Spam, the other white meat

More than three years ago I got a Gmail account for no other reason than it was the cool thing to do. Gmail was in beta, invite only and fairly exclusive. The first month that invites started to be sent out, each user would get five to give to friends and family. I’m not kidding when I tell you that people bought and sold these invites for upwards of $100 and a secondary market started on eBay selling already registered Gmail email addresses of famous peoples names, companies and single letter addresses. It was nuts. I’ll also admit to selling a few invites myself and no, I don’t feel guilty for it. I didn’t use the email address for more than a year, I just sat on it. I wanted to make sure I got the one I have before someone else did and figured I could always use it as a backup if needed.

Since 2000 I have been using email hosted with my own website, mikepanic.com and had very few issues with it. I enjoyed using Outlook and had nearly no spam issues. This changed about two years ago. After using the same email address for nearly 6 years, the spam started to pour in. Clearly I had signed up for something somewhere that sold my email address or, more than likely, spam bots captured my email address which was publicly shown on my website and started to use it. There is virtually no way to combat spam outside of shutting down an email account. What is out of control? Try 600+ spam messages a day. Try not logging into your email for 9 months and seeing 17,000 new messages! This is when I started to use Gmail on a regular basis.

After a painful week or so of going through and switching over various forums, online bill paying and bank account sites to my new Gmail address, confirming them all and getting it roughly squared away, I all but stopped logging into Outlook and figured I’d deal with the spam later. Gmail it was, and web based too!

Going web based was pretty normal to me, no real issues there, I lost a few minor things in Outlook that I liked, but overall I’m happy, really happy with how Gmail works and have been for the last two years now.
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About two months ago I logged into Gmail and saw something I hadn’t seen in a long time, waiting emails in the spam folder. Now don’t get me wrong, Gmail isn’t perfect, there have been a handful of false-positives going in there, but it only happened once ever few months. Over the period of the next few weeks a few more came in and a few more and a few more. It’s not overwhelming yet, as seen here in the screen grab from this week, but it does make me wonder about those sites I give my email address too.

I have been and continue to be really cautious of who I give my email address to, I’ve gone as far as setting up forwarders for different websites I own that filter back to Gmail and can kill them off if they start to become abused. What market is really available anymore for spam email? Do people still fall for the false Paypal and bogus credit card phishing scams?

Gmail seems to be working again

After more than thirty minutes of seeing errors while trying to send a message in Gmail, whatever was ailing the server seems to have been fixed. Being that Gmail is still beta, it makes me reflect on an earlier article, what if Gmail shuts down. I rely on Gmail probably more than I should, but for some reason I really trust Google. In the grand scheme of things, these 30 minutes of downtime is probably less than one tenth of one percent of total downtime since the service was launched. I’m just happy it is back.

Gmail is dead in the water

As of about 10:50am EST, Google’s web based email Gmail is dead is not responding. What makes it worse is that Google Groups are giving a 500 Internal Server Error when trying to view them. It took more than 10 minutes to get my email to load properly, trying to send a message has resulted in this cryptic message.

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Searching Google for this term has proved all but useless, since the first 10 pages of results are links to Google Groups pages, which are dead as well. If someone kicked the plug out of the wall that runs the Gmail & Groups servers, please plug it back in.

Gmail + AIM = everyone is happy

AIM, also known as AOL Instant messenger, is still my instant message software of choice; I’ve been using it for what seems like forever and have several hundred contacts in it. Google‘s Gmail has a chat feature built in, no need to download software, so this works in a pinch, but only if the person you are talking to has Gmail and is logged into their email account and / or has a chat client that supports Google Talk. But what if you want to talk to someone on AIM but don’t have the client software installed on the computer you are sitting at, say at work, because your network nazi has prevented you from installing time wasting software.

Don’t fear! Google has integrated AIM into their Chat program, allowing you to login to your Gmail account and contact people on your AIM buddy list. No software to download, it just works. They do suggest you have Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 2 installed in order to get all the features and functions to work properly, skip IE and go for Firefox.

What if Gmail shuts down?

For more then seven years now I have been using email hosted through one of my domain names, if not several. I made the move for several reasons, one of which was when I started photography on a more serious level; having a Hotmail account didn’t seem so professional. I enjoyed a spam free life for several years as a result and have loved the ability to use Outlook and custom scripts.

About two years ago is when the spam started to get really out of hand for me, today I receive upwards of 1500 messages daily and my web hosts says they are doing everything they can. While I doubt they are really doing everything, I’ve had the need to be more mobile with my email. Dealing with that much spam through a web based interface sucks, so I got a Gmail invite shortly after it was announced. Back then, one could actually sell invites to Gmail, strange, I know.

In any event, I mostly wanted it so I could get the email address of my choice and not stick a bunch of numbers or underscores or dumb stuff under it. For more then a year, it sat idle; I had no use for it. I dealt with the spam, tried to run custom scripts, and just got overwhelmed. After not checking my email for about 4 months I logged in to see close to 70,000 emails download from my server. That’s it, I was done, and it was my breaking point.

During this time I also needed a way to get a hold of people outside of social networking sites and text messages, in addition to paying bills online and getting a few email newsletters I truly enjoy. This is where Gmail came to save the day.

While I tend not to jump on the bandwagon when new products and services come out, this is one I should have jumped on earlier. I love the ability to be back to a web based email, checking at work, forwarding to phone, etc. I could run it through Thunderbird, my favorite mail application now, however I don’t. In a previous article, I’ve mentioned my love for a Firefox add-on that allows me to upload files to my Gmail account, comes in very handy as a personal server.

My concern now is that Gmail is still beta. Google has a long running habit of keeping products in beta forever. Blogger took several years before it was a final release and Google very rarely dumps products that have passed alpha and made it to beta, but they could.

Millions of us are now addicted to Gmail, what if it ups and closes tomorrow? What if it goes to a fee based service? I wouldn’t pay for it, I already pay for my own domains and web hosting, but I like Gmail, so maybe I would. Not having control over the final outcome makes me a bit weary.

Google updates their customizable homepage

Google has made some changes to their homepage, www.google.com/ig in the last few hours. I’m not sure yet if this has cached across the whole world, but here on the east coast of America it has. The Google Homepage allows users to login with their Google account (formally only known as a Gmail account) and fill the page with widgets for weather reports, stock tickers, images from Flickr, and what I use it for, RSS feeds. The ability to easily add feeds from websites makes keeping up to date on them much easier. Tonight, Google has improved upon the Homepage experience even more.

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Firefox add-on: Gmail Space

If you are not already using Firefox, get it, simple as that. The Gmail Space extension will load into your status bar and allow you to easily upload files to your Gmail account. With nearly 3GB of storage space, I find myself uploading common things I may need at home, work, and at friend’s houses, which all have internet access. Rather then carry a USB flash drive all the time or waste burning a CD, I found this add-on.

This extension allows you to use your Gmail Space (2.5 GB and growing) for file storage. It acts as an online drive, so you can upload files from your hard drive and access them from every Internet capable system.

It’s great for storing/sharing files with your friends. Also very good to backup photos and music files (as you can view/listen to them from Gspace).

To access the files at a later date, just login to your Gmail account. I’ve created labels to help organize the uploads, such as documents, photos, contracts, misc, and just archive them through Gmail. This is also great for students who don’t have access to USB ports on a school’s computer but need access to files, simply upload them to your Gmail account and login at whatever computer you are sitting at.