The Email Attachment Problem and How We're Not Solving It

Last weekend, my mother-in-law, a recent Mac convert, sent an email out to family with 111 photos embedded in the message. Yes, one hundred and eleven. My synagogue has been trying to save postage fees by emailing out the monthly bulletin…a PDF file that has averaged 3-6MB in size every month. My inbox is always overflowing with attachments from my co-workers.

Still I have to wonder…is this a problem that really needs solving?

This isn’t about the 75 MB video file. Even the novice knows that email won’t work for sending files that big. The challenge lies in the smaller, but still-too-bulky-for-email type files–photos, audio, PDFs, etc. The space-filling stuff folks attach to email without thinking twice.

Aside from the disk space and bandwidth considerations, we all know what’s wrong with all these attachments: Multiple versions of the same files floating all over the place; No way to know who has and has not opened the attachment; No way to control who can forward the file.

Lately, there’s been a proliferation of web apps looking to solve the email file problem. This week alone we saw the launch of Zector and Topicr, joining the field already crowded by services like Box, Dropbox, YouSendIt and many more.

Yet none of these solutions has emerged as a clear winner. In fact, it seems many of these services solve one problem while they create others. Users have to maintain yet another web application (or many new applications if files are sent/received from different services), learn a new interface or two, maybe install some software, and they have to trust their data to an unknown 3rd party. So with that, folks still attach files to email with reckless abandon. It’s frankly easier to click that paperclip right in the email application than install and maintain software or visit a new site.

How are you sending around larger files? Take our GigaOm poll below and then let us know your thoughts in the comments. Are you seeing the same resistance to these file attachment/sharing services in the “real world” that I am?


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