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Why do fax machines still exist?


We have a dozen fax machines at work.  In the building where I work, we're on our 4th machine in 6 years - they seem to break every 18 months or so.  Not to mention the constant cost of ink and paper and the horrible print quality - usually not even readable.

So I'm at home trying to resolve a problem and the phone conversation goes like this:

Moronic Customer Service:  Fax us a copy of the papers.
Me:  I don't have a fax machine.  I'll scan them and e-mail them to you.  What's your e-mail address.
Moronic Customer Service: You have to fax them.
Me:  Do you have an e-mail address?
Moronic Customer Service: Yes.
Me:  Then why can't I e-mail them to you?
Moronic Customer Service: You have to fax them.

Jeezus Fricken Christ.  What is the deal here?  Hundreds of millions of people have a computer, a scanner and an e-mail account.  Why in the world would you *INSIST* on a crap fax copy?

Li-Chen Fan
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"Me:  Then why can't I e-mail them to you?"

Customer:  Because I don't know WHAT a file attachment is, much less how to access it. Also, I don't know what a .tif file is.

Or to put it another way:

Customer:  "Ok, I got your email, where's the fax?"

YOU:  "It's attached"
C: "how to I view it"
YOU: "what email program do you have"
C: "I don't know, how do I find that out?"

<gunshot>

C: "Hello, are you still there?"


I, too, hate faxing things to people. However, you have to understand thier persective.  Faxes got easy to use about 10 years ago.  People are still getting the hand of email.

Mr. Analogy
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Fax machines are easy to use. Enter a phone number and drop in the documents. That's all there is to it.

How many steps are involved in scanning a stack of documents and emailing them? How easy is it?

And how many people really have scanners? The only people I know who own scanners are photographers. The "normal" people I know don't have any idea how to scan. They probably do know how to use a fax machine though.

Sam
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"Why in the world would you *INSIST* on a crap fax copy?"

Because that is their process.

Maybe they don't want the document to be in electronic format because a printed copy goes in a filing cabinet.

Maybe they don't want their somewhat illiterate customer service staff having to deal with emails and all the fun that comes along with receiving attachments.

Maybe they just don't want the headache of administering 4 zillion email accounts when they have a perfectly good fax machine sitting right there.

..or maybe they are just doing it to piss you off. Either way, it's their fucking system and they know a great deal more about than you do. How fucking hard is it for you to fax something?

Whatever
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Maybe they're doing it because they have a policy against file attachments in email.

(see recent flam fest regarding sasser)


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

great one ---

My pet hate is:
  "We will fax it to you -- please just sign it and fax it back"

Surely a signature on a fax means ZIPPO.
I Receive (& Send) my faxes electronically via a Service provider. What I do is past a signature in the doc & fax it back -- or sometimes just "sign" using my mouse ... pretty messy ......... wast of time .......

Liam
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

There is a HP machine that scans the page, converts it to PDF and sends it out as an email.

Prakash S
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Totally off-topic (sorry about that), but someone once faxed me a zip file. Nice.

Anon
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Canon Imagerunner Multifunction machines do a brilliant job of making it as easy to scan, e-mail or fax.  The address book in these can either point to a fax number, e-mail address or a file share.  Just pick the name from the address book, it goes the appropriate way.

John Murray
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

>"Fax machines are easy to use. Enter a phone number and drop in the documents. That's all there is to it."

Replace ink cartidge.
Clear paper jam
What for machine to print 10 pages of junk faxes that are stored ion memory becasue machine ran out of paper
Clear paper jams
etc.
etc


You left out a lot of steps.

Li-Chen Fan
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

>"Maybe they don't want the document to be in electronic format because a printed copy goes in a filing cabinet."

So print it then.  You'll have your paper copy and it may actually be readable.

Li-Chen Fan
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Obviously, the technology exists to not use fax machines,
but there are still hordes of people who simply don't
use email who can deal with fax machines.  Also, email
is often unreliable - or at least is seen as unreliable. 
Another issue is that email isn't always instantaneous,
while faxes are immediate.

The RE agents at my wife's office pretty much exclusively
use faxes.  She's pretty much the only one there who
uses email.

And her office is in the heart of Silicon Valley...

x
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"No, not again. I... why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam? I swear to God, one of these days, I just kick this piece of shit out the window."

