We had a meeting the other day where a new product / feature was discussed. One of the issues was naming: should we go with a technical acronym that has some buzz but might be scary to people whose lives don’t revolve around computers, or should we use a broader term that is an imperfect but more understandable metaphor?
We decided on the user-friendly version.
But one interesting side-discussion was about whether people know or care about POP & IMAP. I’m of the opinion that most people want their technology tools to work without any particular modification needed. I wish more tools were clever enough to be simple. In email, there are decent defaults, but sometimes people need something a little different.
POP and IMAP
Some good definitions can be found here. Here’s a short version:
Most email uses the Post Office Protocol, or POP, to download email from a server and store it on a user’s computer. By default anyway, messages are removed from the server when they have been downloaded to the user. This is good for saving space on the server, makes all email available even when your Internet connect is down or when you have a laptop away from a wireless network, and makes searching emails faster.
Some people prefer Internet Message Access Protocol, or IMAP. By default, messages are stored on the email server. Folders can be created and used to organize messages, even though the messages still reside on the server. This is good if more than one computer is used to access the same email account and you want your email organization to follow you everywhere.
The Path Less Traveled: Changing Defaults
Alternative POP settings: most email clients will let you keep a copy of your messages on the server. In Outlook, find Tools, Accounts, and look at the properties of the account you wish to change. Use the advanced tab or button to find the box to save messages on the server. A compromise is to leave the messages on the server for an extra few days before removing server-side copies (a week is usually enough for me). When I’ve done this in the past, I tended to also use the setting to delete messages from the server when I deleted them from my email program.
You’ll have to be careful to do this same sort of setting for other computers you might use to get POP email access– otherwise you’ll end up with no messages left on the server.
Alternative IMAP settings: some email programs (not Outlook 2000, which I have on my laptop) will let you download full copies of your messages into your email program. That way, you can look at all of your email offline if need be. In Thunderbird, click Tools, Account Settings, then look at Offline & Disk Space to change settings. I check the top two boxes for keeping my Inbox and any new folders automatically stored on my computer for offline use. If I was low on disk space, I would check the box to not download messages larger than 50KB.
So…POPish IMAP or IMAPish POP
By changing some settings, POP can act more like IMAP or vice-versa.
I should point out that our webmail client uses IMAP to view messages and manage folders on backend mailbox servers. Default configs for most of our customers put messages flagged as spam by our anti-spam systems into a spam folder. This folder is only viewable using the webmail client or when using IMAP– of course, most folks don’t need to look here often, if ever.