Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

I've been with AOL for many years. For the most part they've worked well for me, but lately it seems that I'm not getting email from mailing lists I've signed up for, and the list owners blame AOL. What's up with that? I also heard these rumors that AOL is charging to send email? How will I be impacted by that? Should I just find myself another ISP?

I actually can't answer that last question - it's a decision you'll have to make for yourself. Some of it depends on your level of comfort with computers in general, since AOL remains relatively easy to use for the less computer literate.

But apparently it's also going to depend on your level of tolerance for AOL's attempts to thwart spam.

We all know spam's a huge problem. In a recent analysis I determined that fully 87% of the mail my wife and I received last year was spam. Fortunately we have tools in place such that we didn't actually have to deal with it all personally.

This puts large ISPs like AOL, MSN, and large email providers like Yahoo and GMail, in a very difficult position. Their customers rely on them to filter out spam. But telling spam from legitimate mail (colloquially referred to has 'ham') is impossible to get right 100% of the time. Hence mistakes are made - spam makes is through, and occasionally legitimate email gets filtered.

"Many mailing lists are currently experiencing problems and are unable to deliver reliably to AOL customers."

The real test, in my mind, is how much control do the ISPs give you over those errors? What recourse do you have to prevent, say, these "false positives" filtering your legitimately requested email?

At this writing, the answer - at least for AOL - is apparently "not much".

Many list owners are very upset at recent changes to AOL's spam filtering. Many mailing lists are currently experiencing problems and are unable to deliver reliably to AOL customers. And what's important is that these are customers who explicitly asked for this email. Reports are that AOL is not responding well to customer complaints, and mailing list managers who are working with AOL to get their lists delivered are having difficulty as well.

Some lists are simply giving up on AOL.

Which is unfortunate, for the lists, for the AOL customers, and ultimately for AOL as well.

Spam is a difficult problem, to be sure, but ultimately it seems like the paying customer should be able to say what they do, and do not, want. AOL seems to feel otherwise.

On top of all this are recent news reports that AOL is considering a plan that would charge mailers to send messages to AOL customers. Rumors have it as a per-email charge, or a bulk charge, and it would be charged to only some mailers or all. It either would, or would not, replace AOL's "whitelist" (a list of mailers that AOL whitelists based on obscure criteria that boil down to "good behavior").

The concern is that one would have to pay to get on to this replacement whitelist or its equivalent. The bigger concern is that some legitimate mailers (say, non profits, with no budget) would be excluded from this program, and that spammers would gladly pay to be on it. AOL customers would presumably not pay - unless you consider getting more spam and less of the legitimate mail you asked for a "cost".

In my opinion there's still a lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) concerning this plan, and not a lot of concrete specifics yet. I wouldn't make any decisions based on it, until it's actually been implemented and the specifics are clear. But the concept has an already concerned internet community quite up in arms.

Now, to be fair, the mailing list for my newsletter has many AOL subscribers, and my biggest problem has not been with AOL delivering the newsletter, but rather with readers using the This is spam button inappropriately.

However should a problem develop, or more importantly, should I be required to pay to send to AOL subscribers, I may be forced to give up on AOL as well.

So, what should you do if you're an AOL subscriber?

In my opinion: simply be prepared. Get another email address with a different provider. I'm kind of partial to GMail these days, but there are many free email providers out there. My recommendation is that you migrate your mailing list and newsletter subscriptions to be delivered on one of those accounts instead of your AOL account.

As I said before, whether you leave AOL or continue to use it is really a more personal decision based on your comfort level with your computer and your level of satisfaction with the value you're getting from your monthly payment to AOL in general.

If you're happy, don't switch.

But get that backup email account anyway.

Article C2553 - February 12, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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17 Comments
tomden
February 12, 2006 7:41 PM

I can't say for sure what this person should do about AOL, but I can tell you I had to leave it about a year and a half ago. I was new to the computer business and I think I tried everything that AOL suggested as far as email, spyware, security, you name-it. I tried it. Along with AOL and me I guess I really got my machine in a total mess. I had to take my computer in to an expert and they re-installed Windows XP for me.
And then I went with Comcast who I had my cable TV with so the bill is all on one statement and all has been hunky-dorey since.
All I know that worked out for me, getting rid of AOL.
tomden

Chris Barnes
February 13, 2006 8:28 AM

The number #1 reason people are hesitant to leave AOL is that they don't want to change their email address. Believe me, I understand (having just moved into a new house after 19 years and having to change *everything*). Yes, it's painful, but it is worth it in the long run.

But there are a couple of things you can do to make the tranisition a little less painful. First, if you signup for Gmail account, use the same userid as your screenname (or as close to it as you can).

Secondly, you might want to think about getting your own domain name - using a registrar that has free email forwarding. This is DIRT CHEAP (mine costs $8 per year) and means I now have an email address which I can truly use for the rest of my life. If I change ISP's, I simply change where the email forwards to.

