A fair question.
Email certainly has the convenience factor nailed: add an attachment, press Send, and off it goes. The problem is that it might not get wherever you want it to go.
When it comes to large files in particular, we need to look at things just a little differently.
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Large files were never part of the plan
In my article “Why are emails I send with attachments not being delivered?,” I discussed some of the many problems with emailing large attachments.
We think of email as point-to-point: we send, they receive. In reality, that’s not how it works at all. There are several intermediaries that are responsible for getting that message from us to them. An email message can travel across many servers and machines along the way. It’s not something that we have control over, and it also contributes to the reason that excessively large emails are frowned upon, and occasionally even prohibited, by most email providers.
Email was never really meant as a way to transfer large files. That ability to attach files was added as a convenience, but the way email is encoded and transferred just doesn’t make it a very efficient way to move large files.
The alternative is conceptually very simple: upload the file somewhere and send a link.
Sending a file
Because of the way email encodes attachments, the resulting attachment in email is probably about around 20-40% bigger than the original.
The other approach is to first upload that document to a location accessible on the web and then send a link:
That link is maybe 45-characters long. Most importantly, it’s much smaller than actually including the document itself and not likely to trip any attachment-related filters.
And all that your recipient needs to do is click on the link to download and access the file.
In fact, as an added benefit, your recipient gets to choose!
Give your recipient a choice
When you attach a large file to an email, you’re often forcing your recipient to download it, whether he wants to or not, and whether he has a fast internet connection or not. If the recipient has a slow internet connection and you send a large file, you could be forcing them to take excessive amounts of time (and perhaps eat up limited bandwidth) before they might even see your mail.
By uploading and sending a link, you’re giving your recipient a choice to download or not.
Sending your file as an attachment causes the file to be encoded and expanded slightly and then copied from your machine to mail server to mail server to mail server to your recipient’s machine. When you send a link, the file is copied in its original size exactly twice: once when you upload it and once when your recipient chooses to download it.
I know the very next question you have. “That’s all great, but where and how do I upload to someplace that people can see on the internet?”
There are many possibilities. One of the easiest is Dropbox.
After you install Dropbox, simply copy the file that you want to share into a folder within your Dropbox folder. Then right-click that file and click the Dropbox share link item:
(You may instead see a Dropbox sub-menu with a copy link item therein as well.) Dropbox places a link in your clipboard:
As part of Dropbox’s operation, the file was uploaded to the Dropbox servers. This link is valid anywhere that Dropbox can be reached on the internet. It’ll look something like this:
Note that if you remove the file from your Dropbox folder, it will be removed from the Dropbox servers, and the link will no longer work. That means it’s important to leave the file in your folder until it’s no longer needed elsewhere.
On the other hand, if you update or alter the file in your Dropbox folder, the server copy will be updated as well, and the link will point to your updated copy.
Just remember to give the upload process enough time to actually upload the file from your machine before sharing the link with someone. Depending on the speed of your internet connection and the size of the file, this could take some time.
Other cloud storage services like Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Google Drive, and others have similar capabilities.
Other alternative upload locations
If Dropbox isn’t your thing, there are more alternatives.
- You probably have some web space already, ready to use courtesy of your ISP. Check with them to see how you should access it, and how big it is. It’s typically perfect for exactly what I described above, regardless of what types of files you’re passing around.
- If you’re primarily sharing pictures … use a free photo sharing site like Google’s Picasa, Yahoo’s Flickr, or any of a number of other alternatives. (Check out Photo Sharing Nuggets for more tips in this arena.)
- If you’re primarily sharing videos, use YouTube. If you’re concerned about privacy, you can choose with whom to share your videos.
- If you’re primarily sharing Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents, consider using Google Drive or similar tools. Not only can you import/upload existing documents, but you can edit and collaborate with others.
- If you have your own website, you already have a place to upload files, just as I did in my example. There’s no need for them to be visible on the site; you can just upload and provide people a link.
If you’re still bent on using email, search for “send large email” or similar terms. You’ll find that there are many services that specialize in this area. Just remember that while you can send a huge file, it doesn’t mean that your recipient can receive it; it will depend on the technologies used. The best solutions here will boil down to some form of managed file hosting where your recipient is sent a link to the file.
With so many alternatives to using attachments (and so many problems if you do), it seems like there’s little reason to continue. With a little bit of research and education, you can send smaller, faster emails that get to the people you intend more reliably. Then, they can access those nifty photos, videos, documents, or other files that you’ve been trying to get to them.