Thursday, May 22, 2008

Your online identity. Your digital history. Make sure you own them.

If I had to name my pet peeve in the domain of digital life I'd most probably point to the issue that so many - if not most - people don't seem to have given much thought to their digital identity and their digital archives. Looking at email this means choosing your email address and email provider wisely. Yes, I know, many probably think that I'm a fool thinking about this elaborately, or that "Hey, who cares!? It's just email." Well. Think again. What follows is a note that I wrote to one bunch of friends. It's not very finely formulated (I may well choose to edit it later). But the points are hopefully clear. ... the comment became a bit long but I recommend you to think about: Your identity - your emails ...

You should consider very, very, very carefully if you really want to use your work email for any personal communication -- or a Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, Comcast,, etc providers' free emails even for personal communication for that matter.

So, in brief, there are two issues related that are growingly important: Your email and your online identity.
  • Your email: Your employer may well own your email (in the US at least -- it reads on my contract!) -- or at least keep it hostage (as do almost all of the personal email service providers (listed above). In practice just about all companies keep their employees emails hostage -- even in Finland, the promised land of the equal rights and fair game ;)
    • ... For all situations: think -- and find out -- if you can get your own emails with you in a standard digital format that some standard email system can import if you have to -- or want to change you company / your ISP.
  • Your online identity: You may want to be affiliated with your company in a number of situations or it maybe convenient to send and receive emails from-to your company BlackBerry but think further. What happens to your 'identity' when you switch jobs? And in any case email addresses (as well as mobile phone numbers, and not just in developing countries) are becoming increasingly important part of your identity. Online, they often are your identity.
The simple choices to both of the issues are:
  • Reasonably priced "E-mail and WWW forwarding services [...] This allows our members to keep the same personal identity should the actual location or ISP of their e-mail or www homepages change." (from or
  • Using a truly free (as in free speech) email service provider. One that let's you forward and/or POP/IMAP your emails for free or for a very low fee.
  • Controlling your domain
In practice, if you are bothered by the above, your corresponding three choices are:
  1. Get a reasonably priced permanent email address from a reputable forwarding service ( for those in Finland - ~30€/life; for others e.g. - ~$10/year) .. BTW. I have a few domains reserved for this purpose and can offer you this through Google Apps (see #3 below) - shoot me an email if you're interested.
  2. Get a Gmail account (free free - out of pocket and portability)
  3. Get your own domain: $9/year and register it with Google Apps service ($0) or use any other service ($0 - few dollars a month ... ~$40-80/year)
As you can do the easy math "freeing" your email with a typical service provider is a ripoff. The paid for service from Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, etc (that gives you free forwarding of email address and retrieval of your email physically to your computer) costs some $15-20/month. Cost per decade becomes ~$2000 where the recommended options are around $10-100, $0, and $90 per decade, respectively. Are you letting them rob you? ;)

In addition to the $ part. There's one positive issue worth mentioning in regards to getting your own domain ... the open 'address space' ( associated with it. For an example you can reach me at j(ÄT) or jaakko(ÄT) - Many providers don't even allow 2-3 even 5 character addresses.

As note above I've reserved a few domains with the idea of being able to provide friends an easy to remember email address that they can keep forever. Nothings certain in this world but I'd be surprised if Google would suddenly not be able to provide the Google Apps basic package for free - the price of technology and basic services is going down rather than up.

So. The following domains have nearly 100% free address spaces. Let me know if you want an email address from one of them. My promise is that I'll keep the domains as long as there's a single user on them and won't charge anything for the accounts

- (~ open development)
- (~ open society)

Why reserve all these domains? Why any? People have odd hobbies. Being annoyed about peoples' email addresses can probably be listed as my hobby. Maybe pet peeve is a good term for that. How can I know, an ESL fool. Whatever the reason(s) reserving domains has always seemed like a difficult or at least a tedious task. But things have changed. For me (a semi(?)-geek) Google Apps was the thing. They made it super super easy to get all of the basic services (email, etc) working -- for free free (Cheers to NSA! ;) -- and you can even book a domain through them even though I recommend getting more flexibility by reserving your domain through some dedicated domain provider (I use GoDaddy). This gives you free hands and full control with your domain.

What ever your choice is. Don't let them take you or your emails hostage!