Julie Totsch
February 13, 2006 1:50 PM

I left AOL a long time ago. It took them forever to begin spam filtering and scanning for viruses. It only took once before I decided I needed a change. I moved over to Roadrunner and even though I believe they could charge a little less, I'm happy with the service

WILLIAMS ROSINA
February 18, 2006 11:24 AM

I Rosina want to leave AOL.SIGN ME OUT AOL.

bruce heffner
February 18, 2006 9:15 PM

Have used AOL "free" for several months and
now use their "free" AIM service. This change
was made only when I went to "DSL". No complaints except their veiw box for mail
is narrow and a add is always at the bottom.
They do block alot of spam compared to my
Hotmail account which always has alot of
junkmail! I also enjoy their "Explorer"
version which checks for spyware and has tabbed browsing.

Steve
February 21, 2006 8:42 AM

Before thinking about leaving AOL, you might want to try something simple--like turning off AOL's spam filter entirely! That's what I did, and I've had no problems. Sure, every day I get a handful of spam emails. However, they are almost always obviously recognizable from the message line, and so I can delete them instantly. In the "old days," I used to get tons of spam via AOL, but they have apparently tightened up the system on their end somehow, so a lot of the junk I used to get, I don't anymore. I've been an AOL customer for many years, originally via dialup, now via DSL, and I'm quite content. So, my advice is to try turning off the spam filter for a day or two and see what happens. If you get a half dozen emails a day that require 5 seconds to delete, so be it. Not a big deal. On the other hand, if for some reason, you get 100 a day, then you might want to explore other alternatives.

elly
February 21, 2006 10:14 AM

how do i get out of aol? there is no place on the homepage that leads me to any site to get out of it? now that is have dsl and a wonderful new apple i just don't need it any more.

Leo
February 21, 2006 10:39 AM

Steve: unfortunately that doesn't completely work. AOL is also blocking some senders system-wide regardless of your spam settings. There are also other spam control measures that you have no control over that is also causing many mailers grief.

Lou
February 23, 2006 1:54 PM

I'm just having difficulty with some of our customers that have switched to us but still want their AOL account so they can make the changes necessary (copy over all addresses, favorites). It (AOL) just doesn't like another ISP's info on the machine at the same time. I've setup their account info in IE but it always defaults back to AOL for the connection. God how I hate AOL. I myself haven't had their service for atleast 6 years.

Bonnie
March 20, 2006 6:14 PM

leo hello im so sorry 2 ask a question that might not have any thing to do with this.But i have just cannceled aol bought a new computer and decided 2 go with high speed no more dial up 4 me but i agree i did like them it was a simply screen easy 2 understand.If u could help me with this i would b so grateful.Now i understand i have no pertection on my computer.I have a cousin who also uses this computer and i just by accident well she didnt sigh off and when i singed on i noticed she had more than 800 emails on her account i was just wondering if that will in any way b bad for the computer agan sorry for the bother all the best b well Bonnie

Dennis
June 20, 2006 10:26 AM

Hey, want some help leaving AOL - need a way to export your address book. Check out http://spanogle.net/actocdf Payment is optional for first release.

Angela Selden
August 29, 2006 8:05 AM

I have been trying for weeks to get a guest sign-on OFF my account with AOL. I have called and told them no one should be able to sign-on my computer. If this continues then I will have to leave AOL!

Dennis K R.
September 6, 2006 5:57 PM

How do I move AOL address book to Bellsouth Web mail and or Outlook Express? I was told you can keep your AOL e-mail name and still use some of the perks of AOL after closing the account out with them. Is this true? Thanks you Dennis

Catmoves
September 15, 2006 9:47 AM

Most of the problems with AOL (but not all) are simply from newbies who won't take the time to learn anything about the internet and the ISP they use. These are the same people who help the spammers and virus distributirs. I have used AOL for years and have not the had problems I read about with email. Rule 1: Do NOT create an "approved" list of senders of email. If you do, AOL will treat all of those you miss as spam. Rule 2: Be careful which button you press on the email listing page. If you mark as email as "spam" the server will treat all emails from that address as spam. It learns as you use it. Rule 3: Go to "Mail" on the top of your tool bar and click on it. About half way down you will find a heading "Spam folder". Click on that and anything marked spam will appear. At the bottom of that page page are two buttons, one for "delete" another for "This is not spam." Here is where you can make the decision about good and bad email. Remember, what you do here will also teach the spam protector what you consider spam.

jesus r romo
January 25, 2008 12:40 PM

Hello, I was wondering now that I have DSL, If I remove my AOL account, does that mean I will lose my AOL email account?

Leo A. Notenboom
February 2, 2008 11:20 AM

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Yes, I would expect so. Your email is part of your AOL
account, and if you cancel your account I'd expect it all to
go.

Leo


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ann
December 1, 2012 3:57 PM

Aol mail suck I forgot my password and my answer somehow the other email that I put to email if I forgot my password is not the same one I dont know how that happen because its show me the it was the right one so I save it and it is not send it to the right email so I had to signup again to email them there told me that you had to call to get t fix what or don't have to call Yahoo to get a new password and I try my other email it was the right password but I had to put a code if any the thing said the code was wrong it was not go some where for a email this email suck they don't know how to do things

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