Sending attachments by email has become as ordinary as brushing your teeth… well, substitute your own regular habits.

My mom reads and sends attachments. But is this always the best way to manage content that might be useful to others? at a later time? in an environment where it can be indexed and keyword searched? Here is a small tale.

We have an internal email list for technical representatives from a number of our colleges working on integration of separate course management systems into one big one. A large project. Last week, one rep sent an email out with an attached word doc for a user support document they were using at their college.

This is useful piece of information for others. But is email the best, ahem, “repository” for information that can be re-used? There is no lasting record of email. While email software has search features, have you always been able to find a message from 3 months ago? a year? 2 years?

And is it really the best use of resources? Consider sending a 2 Mb PDF or a 4 Mb PowerPoint (ugh) out to 1000 people on an email list. That is eating up bandwidth for shuttling content to people that may or may not even look at it, using up personal and institutional storage, X times over (and over and over).

Imagine instead if the big file were uploaded to a web site where it could be retrieved by anyone, at anytime, keyword searched, syndicated? You would like sending out the same message to 1000 people, but each message would be only be a few k, as it would contain a hyperlink where the interested reader could download the fat attachment, and the uninterested can ignore.

Here was my plea to this technical group:

> XXXX xxxxxx and Yyyyyy yyyy have put together the attached document> that shows how to move Blackboard content from BB5 into BB6.This and other resources are the types of materials we would hope can be added to the Maricopa Learning eXchange (MLX): http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/mlx/The MLX is not limited to faculty or classroom materials, but is there as a searchable collection of resources that can be used by others (Training Services has shared most of their manuals there, and some folks have contributed other Bb support materials).Think about it this way- a file attached to an email is pushed out X-times per name on this DL, but the information is not stored anywhere or easily retrievable. Posting it in the MLX means just sending a single URL (rather than an attachment, smaller email) AND the resource is permanently archived and retrievable via search.
Furthermore, we have the built in tools to make it so all Blackboard related materials can be linked by a single URL, either a saved search: http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/mlx/search_results.php?college=all&scope=1&srt=1&words=blackboard
or as a “MLX Special Collection”http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/mlx/collection.phpI would hope this group can appreciate systems for managing useful content ;-)

This was a bit tongue in cheek because the author of it is well-aware of the MLX and responded by posting the document there..

But no one asked questions, like what is this MLX? How do we use it? How can we create a special collection of technical documents? In fact, two days later another list member sent out another email attachment with some other document that again would be of more use and re-use if it were archived anywhere. Even if not the MLX, stash it on a server and send just a link.

The question is- if people deeply involved with information technology cannot grasp this shift in thinking of how to manage information, how will we expect technology skeptical faculty to do so? Administrators?

Even more curious, an assistant to a high level manager in our IT area visited with me to discuss the design of the MLX as they had plans to “build a web based database for technical support documents and other materials.” Both the assistant and I scratched our heads trying to figure out why they would build what already exists? The wheel is no rounder for every time it is re-invented.

Bottom line- think before you attach, think about the content and where it can reside for widest use and re-use, if appropriate. E-mail attachments are often very appropriate, but not nearly always necessary. We need a 21st century mindset for managing information.

The post "The Mismanagement of Information (by Information Technology Specialists, No Less)" was originally squeezed out of the bottom of an old rusted tube of toothpaste at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2004/01/the-mismanagement/) on January 19, 2004.

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