I am going to have my very own email address.

julian at foad .me .uk

At last, an address that I own and will always control.

I don’t want to identify myself any longer as Julian Foad At Gmail or Julian Foad At BT. Each of those companies, and several more before them, gave me a “free” email address with their name in it. Each time, I used it because it was easy and free. They make it easy to use, and they figure out how to set up the software, and they pay for the servers, the disk drives, the electricity, the maintenance, the upgrades, the backups. Isn’t that awesome… and isn’t that completely normal, too?

I looked through about forty of my contacts, many of whom are computer literate, and was surprised to see only two of you using your own name for your email domain. If that’s you, well done!

My first email address was at Southampton University. When I graduated, I asked if I could keep the address and they said no, but granted me a three month extension. I opened a free email account with some company called Free-something, I forget what. After a few years, they said “We’re terribly sorry but we’re closing down this service.” So I scrambled to download and save all my mail before they deleted it, and to find another provider, and set up a new account, and tell all my friends about the new address, and update all my online banking, services and shopping registrations. I used Hotmail for a bit, then got disillusioned with it for making it very difficult to download my email for archiving, and for being a Microsoft company, so I quit that and went through the same hassle. Another company wrote to me, “You’ve reached your storage limit,” and I scrambled again: do I pay, do I delete stuff, or do I switch?

A few years on, I had a BT account. That seemed like a safe company to be with for the long term. When I got married and moved house, BT said “This account was only free while you were paying for our broadband. You must now start paying £1.60 a month to keep it.” I thought that was a reasonable fee for the service, so I am paying it. Recently I was finding their web interface cumbersome and their spam filtering poor, and started switching to Gmail. I have kept the BT account going so as not to have to tell all my friends to update my address, as I’ve had it for quite a long time now, but I configured Gmail to fetch the BT mail so I handle all my mail within Gmail. Now the BT email address is basically just functioning as an alias for me.

Guess what has just arrived while I was writing this post? An email from BT, saying “Your monthly fee is changing from £1.60 to £5, from next month.” Seriously.

(Update: I called BT, said I only use it for forwarding, and asked if I could stay at the old price for a further year else I’d leave. They agreed.)

Lots of other people, such as Dan Gillmor in The Guardian, have given their own reasons why we should have our own email address, or our own domain name (a prerequisite). Now I have found my own reasons and have been jolted into doing it.

The other part of the story for me is that since I was made redundant I have been deliberately exploring areas of software and the IT world that I ought to be more familiar with. Using my own domain name is one such area, so I’ve been happy to spend several days learning about this and trying different approaches. Several days? you might ask; need it take that long? There are plenty of how-to guides that say just do 1-2-3 and in half an hour you’re there. But there isn’t just one standard way to do it. I don’t want to just select some “random” guide and follow the steps to create a new email account. That would be too much like choosing Hotmail or Gmail and just pressing the “set it up for me” button. Rather I want to understand what’s possible and how it works, and make sure it plays nicely with my existing accounts (especially Gmail) and will not hold me back or tie me in to keeping the same service provider in the future.

I won’t identify myself any longer as my name at Gmail or BT or whichever other company is offering a nice “free” service this year. I don’t have to. I will identify myself by my own name. I’m going to have ownership and control of my address for as long as I like. I’m happy to pay a little bit for the privilege. (It won’t cost much.)

Now I just have to work out how to do it.

I already registered the domain name foad.me.uk a few years ago, so that’s the first step done.

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