Samir Nagheenanajar
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"Surely a signature on a fax means ZIPPO."

IMNAL but I recall reading a court case in which the precedent was determined that a faxed signature is a signature. Anything that involves signatures works a lot better over fax than email. I don't know if anyone trusts digital signatures yet.

Tom H
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

There is a very good reason for using faxes in business.  At least in Scotland it is acknowledged that a contract is formed when an acceptance of an offer is received by the offeror. Faxes are considered an instantaneous means of communication like a face-to-face conversation, a telephone call or a telex; the sender gets a verification both of the receipt of the fax and the receiving location. The sender _knows_  whether or not a contract is concluded. I suspect that a _verifiable_ IM conversation would be seen the same way.

E-mail, on the other hand, is just like a speeded up postal service; you can never be sure when the message will actually be received by the recipient. Worse than this, you can neither be sure who has sent an e-mail nor of the identity of its recipient. It will take widespread adoption of PKI before people trust e-mails for serious contracts.

Gaius
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I decided to ditch my fax machine completely when Dell started sending fax spam and wouldn't stop.

It's an excellent way to stop spam, and I don't need a fax for anything really. I've found that any documents that can't be sent by email are not worth seeing anyway.

echidna
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

>> "No, not again. I... why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam? I swear to God, one of these days, I just kick this piece of shit out the window."

Samir Nog... Naga... Nagona... Samir is na gonna work here any more! Ha ha ha ha ha!

The Bobs
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Used to be you could convert a scanned image into fax format, then email it to an addy that routed your image to POTS, thence to the target's fax machine.  Going the other way you hang a mailserver off a line you've told POTS is a fax line.

POTS -> Plain Old Telephone Service

Snotnose
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Because established technology tends to persist in spite of new technology.

Don Cherry
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

If fax machines mysteriously disappeared overnight, not a single construction project would ever be finished ever again.

Ever.

Greg Hurlman
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Li-Chen Fan said:

"So print it then.  You'll have your paper copy and it may actually be readable."

The funny thing is that he also said this of fax machines:

"Replace ink cartidge.
Clear paper jam
What for machine to print 10 pages of junk faxes that are stored ion memory becasue machine ran out of paper
Clear paper jams"

See the irony?

The very same problems you listed for fax machines exist for printers as well. Low toner, paper jams, 37,000 copies of a document in memory because someone kept sending the job over and over because it was out of paper, etc.

So with your solution, we now have to manage dozens of email addresses, teach people how to use email, worry about them opening up executable attachments with viruses, queue up the documents to be printed so that they can be filed *AND* we still have the same problem with our printers being out paper, low on ink, etc.

I bet you work for the government.

Whatever
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Check out www.maxemail.com - it's a fax service that has been recommended on here a number of times. I've used them for two years or so with never any problems. It's like $15/year for a local phone number that you can give out as your personal fax number. When you receive a fax, they email you a pdf of it. When you want to send a fax, you fill out the form and attach a pdf, Word file, image, etc. Works perfectly and might eb exactly what you need here.

And, I agree that it's simply stupid.

  --Josh

JWA
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"Replace ink cartidge.
Clear paper jam
What for machine to print 10 pages of junk faxes that are stored ion memory becasue machine ran out of paper
Clear paper jams
etc.
"

But, they already KNOW how to do that and are already DOING that.  This means:

a. low incremental effort to get a fax
b. When they have a problem they'll undrstand that it's THIER problem. If you email them something and they have trouble (attachement? I don't got no stink'in attachment) they'll think it's YOUR problem.

Mr. Analogy
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"Fax machines are easy to use. Enter a phone number and drop in the documents. That's all there is to it."

Not to mention Sasser doesn't hit fax machines.

Mike
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Josh,

Thanks for the tip about MaxEmail.  It looks very good -- much less expensive than eFax, and (hopefully) much less annoying.

Just FYI, the $15/year plan doesn't give you a local phone number.  However, you can get that with the $69/year plan, which is still half the cost of eFax.

Robert Jacobson
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I can tell you with 100% certainty that the FDA accepts signatures on faxes as valid documentation for purposes of maintaining records.  The physical paperwork requirements for the pharmaceutical industry are so obscene that there is no way it could go paperless any time in the next 30 years.  Where I worked, we did have software that would let you view faxes on your pc, save them, forward them to other people, all purely electronically, but if you wanted it to mean anything worthwhile and really be archived, you had to print the stupid thing out.

