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Each time you change your ISP or place of employment your email address can change. Instead, get your own domain and permanent email address.

I've been an MSN dial-up subscriber for years, since I switched from AOL because I thought it was micro-managing my computer; yes, you guessed it, now I think MSN does it, too. In the last year we've added Road Runner high speed wireless at our house, and I've been dragging my feet on dropping MSN. I use my MSN e-mail address for everything, and I know I should not be doing that; I hesitate to take on a road runner e-mail address because we may not keep it forever. I want your advice about getting a new e-mail address that I can consider permanent. I do have my own website for my real estate practice (bought my domain from Go Daddy), but this site is also kind of micro-managed by the realty firm I work for! Would you recommend I buy a separate domain for my family with a couple e-mails on it? Also, if I drop my paid MSN account, can I keep my @msn.com e-mail address as a free one like Hotmail?

You're experiencing a very common problem. No matter what email address you choose, if it's on a domain you don't control you run the risk of losing it some day. If you have lots of contacts and correspondents, changing it can be a real problem.

So, let's change it.

One last time.

The key in my opinion is to have your permanent email address on a domain that you own, you control, and that you expect to own and control forever.

As you can imagine that rules out a permanent email address using the domains of any ISP, any company that you work for, or any organization that you might someday leave. The domain needs to be yours, and yours alone. Fortunately that's not very difficult. Yes, all the real cool domain names may already be taken, but that doesn't mean you can't find something that will work quite acceptably for your email needs.

So, in your case I don't know what "kind of micro-managed by the realty firm" means. If you left that firm, can you take the domain with you? If not the answer is clear: get another domain. If you could take it with you, then perhaps it's not as big an issue. In either case, getting another domain is the safest if there's any question about future ownership or use.

Side note: when choosing that additional domain, be sure to consider that someday you may be using that email address for situations you wouldn't think of today. Domains that relate to your current profession are kind of tricky: they add a sense of legitimacy to your business correspondence, but if you ever change careers, you're kind of stuck. For example a domain like "ask-leo.com" is more flexible since the it really only implies "ask" and "leo". I could change careers and the domain could still apply. (In reality I have other domains that are more generic that I use for my email, but you get the idea.) Keep in mind also that if you plan to use your permanent email address as part of your business, now or in the future, you'll probably want to steer away from "creative" or silly domain names which could hurt your perceived professionalism.

"The key in my opinion is to have your permanent email address on a domain that you own, you control, and that you expect to own and control forever."

So, once you have your domain, what's the best way to handle all this?

Well, you certainly don't need some fancy server, web hosting or anything like that, unless or until you decide you actually need it. The simplest approach is to have your domain registrar forward email to you at yourdomain.com to you at your ISP's email account; your msn.com address in your example. Make sure people start to use your new permanent address, but you'll receive your msn.com addressed email as long as you keep that account open. If you ever change ISPs away from msn.com, then all you do is change where that email gets forwarded - the people that send you email need never know you changed anything. (You'll also need to configure your email program to send email "from" you at your domain, even though you're sending using your ISP's mail servers. Google's GMail also allows you to do this.)

The biggest issue here is the transition. Once you have your permanent email address on your own domain, and everything is set up so that you can send and receive on that email address, you need to transition from whatever it is you have today.

My recommendation is to plan on a long transition. By that I mean, plan on keeping your existing account for a while before you drop it. Give people notification that your email address has changed, but expect it to take some time before all the "real" email to your old address switches over. You can tell, though, once it does, and use that as a good indicator for when it's safe to drop that account and move elsewhere.

And no, I'm not aware of any way to have your old msn.com address forward elsewhere once you leave the service. It's also unclear if they'll let you keep it as a free address; certainly they have no real incentive to do it. Since you're currently paying them I assume you have access to customer support and may be able to ask them before you leave.

To sum up the steps I would recommend:

  • Buy a new domain that you own and control; and buy it at a registrar that includes email forwarding (most do, but check).

  • Set up your new permanent email address "you at yourdomain.com" to forward to your old email address ("you at msn.com" in this case).

