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A Different Approach to Transferring Large Files

AllPeers works better than e-mail for sending large files to multiple recipients.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 08/09/2007

In the wired world we live in, sending files to clients, colleagues, and friends has become commonplace. Many of us regularly circulate documents, diagrams, photos, audio files, and videos. The bulk of these file transfers move over the Internet as e-mail attachments. Now there is nothing fundamentally wrong with using e-mail attachments to send files. After all, there is a reason that this method of files transfers has become as popular as it has. But e-mail attachments are not perfect for every occasion. These days, attachments work best when they are limited in size and when the file is being sent to a limited number of people.

The utility of e-mail attachments is limited by a number of constraints. One limitation is attachment size. Many Internet services providers limit the size of an attachment that they will allow users to send or receive. E-mail services such as Gmail and YahooMail allow a generous e-mail size of 20 MB, but many providers limit the size of an attachment to 5 MB or 10 MB, or less. So, your changes of successfully sending large e-mail attachments may be mixed. Even if your e-mail service allows you to send large attachments, the recipient may be blocked from receiving them.

Spam filters and anti-malware software are further impediments to sending large attachments. Some software that is designed to protect your computer may be programmed to block e-mail with large files, certain file types, or files that meet a combination of criteria. In some cases, your software will alert you if it blocks or quarantines such an e-mail; in other cases, it may not.

When you use e-mail to distribute files, there are also limits on the number of recipients you can send to. Again, this varies depending on the e-mail service provider and other factors, but 20 is a common recipient limit, while others impose more stringent rules.

In some cases, there is an easy work around to the limitations you encounter. For example, it is often possible for you, or your recipients, to easily alter spam setting, firewall, or antivirus program so that most attachments will get through, but this can take time and some level of technical know-how. In many cases, however, it pays to find alternative solutions.

One common alternative for advisors who need to reach a large recipient list is a list serv. This is a mailing list server that sends an e-mail to everyone on a specified list. A list serv will work fine provided the messages you send are not too large, and provided that the list serv does not raise any other red flags with your e-mail anti-malware programs.

A new alternative I've been trying lately is a free service called AllPeers. This application allows you to share large files over the Internet. AllPeers is a FireFox extension. This means that it installs itself within the FireFox Web browser. As part of the installation, you create a user name and password. You also must supply a valid e-mail address. You are then prompted to add contacts. You can automatically import them from Gmail, MSN Hotmail, YahooMail, or Microsoft Outlook. You can also add contacts to the list manually.

To send a file, you click on the AllPeers share icon. A little box appears. Here, you can drag and drop individual files, or a whole folder for that matter, into the share box. You then add an e-mail address, a subject, and a message. If you are sending a file to somebody for the first time, your recipient receives an e-mail inviting them to install AllPeers. This is a one time operation. Subsequent files work the same way, but they are routed directly to the recipient's AllPeer inbox.

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