Internet E-Mail Basics

The Internet is a valuable tool for accessing information, but it also opens a whole new world of communications to its users. Using electronic mail (email) a person can engage in conversations with people all over the world. Yet, because of its convenience, it is also a powerful tool for even local communication. With typical telephone communications you may be either interrupted by a call, or may return a call only to find that the other person is not available, an occurrence referred to as "telephone tag." Electronic mail though, sits on the server computer until you are ready to read it, and when you respond it will then wait patiently on the other person's computer until they have time to read it. This is especially valuable for busy teachers, who because of their duties and general working isolation in a classroom with just their students, usually aren't able to communicate with peers on as regular a basis as they would like.

To send an email message to someone you must know his/her email address. An email address is made up of three parts. The user's ID (or username), which comes before an @ sign, the @ sign itself, and the name of the computer where the user receives email. Each computer connected to the Internet has its own unique address. Because of these unique addresses, email can be delivered clear across the world through the Internet, much the same way that giving your street address, town, and postal code allows physical mail to be delivered to you. An example of an email address is:

Every character is important, though upper and lower case do not matter. The ID is to the left of the @ sign. It is often a shortened version of the persons' name, such as their first initial and last name or their first name and last initial. However, many people are allowed to choose their IDs and use nicknames. In some cases the ID may be generated automatically by the computer and thus be a set of letters and numbers such as ab123. The person's home computer address is to the right of the @ sign and usually has some connection to the site where the user has his/her email account. This computer name is often called the "host" or "domain" name. For instance, a student at State University may have a machine name like Users of the America On-Line service have addresses ending in

There are some common endings on Internet host names. They include the ones listed below.

.edu -- usually higher education, but sometimes K-12
.gov -- U.S. government entity
.com -- commercial organization
.org -- organization - usually non-profit
.mil -- U.S. military

Two letter endings usually represent specific countries. For example, .au designates Australia, .uk Britain, and .us the USA.

In order to read your email, you need to use a mailreader program on your computer. Netscape 2.0 includes a simple mailreader, which you can access by clicking on the Window menu item and choosing Netscape Mail. A better mailreader available for both Windows and Macintosh computers is Eudora from Qualcomm Inc. and there is a public domain version of this software. Some people use a "command line" or "text-based" email reader such as Pine, which runs on a UNIX computer. Your Internet Service Provider, computer department, or whoever helped connect you to the Internet will typically provide you with an email program and can help you get it set up so that you can begin sending and receiving email.

If you plan to use Eudora, you may wish to consult the tutorial compiled by the Computer Department of Staffordshire University in Australia.