits (your driver's back and your lousy neighborhood roads) contribute to this. Boats, cars, planes, and windmills can be shipped, as well as containers of salt, so there's almost no limit to our world's logistic systems. But on a practical level, you can't ship a container of salt from your home, and you probably don't want someone else clogging up your driveway with one.

Likewise, email itself is almost limitless. Your creativity and time is more limited than the email protocol. But when you do decide to get creative and communicate, you don't want to be restricted, hampered, finger-wagged, edited, or have your message half-hidden.