As a complete aside, maybe sometime I'll spout for a while about data formats in the pharma industry.  It's a total joke.

Aaron F Stanton
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

In my experience the fax machine must be the most unreliable, userhostile piece of equipment in the entire office (closely followed by the copy machine).

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

>Why in the world would you *INSIST* on a crap fax copy?

Because of legal reasons; sometimes an email attachment is not considered legally valid, but a fax is, because it can be signed.

Banking is an area where fax are still heavily used.

Patrik
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Faxes are cheap (they start around £50) and can be operated by more or less anyone who can handle a telephone.  It is easy to scribble notes on a document and then fax them.  Handwritten signatures on faxes are (I believe) legally enforceable.

Computers are comparatively expensive and require training.  Even quite intelligent people succeed in spectacularly cocking things up.  Adding notes to a document may or may not be easy depending on what software you're running and the file format of the document.  Digital signatures are legally enforceable (in the UK at least) but I haven't seen them in use.

Personally I prefer e-mail too, but I don't think I'm necessarily typical.

a cynic writes...
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Because when I write letters for political campaigns, and I e-mail them, they're often deleted without being read.

I presume they are forced to at least glance at my faxes before throwing them away.

Fernanda Stickpot
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Wha tis the problem with somebody asking for a fax. All you do is send the fax rrom the computer. You can use the fax program that came with Office or the fax program that comes with Windows - though you may have to install the latter since I don't think it comes by default.

This is with modems and telephone lines. Most people have phones in their houses. If you don't have a phone line and only have a cable modem, then use Net2Fax. If, like me, your land telephone can't make international calls, then you use Net2Fax for them, and if you don't have a credit card you buy a ten dollar card.

Whilst computers are pretty neat for sending faxes, they are shit for receiving them, unless you want your phone line tied up. If you run a business from home, and think you are going to be receiving a load of faxes, there are plenty of businesses that will give you a fax number  and forward tha faxes to your computer; like Net2Fax they will also send faxes for a small fee.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

There is a fundamental reason for still using faxes and that is that they're the only electronic form of transmission admissable as evidence with the same weight as an item sent by regular mail.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Everyone knows you can't trust the return address on an e-mail. Facsimiles on the other hand have the sender's telephone number printed on every page. Further, the sender is legally obligated (at least in the U.S.) to set this correctly, whether the sender is a marketer or not.

Both are easy to forge, but the longer history of the fax machine (including its legislative history) gives it more "weight" (no pun intended) than e-mail. But with time, this may change.

Anonymous
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Just as a side comment, I refinanced my house recently and was interviewing mortgage brokers.  I went into one guy's office and something vaguely didn't seem right.  I couldn't put my finger on it until we'd been talking for a few minutes.  He didn't have a computer.  Anywhere.

What's worse, when it came time to compute my payment, he pulls out a thick dusty book filled with rows and columns of rates/loan amounts.  Ouch.

This guy's day revolved around waiting for the rate sheets to arrive via fax and hoping they didn't jam.

I don't consider this to be the "real" world, but it often is for people in their 50s and 60s.  With the workforce getting older, we may be stuck with old, quaint methods of doing business for some time...

Bill Carlson
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

"Just FYI, the $15/year plan doesn't give you a local phone number. "

Sorry, I guess you're right, unless you're close to the default Chicago exchange like me :). They also never bother you with any marketing crap. I tried J2.com before them and I *still* get spam from them, even sometimes in the form of faked received faxes.

  --Josh

JWA
Wednesday, May 05, 2004


Today I bought a fax machine.  I took somewhat perverse pleasure in prolonging Li-Chen Fan's suffering.

Whatever
Wednesday, May 05, 2004

>I don't consider this to be the "real" world, but it often is for people in their 50s and 60s.  With the workforce getting older, we may be stuck with old, quaint methods of doing business for some time... <

Hey Bill,

Better be careful with the age stereotyping there, or you'll get flamed big time. Some of us old codgers actually keep learning new stuff all the time.

Data Miner
Sunday, May 09, 2004

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