I graduated from college in 1994.

This isn’t said to make anyone feel old (except me), but I left college just as the web and email became a huge part of our lives. When I got to grad school, I was given my first email account. Something easy to remember like joellis@chass.ncsu.edu. I joined mailing lists, talked to people around the world (mostly about music) and wrote to friends from college and high school. It was kind of amazing, being able to jot off a quick note to my best friend in Boston between classes from the computer lab.

All the email I got was for me for so long, it was quite a shock to get my first spam. Actually, I thought it was funny, probably because I didn’t think I’d get them very often. Ha!

Now, email is a futile mission to curb spam. Most people have multiple accounts just to keep spam limited (I have almost a dozen email accounts, but mostly because I’m a dork). I know lots of people who say that they’d quit email altogether if they could. Some people think RSS is the email killer, but they’ve been saying that for a very long time.

I never knew how complicated email was until I was expected to manage the uwalumni.com email system. I’m not a server geek, and we’ve got some good people who run the system as well as can be expected to make me look good, but it’s horrendously complicated.

I used to think that if I sent you and email, my email would go to the cloud, find the right domain for the account (aol.com, hotmail.com, gmail.com, etc), ask if it knew the account name, see if there were any issues (account being full, etc) and deliver the mail. Easy peasy.


So you send an email through uwalumni.com to your cousin at hotmail.com. Well, Microsoft (which owns Hotmail) subscribes to a number of third-party services who say who’s a spammer and who isn’t. You don’t have to worry about that because you’re not a spammer, right?

Well, what happens is that someone else on the uwalumni.com system sent a few more emails that someone thought appropriate and marked it as spam. That third party may decide that uwalumni.com as a whole doesn’t do a good job punishing spam and so punishes all uwalumni.com users by putting them on a list. That list is the one Microsoft subscribes to and now your email isn’t going through.

The best part? These third party people are trying to ostensibly curb spam, but some of them are in it for the money. I had one list approach me for a 50 Euro contribution to get us off their list (we found another way, thank goodness). It’s like the wild west when anyone could anoint themselves local sheriff and make laws to fit them.Â

Would these companies put aol.com or gmail.com or hotmail.com or yahoo.com on these lists? No way. They are way too big to mess with. These new sheriffs don’t bother the railroad barons, they shakedown the local merchant (that would be me, in this Western-themed analogy).Â

Why did I tell you all this? Well, its come time for this local merchant to fix the situation. We are in talks to change how we manage our email so that we are no longer under the thumb of these so-called law bringers. I can’t talk about details because there aren’t any, but in the next month, I hope to be able to announce some very cool things regarding your email accounts.