  • Set up your email program to send email "from" "you at yourdomain.com".

  • Tell everyone about your new permanent email address. Start using it yourself in all your correspondence and whatever else makes sense. Watch for and remind people who continue to use your old address that it's changed and will someday go away.

  • Do that preceding point for a long time. I'm guessing three to six months - maybe as long as a year.

  • When valid email to your old address stops, or is reduced to a trickle, consider yourself free to drop your existing ISP and move your email delivery to another ISP or service. Simply change where "you at yourdomain.com" gets forwarded once that's set up.

I know it seems a little complicated, but the fact is each time you change your email address you will lose contacts. Depending on the nature of your life and/or business that can be a big deal. Going through this process once sets you up for maximum flexibility in the future.

And once it's set up no one but you, your ISP and your registrar need know about any changes.

Article C2953 - March 4, 2007 « »

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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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12 Comments
Chris Spencer
March 4, 2007 11:51 PM

When I last changed my address I just set my old one to forward any messages II receive to my new one, I still occasionally get messages on that account and whenever I do I correct the sender. It is completely transparent except the To bit gives my old address instead of my current one.

Leo A. Notenboom
March 5, 2007 9:17 AM

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Many email services don't provide a forwarding feature. I know that the
free MSN Hotmail and free MSN mails do not. I would assume the same is
true for paid MSN mail.

Leo
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Phil
March 9, 2007 7:37 PM

Many college alumni associations provide an e-mail address that is transparent. You get the prestige of an @*.edu and can change your ISP at will. Just notify them of the new forwarding address.

This is as near permament as one can get.

Michael Horowitz
March 11, 2007 6:07 PM

I agree with everything Leo said, but would like to expand on it a bit.

There are two types of email addresses: those with a real mailbox/inbox and those that are nothing more than a forwarding rule. To borrow a phrase, for the second type of email address, there is no there there. Personally, I have one inbox and a couple dozen email addresses. All but one of the email address are simply forwarding rules, and they all forward messages to my one inbox.

The companies that register domains (mylumbercompany.com) are called Registrars. To register a domain, simply visit the web site of a Registar with a credit card in hand. All Registrars offer a search feature on their web site where you can check whether your desired domain name is taken or not.

I have dealt with more than my share of Registrars and recommend directnic.com which, at the time of this writing, charges $15/year for a domain. GoDaddy is a very popular Registrar and I've found them to be average - not the best and not the worst. They currently charge $9/year for a domain.

But there probably isn't a lot of money to be made registeriing domains, so Registrars also offer email services and web site hosting. The services offered and pricing varies greatly. Often some bare bones email and website hosting is included in the price of the domain registration.

When reviewing email services, be aware that the common term for a real mailbox (as opposed to a forwarding rule) is a POP3 account. In general POP3 accounts cost more and/or are more limited than forwarded email addresses. I assume it's a more expensive service in that it requires storage space on a server and possibly virus scanning and spam filtering.

Directnic.com includes free email forwarding when you register a domain with them. Real mailboxes are an extra charge.

The email services provided by GoDaddy when you register a domain are very confusing. Their marketing term is "complete email", but after looking all over their web site, I could not figure out exactly what this means (and I checked both while logged in and not). I think it includes a single real mailbox and email forwarding, but don't hold me to it. They offer two different plans for buying additional email services.

Register.com does not include any email services when you register a domain with them. I'm not a big fan of Register.com.

If email is your priority, there is no need to have any web site connected to your domain. The common term for this is "parking". Often the registrar will create a single page web site for you automatically. It serves as advertising for them and provides notice to the outside world that your domain name is taken.

Interestingly, if you have a website hosted with a company other than your Registrar, then you can get email service from either your Registrar or your website hosting company.

Finally, if you own your own domain, guard the userid/password for your account with your Registrar carefully. It is the keys to the castle.

Ron Sanders
June 6, 2007 10:00 AM

Leo, I am trying to drop my old service provider, "Carolina.net". Can I have my email, associatetd with them, forwarded to a new address for a period of time. They , Carolina.net, do not provide that service.

