On February 06, 2009, I posted an article entitled, "Why You Need a Second (and Better) E-mail Address." I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments posted at the end of the article at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/02/why-you-need-a-second-and-better-email-address-by-dick-eastman.html. Obviously, I struck a chord. Lots of people seem to have concerns about the future of their e-mail accounts – and with good reason. With the advent of fiber optic services and the added costs of implementing them, even some of the large Internet service providers are redefining their customer territories. Some major shifts in geographic coverage across the country could be around the corner, and we can only guess how prepared anyone's incoming and outgoing providers will be for transferring customers. How prepared a customer is for such a change is the subject of the article mentioned above and now, this one, too.
In the first article, I described several scenarios for making sure that your e-mail will still be available to you in the future. I deliberately left out my favorite option, however, with the belief that it would be too complicated for most non-technical readers. However, the number of comments posted by people who have already used this more complicated option leads me to a different view. Therefore, I decided to write this article to describe what might be the best option of all. I will admit that this solution requires a bit of technical expertise, however.
In the earlier article, I suggested switching your e-mail account from any service offered by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to something that will probably last longer. ISPs get bought and sold almost weekly, often changing their names in the process and requiring their customers to change e-mail addresses, often with little advance notice. I described a recent scenario involving the sale of the Verizon business in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The customers in those three states were abruptly switched to new e-mail addresses ending in "@myfairpoint.net" addresses. Even worse, the new e-mail servers apparently were overloaded by the sudden growth in business and crashed frequently or had other problems. The online message boards are full of complaints from former Verizon customers.
The scenario I described involved Verizon and Fairpoint, but similar articles could be written about any number of other buyouts, bankruptcies, and mergers in the past few years. The fact is that thousands of e-mail addresses have been changed abruptly, leaving little time to notify friends and relatives of the changes. Even worse, if you have spent years posting messages online of "looking for the ancestors of..." and left your contact information attached to each message, how do you go back later and change all those listings when your e-mail address is suddenly changed without your permission? In fact, you also face a similar scenario when you move and find that your former cable modem or DSL provider does not offer services at the new location.
In the earlier article, I suggested switching to an ISP-independent e-mail provider, such as Google's Gmail or Yahoo Mail or Hotmail. Those services seem to be much more reliable with no forced e-mail address changes to date. Of course, there is no guarantee of stability in the future. While it hasn't happened yet, there is a theoretical possibility that Gmail or Yahoo Mail or Hotmail could be acquired or even declare bankruptcy. I believe such possibilities are slim, but they cannot be discounted entirely. Perhaps we all should use more permanent solutions.
Indeed, it is possible to obtain an e-mail address that won't change. Well, let's say there is a 99.999% chance that it won't change. All changes will be under your direct control; nothing changes unless you change it. I can settle for that.
The method of obtaining a permanent e-mail address is to get your own domain name. If your name is John Smith, why would you want an e-mail address that ends in "@verizon.net" or "@gmail.com" or "@yahoo.com" or "@hotmail.com" or "@aol.com?" Wouldn't you rather have an e-mail address that ends in "@johnsmith.com?" How about john@JohnSmith.com?
Obtaining your own domain name is surprisingly easy. All domain names are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Not surprisingly, someone has already claimed JohnSmith.com; but how about a combination of your first and last names? (I already registered DickEastman.com some years ago.) If that is already taken, how about inserting your middle initial, such as: JohnQSmith.com?
Even better for genealogists, how about a family-oriented domain name that you can share with family members, such as: EastmanFamily.com or EastmanRoots.com? You don't have to be limited to ".com" addresses, you can use JohnSmith.org or JohnSmith.net or JohnSmith.us or even the new .name domains, such as JohnSmith.name. With a bit of imagination, I suspect you can come up with all sorts of possibilities. Of course, Canadians can obtain JohnSmith.ca, anyone in the United Kingdom can obtain a domain ending in “.uk” and so on and so forth.
Several years ago I registered eogn.com (which stands for "Eastman's-Online-Genealogy-Newsletter-dot-com"). That is not my name, but I used the same process to register a domain name for this newsletter. Now I can have ANY e-mail address that I want that ends in "@eogn.com." Indeed, one of my alternate e-mail addresses that I use on occasion is email@example.com.
Since I also registered DickEastman.com some time ago, I also have another e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you own your own domain name, you can create thousands of e-mail addresses and share them with family members. For instance, if Homer Simpson owned SimpsonFamily.com, he could use Homer@SimpsonFamily.com and give the address of Marge@SimpsonFamily to his wife. Of course, America's favorite child would be Bart@SimpsonFamily.com. All of this is possible by registering one domain name and paying one modest fee.
The best thing about registering your own domain name is that you own it. You can pay someone else to run the mail server for you (which is very cheap to do); but if that company goes out of business, you can easily switch the mail server to a different company and continue to send and receive e-mail without changing your e-mail address.
I suppose you could run your own mail server, but I believe that very few people do that. Most pay some company a few dollars a year to handle the mail for them.
All you need to do is to register your chosen domain name with any of the dozens of domain registrars available. Wikipedia maintains a list if the 15 biggest registrars at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Domain_Registrars. Go Daddy is listed as the biggest, so I will use that company as an example. However, similar processes and prices can be found at most of Go Daddy's competitors.
Go Daddy charges $9.99 a year to register and own a domain. Keep in mind that this is a YEARLY price; you do have to renew it every year. Many companies offer discounts if you purchase multi-year agreements. (I have paid for eogn.com for the next five years and thereby obtained a sizable discount.) In addition, Go Daddy will even provide a mail server and will maintain it for you. Go Daddy will give you up to 100 e-mail accounts on that mail server and will also provide a web server with up to 100 gigabytes of storage space, should you wish to create web pages. You are not required to use Go Daddy for the e-mail server; others will provide the service for you at somewhat similar fees.
Go Daddy's price for the cheapest such plan for a mail server/web server is $4.99 per month ($59.88 a year). However, if you pay three years' fees in advance, the price drops to $4.25 a month ($51.00 a year). That's not a bad price for 100 e-mail accounts plus 10 gigabytes of web server pages.
Those prices are annual; you pay every year for the service. Add the price for the mail server/web server and the domain registration together, and you are paying a total of $60.99 per year for e-mail and web services.
By the way, Go Daddy isn't the cheapest service available. However, since that company is the largest, I used Go Daddy as an example. Their prices seem typical.
The technical expertise required to register a domain and to configure e-mail accounts isn't great, but you probably need to be familiar with the terminology involved. You never touch the mail server and web server hardware, nor will you ever install any software on those servers. You will, however, have to perform some minimal configuration to create e-mail accounts. The process is simple if you know the buzzwords involved, but it can be confusing to anyone who has not configured such things before. If you're not comfortable with it, I'd suggest you ask for assistance from a knowledgeable friend or relative.
At these prices, the domain registrars are not in a position to provide much technical assistance. Providing technical support is expensive, and one phone call from a customer could easily cost more than the potential profit for a year or more. Therefore, most domain registrars do not offer live telephone assistance.
I have stressed the technical and business advantages of owning your own domain name for e-mail purposes, but there is one more advantage: the satisfaction of giving out your e-mail address to others when it is based upon your own name. Having an e-mail address of email@example.com is much more gratifying than having a nondescript, generic e-mail address, such as Diane236734@aol.com!
Besides, your friends and relatives can probably remember your e-mail address more easily if it is based on your name.
Since you'll be paying for both a mail server and a web server, this may be the opportunity for you to try some of the ideas I've posed in past articles for use with that web server!