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The Golden Age Of Free Email Is Coming To An End

By Richard Lowe
Posted Tuesday, November 23, 2004

It wasn't that long ago that free email accounts were so totally taken for granted that everyone seemed to have several of them. I remember personally owning dozens of Yahoo!, AltaVista, Mail.com and Hotmail accounts (among any others), each with their own special purpose.

Even the internet marketing books recommended having several free email accounts for promotional activities. You see, many "free" advertising-related activities require an email address so that spam can be sent. The exchange is you get a little free advertising and you agree to receive some useless, silly promotional messages. You cannot just put in a fake email address as this would be detected, so typically you would create a free email account just for the purpose. Who cares how many messages get set to an account which will never be read?

This, of course, violated the purpose of free email accounts, which is to display banner and other advertisements as people read their email messages (many of these free accounts also send spam messages of their own to their subscribers as well). Tons of mail dumped into accounts which are never read generate no money for the email services.

Nonetheless, in the heyday of the free accounts this was a minor inconvenience. Ah, those were the days, when businesses would pay major dollars for banners!

In fact, in an even greater perversion of this phenomenon, a few email services popped up which actually paid for people to read email messages. I don't mean those "services" which paid to send you email messages from advertisers; no, I mean you got paid a small amount for every single message, regardless of who it was from, that you read in the web-based email client. The concept was that advertisers would pay for you to look at the banner ads that displayed at the same time as the messages.

It was even touted among the "experts" that the free email services such as Hotmail was an incredible thing called viral marketing. The concept here was that every message you send using the service has a link to join the service. This gives every single person who reads a message a chance (and often many chances) to join themselves. Millions (and perhaps tens of millions) took advantage of these offers.

Of course all of this failed to take into account a very basic fact: it really doesn't matter how many people use the service if money is not being made. In fact this proved very true when the internet bubble burst; more users suddenly meant more money being lost.

The long overdue death of the banner ad as a viable means of promotion foreshadowed the failure of many internet businesses. Those with exceptionally poor business models, such as AllAdvantage, fell fast. These were soon followed by the merely idiotic (such as TheVines), the grandiose (such as Kozmos and WebVan) and the merely poorly financed (most of the internet companies).

The inevitable is finally catching up with the world of free email services. These days the announcements seem to be coming almost daily from all of the major services: Yahoo, Hotmail, Mail.com and Altavista. They are either attempting to force their users into paid services or are closing down entirely.

Many of these services are finding that they can survive by providing free basic accounts with extra charges for "special" features. The most common "extra feature" is POP3 access (meaning reading email from your email client). The rationale is the free service cannot make money from POP3 accounts as no advertisements are shown. This is, of course, a very weak argument because the services do place ads in the email messages.

Another common "extra cost feature" is large attachments. The free email services seem to believe that only a small percentage of people use attachments of over, say, a few hundred kilobytes to a few megabytes. They reason that if this is desired the users can pay extra.

The problem is, well, that most of these free email services are worth exactly what they cost: nothing. Free email services are fat, dumb and lazy. If you don't believe me, just try getting customer support! Their paid versions will almost certainly not be any better, and it appears to me to be exceptionally overpriced as well.

So what are the alternatives?

Mail.Com

One of the few free email services that is worth anything is Mail.Com. I have used this service many times and have had good luck. Their free version is fast, easy to use and simple, although they do charge extra for POP3 access. I like their web based mail system, although their free service does require advertisements. You can eliminate these advertisements for less than $10 per year if you so desire.

Everyone.Net

Personally, I love the service provided by Everyone.net. For about $40 a year, you get your own domain name and ten full-featured POP3 email accounts. You can use your own email program (Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora or whatever you prefer) or you can read your messages on the web using a simple interface. Everyone.Net also has a very simple filtering capability, which I've found is great for getting rid of the spam. This service is perfect for someone who needs a lot of email accounts without any effort, perhaps for a family or group of friends.

Purchase a Domain Name and Forward Your Email

James S. Huggins wrote an article which explains in detail how to purchase a domain and forward email from that domain to your ISP's account. The concept is as follows:

- You purchase a domain for about $9.00 a year from a registrar which allows for email forwarding. NameCheap is one of these. Let's say you registered "johnsmith.com"

- Park the web site on their server. This presents a single page which says the site is under construction.

- Use the NameCheap system to forward all email to "yourname@johnsmith.com" to your own personal ISP email account.

What is the advantage of this? Since everyone will be sending email to yourname@johnsmith.com, you can change ISP's all you want. You don't have to worry about changing your email address - you only have to change the one forwarding address.

Purchase web Hosting

Contrary to popular belief, paid web hosting is not very expensive. In fact, all but the very worst paid hosting services provide far superior service and features than the best free host.

One of the features that is provided with many paid hosting services is a number of POP3 accounts. You can use these for your own email account as well.

Other Alternatives

Believe me, I do understand that companies on the internet need to make a profit. I also know that many companies which offered free services are struggling with what to do about the failure of the banner ad and internet advertising in general.

I firmly believe that the "advertising supported" concept on the internet is basically flawed, unethical and simply does not work. People should pay for whatever services they use at a reasonable rate. The concept of having someone else pay for the service in order to display advertising tends to distance the user (the web site or email user) from the vendor (the free mail provider) because the customer is actually the advertiser and not the user. This results in poor service and oftentimes a complete lack of responsibility for the actual users of the services.

However, some of the larger, more traditional free email providers have habitually offered horrible (at best) customer service and have proven time and again that they could not care less about their users. These companies have come up with business models that simply did not work and built tremendous organizations on top of those models.

By purchasing the new pay services from these companies, you will get the same horrible customer service and lack of care (because these are the same organizations), only now you will be paying to be abused.

The final and perhaps most important argument against giving money to these previously free services is they tend towards the extraordinarily expensive side when compared with the alternatives. The only advantage to staying with one of these free services (as far as I can see) is you won't have to change. And sometimes, my friends, change is a good thing.

Additional Reading

Own Your Own Email Address
(http://www.jamesshuggins.com/h/web1/own_your_own_email_address.htm)

An excellent article by James S. Huggins about how to purchase a domain name and create forwarding addresses.

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About the Author
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at (http://www.internet-tips.net) - Visit our website any time to read over 1,000 complete FREE articles about how to improve your internet profits, enjoyment and knowledge.