old and in my face

I’ve been subscribed for about a year to a newsletter about computer stuff, from a website called PC Pitstop. Today I unsubscribed, and I think it’s worth taking a moment to note why.

In this week’s newsletter email, I was reading this column by one Leo Notenboom, “Are Free Email Services Worth It?”

Summary: Free email services and accounts are convenient and ubiquitous. But free email services aren’t the right place to keep your important information.”

He gives us these reasons not to trust free email services: Spam, Deliverability, (lack of ) Customer Service, and Limits and Restrictions.

As I read the column, I first thought, Gee, maybe I should rely more heavily on my Cox.net email address. Then I began to think Oh codswallop, none of these complaints is really valid. Maybe several years ago…. And there’s the rub.

I reached the end of the piece, and read, “Google’s GMail service is not yet released – it’s in beta – so it remains to be seen exactly how reliable or problematic it turns out to be. As you can imagine, I’m somewhat skeptical, and expect that it will fall into the same traps as Yahoo and Hotmail.” 

Gmail has been out of Beta (that’s when software is released so that users can sort of help finish it) for a long time. So I began thrashing around in search of a publication date for what I was reading. At the bottom, in smaller print: November 8, 2004.

Wow. PC Pistop apparently thought it would be a good idea to send out a newsletter with a 5 year old article in it. If the dude had written it in November 2009, it would still be too old to be relevant. Technology news is like scrambled eggs. Cook ’em up and serve ’em quick, because that stuff doesn’t keep.

Which makes me wonder how much of the rest of PC Pitstop’s content is old and grungy. How much of their newsletter is just old filler? If it’s not fresh, I don’t want it. And  here at Metaphor, I don’t cotton to folks phonin’ it in.

For the record, I’ve been using free web-based email programs for several years, and I don’t have any of the complaints that Leo had; not even 5 years ago. In my experience, free email programs work just fine. My main complaint with all of them except gmail is their hideous, vulgar advertising in the middle of the user interface. Especially Yahoo – it’s the worst.

That’s just part of the ad running in my Yahoo inbox today. I don’t use Yahoo anymore. But look at that crap: What does that slack-smiling moron have to do with mortgage refinance? What does the constipated grandpa have to say about moms in continuing ed? Nothing. These are random-generated spam ads. I’ll bet their really phishing sites for spammers or malware. And Yahoo is serving them up to their users. There oughta be a law.

Notenboom’s bottom line seems to be if you have important stuff (who doesn’t?), don’t trust it to a free service.

“In short, I would never recommend a free email service for anything that you consider important, or anything that you want to keep long term.”
Here’s how to judge: if the email account went away completely tomorrow, along with all the mail and contact information it contains, would it be an inconvenience or a catastrophe? If the later, then you need to get away from your free account. Now.

He never explains why a free email service is – or was, in 2004 – more likely to dump all your Precious into bleak oblivion. But the essential difference between free webmail and email provided by your Internet Service Provider (Cox, Verizon, etc.) is that free email remains on their server after you read it. You store it there, and continue to access it from any computer. If you use a program such as Outlook to download your email, you’re responsible for saving it on your hard drive. And you need to be at that computer to search through old mail. Now tell me, which is more likely, that Google’s or Yahoo’s professionally maintained, backed-up servers will lose all my old emails, or that I will — meaning that my home computer will?

My free webmail accounts have handled many tens of thosands of messages, without ever losing a single thing. They do everything I need them to do. In fact, gmail is constantly being improved. You can’t say that about any desktop email client, such as Outlook. And who needs customer service for email? That’s like calling tech support for help opening a book.