EGOPOLY

Topics include: programming, Apple, Unix, gadgets, large-scale web sites and other nerdy stuff.

Get your email away from your ISP.

2005-11-28 16:52:34

Many people still have email addresses like [email protected] or [email protected] If you are such a person, you should stop doing this now.

In the early days of the popularized Internet (starting in 1993-1994),and even earlier than that when services like AOL,  Compuserve, Delphi and Prodigy were how people connected to online services, your online identity was tied to your connectivity. The ISP provided an email address, a dial-in number, and maybe even some server-side storage and a unix shell account. That was the only way it could work, because people didn't have their own vanity domain names, most businesses didn't have email systems that could talk to the world, and the web-based hosted email (hotmail being the first really successful version) didn't exist yet.

But now there are lots of choices, and there is no reason why you should link your personal email to the company that provides your connectivity. In fact, I would argue that there are lots of reasons not to create such a link.

Don't you go changin'

First, you are likely to change your ISP periodically. You might move, you might decide to switch to cable from DSL, or from cable to FIOS, or from DSL to WiMax. If you don't know what these things are, it doesn't matter: the point is that you have choices you can make, and it's likely you will change once or more, to save money or get better service. Or you might move, and have to change for that reason. Think of the headache it is to tell all your friends, and all the web sites where you shop your bank or whatever that you have a new email address. It's a pain. So you should pick an email address that you can commit to. That you know will be resistant to changes over the years.

It's a matter of trust.

Let's face it, running an online service isn't easy. Stuff happens; servers melt; files get lost. Whoever you decide to trust with your email should be someone who's main job it is to run an online service. An ISP's main job is making sure your connection is available. Furthermore, there is something to be said for being part of a big population. If you have a small ISP, you are in a small boat, with a small number of other people, being captained by a crew that really doesn't have billions of dollars of stock valuation keeping the pressure on. The boat could go under, the crew could mutiny and the world wouldn't really notice.

So, get on one of the big boats. That means Yahoo! Mail, GMail or Hotmail. All of those services are battle-tested, used by millions, and probably never going away. At least, "never" on internet time scales.

It's also a good idea to set up your mail so that you can download a copy from your hosted email provider. Just in case they do go under, you won't lose your history. GMail and Yahoo! both let you do this, by using a regular email client to POP download your messages. (One caveat here: do not EVER use outlook express. It's closed, single-file mail storage system is the source of many horror stories. Use Thunderbird, or any other email client that stores mail in widely understood formats.)

You should be you.

If you can afford it, and if you can acquire the technical expertise, you really should get your own "vanity" domain on the Internet. It doesn't cost much, as little as $5/year. But it puts your email address  under your control, even if you have to change hosted email providers and/or ISPs. Yahoo! and GMail both allow you to set "from" addresses to your vanity domain. I'm sure hotmail is not far behind.

I've had my own vanity domain/email address for 8 years. In that time, I've gone through 6 ISPs, five hosting companies, 7 email clients, 3 anti-spam solutions. But my email address has been the same, and it was well worth the investment.

Matrix of email goodness

In the chart below, substitute "Yahoo!" or "Hotmail" for GMail; they are basically the same as far as this chart is concerned.

ISP Email

GMail

GMail with vanity forwarding

GMail with forwarding and POP

ISP change protection

no

yes

yes

yes

disaster risk

worst

better

better

best

GMail change protection

N/A

worst

better

best

Until recently, I hosted my email myself, and even had my own web-based access. Recently, that has become a bear to maintain, partially due to dealing with ever-increasing SPAM, partially due to having to keep up with security patches on the webmail. So now I have everything going to gmail, with a backup copy only kept on my own server.