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Email addresses still matter (for now)

© September 2011 Anthony Lawrence

Email: it has helped kill the post office, is the primary source of spam, is critical to many businesses and, after malware, is probably the single largest source of user difficulties. Every internet user has at least one email address and many of us have several. Email is ubiquitous and very important.

It's also threatened: many people use services like Facebook and Google+ for most of their daily communication. Somewhat ironically, you typically need an email address to sign up for these services, but the deficiencies of email have even caused some to try to eschew it completely and only use alternatives like those. That trend may continue; in a decade or so, "email" may be as antiquated as "gopher" and "uucp" are today.

That's the future, though, Right now, email still matters, so I want to mention a few things you might want to think about.

You at where.com?

My very first email address was "apl@world.std.com". That was back in 1991, when it just started to become possible for people to connect to the Internet from home.

The folks at std.com (that stands for Software Tool and Die, by the way) were one of the first to offer dial up modem connections to the general public. Before that, you needed to have some "in" with a University or a company (often a Defense contractor at that time; few other companies bothered with the Internet).

The connections were slow, and text based (the nascent World Wide Web didn't reach World.std.com until a few years later). We used FTP, the aforementioned Gopher and spent a lot of time perusing the early Internet Newsgroups. We also had email, though not all that many others to converse with.

I was "apl" because those are my initials and of course "world.std.com" because registering your own domain name was then a fairly complex project that most of us didn't bother with. Even after I eventually registered "aplawrence.com" years later, I still kept the "apl@world.std.com" email - after all, that was the address that other people knew.

I kept that address even after I was able to get a DSL connection at home and stop using that awful modem. Eventually, however, I was using The World (as they called themselves ) solely for that email address and nothing else. I was having that address forwarded to aplawrence.com and paying a monthly fee for no good reason.

But if I stopped, any email sent to "apl@world.std.com" would fail. That's not good, especially if you are using it for business as I was. I kept paying that monthly fee for a long, long time for just that reason. I kept paying it until I felt that I had let everybody important know my aplawrence address enough times that they should find it. Only then did I discontinue my account.

Have you made the same mistake?

Many people sign up for high speed Internet access with their cable or telephone company and automatically start using the email address they are given. They don't think about what will happen when a better deal comes up with a competing provider. What happens is actually pretty simple: that email stops working the minute they switch.

I mentally cringe whenever I see someone with a "verizon.net" or "comcast.net" email address. There is absolutely no reason to use that ISP provided address. You can get a free email address from Gmail, MSN, Yahoo, and even AOL. You can use that new address even after the Intergalactic Warp Speed Internet finally reaches this planet.

Or, or just a very few dollars per year, you can have your very own unique email domain. That often comes free if you sign up for a website, but you don't even need to do that. You can even arrange to have that address silently forwarded to a free account - I forward aplawrence mail to my gmail account for easy access wherever I am.

If you have made this mistake, start fixing it now by getting a free account or your own domain or both. Have the email address that you might have to stop using someday forwarded to the new account. That forwarding option is usually easy to find, but if not, their support folks can either lead you through it or do it for you.

If you do this now and start telling everyone about your new address, you won't have to worry at all when you switch to the Intergalactic service when the aliens arrive.

Though personally, I wouldn't switch. Intergalactic currency exchange rates are outrageous. The deal really isn't as good as it might look at first. Oops - you aren't supposed to know about that yet. Note to self: edit this part out before publishing.

Cheap, Clueless

By the way, nothing says cheap, clueless or both like having an AOL, MSN or Yahoo email address associated with your business. I see that far too often. Don't do that. There are numerous inexpensive ways to have professional hosted email with your own domain. Google offers that service, as do many others. You can even run your own mail server - I sell Kerio Connect Mail Server, for example.

Junk addresses

You know those websites that want your email before they'll give you the coupon or the free download or even process the thing you want to buy? Use spare addresses for those sites. That way you never have to see the junk mail they plan on sending you later. If there is something they have to send you right now, of course you will go check that mail, but otherwise you won't because nobody you want to hear from has it.

You can get other spare addresses easily. If you are using Gmail as your real address, set up a Yahoo account for junk. If you have your own domain name, you can create junk accounts there too. I have signed up at many a website using "fred@aplawrence.com" and other variations. I create the address at my site and leave it in place long enough to get whatever it was that I wanted, and then I destroy it. No unwanted email; it's as simple as that.

As ISP's like Verizon now offer web mail access, you might use the address they gave you as your "junk address", checking it only when you have used it for something you want but otherwise ignoring it - well, you might want to check in every few months to delete all the junk, but other than that you can ignore it. If and when you switch to the Intergalactic service, that address will just disappear on its own.

The future of email

I'm not sure how well email will fare in the years to come. As part of my income comes from selling email servers, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting it to remain important. However, the reality is that the alternatives are often better, so that income may dribble away over time. At some point, the only remaining vestige may be that we will still be using those addresses as identifiers in other services - email itself may be entirely gone.

Though that will probably be a merger rather than outright abandonment. Email will simply become an invisible part of G+ or Facebook or whatever social plus business service finally wins. Email servers may evolve to interface with those rather than fading away, so there may never be a definite time for the "last email".

We'll see. It will, as always, be interesting.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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-> Email addresses still matter (for now)

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