The (Calendar Invite) Attachment Anti-pattern


Life with a better Outlook

People frequently send me ‘invites’ with attached Internet Calendaring and Scheduling (.ics) files. This is problematic, as I don’t use (fat client) Outlook, and web/mobile Outlook might be able to open those files (sometimes), but can’t do anything useful with them[1].

To make matters worse, it’s pretty common for the ‘invite’ to say nothing about when the event is happening. It’s a secret. Open the .ics attachment and all will be revealed.

Still using letterhead

This as a subset of a larger problem where people wrap a few lines of text that could so easily just go into an email into a PDF, Word doc, Excel spreadsheet or whatever; which completely fails the keep it simple, stupid (KISS) test. It’s also an accessibility issue, and a potential security issue – making people open other apps (that they may not have, or might have difficulty using) so that those apps can read attachments that could be carrying any manner of malware.

My kids’ school is one of the worst perpetrators. They’ll happily send a PDF that has a single line of content. Often something completely mundane like, ‘please log onto section blah of the parent portal (for the actual info we’re trying to convey)’.

I suspect that in their case (and many others) it’s a failure to adapt to ‘digital’. They may crow about kids using iPads in their classes[2], but I suspect that their approval workflow is much the same as when everything went to the headmaster’s secretary to be manually typed onto school letterhead.

Email overload is a modern disease, and much of the ‘digital’ conversation these days goes on about shinny new tools that are supposed to eliminate email (and it seems any free RAM you might have had on whatever you’re using). But attachments make overload worse rather than better, as they introduce more friction into reading email.

You can help by…

If you’re asking somebody to come along to an event, for sure add an .ics file in case it might be useful. But make sure to say (in the subject line) when it’s happening, so it’s not obligatory to open that attachment.

More generally a good rule of thumb might be that anything that fits onto a page or less shouldn’t be an attachment – just put the text into the body of the email. Hooray – you’re now a digital native.


[1] Let’s not go down the rabbit hole of incompatibility between the worlds of Microsoft, Google and Apple when it comes to invites.
[2] The iPad fad was in fact short lived, and they soon switched (back) to laptops.

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