Leo A. Notenboom
June 6, 2007 9:27 PM

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No, not unless they provide the service.

Thanks,

Leo
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Dan Warrener
August 30, 2007 1:23 AM

Dear Leo,

Thankyou!

For years I have been changing email addresses here and there but for the past 7 years have had one with my ISP. It was reasonably private and all but I realized I had one with my domain that I never used. Now I'm keeping my email with my ISP open for two - three years, following the pointers in this article, while I migrate everything I have (I'm quite the enthusiast and have my email on possibly thousands of systems). Thankyou so much, you've made quite a difference in my tech-life with this article.

Dan.

Val
October 14, 2007 2:31 PM

thank you

Vaughn Cable
October 23, 2007 12:48 PM

Leo, you don't have to post this. I was just trying to understand it better before I jump into the water.
1) What happens to my registered domain name if my registrar goes out of business?
2) Can another registrar pick up my domain name
3) Isn't a registrar essentially agreeing to keep your domain name active on a DNS?
4) Isn't a domain name synonymous with an IP address?
5) Is it possible to get a .net domain instead of a .com domain? I only want it for my family, not for a commercial business.

Leo A. Notenboom
October 23, 2007 2:31 PM

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1) What happens to my registered domain name if my registrar goes out of
business?

Usually as part of going out of business the registrar transfers all
registrations to another registrar.

2) Can another registrar pick up my domain name

Aside from going out of business, or perhaps selling their assets to another
registrar, they cannot - at least not without your permission. You can elect to
transfer, of course, to another registrar.

3) Isn't a registrar essentially agreeing to keep your domain name active on a DNS?

Yes and no. Your registrar must keep a pointer to the DNS servers that define
your DNS entries. That DNS Server may, or may not, be owned and run by the
registrar. Again, up to you.

4) Isn't a domain name synonymous with an IP address?

No.

A domain name may point to several IP addresses. (It's a poor form of load
balancing - you can assign multiple IPs to the same domain name, and people
accessing the domain name will get one of those addresses at random.)

Similarly, several domains may point to the same IP. A good example would
be several sites hosted on a single server.

5) Is it possible to get a .net domain instead of a .com domain? I only want
it for my family, not for a commercial business.

Sure. Just check with your registrar for availability. Example: I own both
ask-leo.com and ask-leo.net.

Leo

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Vaughn Cable
October 23, 2007 7:34 PM

Thank you, Leo. That cleared up all the loose ends for me. I will try directnic.com (mentioned above) & see if they live up to their reputation.

Brian Babson
January 11, 2009 3:29 PM

Hi, Leo. For my permanent email address, I am debating the wisdom of using my own name as my domain name. On the plus side, MyName.com would be easy for people to remember. On the minus side, as you no doubt are aware, my contact information -- address, phone number, email -- becomes available to the public through WhoIs.com. In theory, any access to personal information is potentially harmful. But realistically, I wonder how much risk it poses.

Some registrars offer a service to keep the information private. But apparently, under any pressure at all, they surrender the information. See "Private domains not so private?" at http://news.cnet.com/Private-domains-not-so-private/2100-1038_3-5833663.html Doesn't sound good.

I know of a somewhat controversial investigative journalist and also well-known British atheist that use their own names. Apparently, they aren't too worried about the exposure, unless they've found another way to shield themselves.

Any thoughts?

If you look up the registration to any of my domains you'll see how I've addressed the issue: the mailing address is a post office box, and the phone number is a fax/voicemail service. This guarantees I can be reached (which is the requirement) without disclosing more personal information.

I tend to dislike privacy services because they hide everything, and often I'm just looking for the owner of a domain without any plans to stalk them or show up at their doorstop. (Email's typically all I want.)

You're correct, though, that by using a privacy service you're trusting that they will, in fact, keep your privacy. Certainly there are legal issues at play that might force them not to, or they could just be less than upstanding about it. At least with my approach I know what's out there, and have some small amount of control while still remaining in accordance with the rules.

- Leo
11-Jan-2009

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