Don't panic, but you're surrounded.
You are surrounded by multiplying URL's and email addresses, if you haven't noticed yet, as the Internet-ification of everyday objects continues at an almost comic rate.
You though it was bad when those little @'s and www's began cropping up on everyone's business cards and the like. Now they ride the label on your microbrew, the underside of
your lemonade (Visit us at www.snapple.com!) and even your toothpaste. Pacing the Void ordered a pizza last night and the receipt had the store's email address right below "ADD+XTRA CHEEZ".
For a while there, though, it looked like nobody was doing anything truly interesting with email and the web except trying their hardest to make a buck.
Then suddenly - a compromise, and a pretty good one. Something that makes the lowly users happy while making someone, somewhere, a ton of money.
That something was web-based email. More importantly, free Web-based email.
For those of you that missed all of the initial hype, Web-based email is just what it sounds like. It is a way of sending and receiving email through the World Wide Web, as opposed to the traditional setups that, until now, have provided email access in almost every possible manner but the World Wide Web.
Web-based email means that any web-capable machine can be used for email purposes. Even some text browsers like LYNX will do the trick.
For those of us who cringe when we're away from our regular email,
web email gives us an extra place to get our daily fix as long as we can get the Web.
More importantly, free web based email could possibly be the
answer for the millions of people who simply don't have access to email.
Even if they don't have a computer, they can jump on the b@ndwagon and get
their own address in about three minutes.
It works like this. Person A wants web email, because they don't have a computer, or because they want somewhere to forward their messages while they're at that big web conference next week. It could even be because Person A's company email isn't secure, or isn't supposed to be used for personal use.
Person A jumps to a site like HotMail or RocketMail, and signs up. Along with their username and password choices, they answer a few questions regarding their age and interests.
From then on, they have a working web-email address with all the trimmings, such as POP3 access, spam filters, attachments, spell checking, forwarding - even the ability to view attached graphics files on-screen through their browser. Some services are pretty generous with their space, too. Four11 's
RocketMail gives its users 3 megs of storage space. That's three times the space given to university email account users.
And best of all, it's free. The company makes a profit by selling targeted ad space. All those signup questions the user answered get stuck in a database, which is used to determine the content of rotating banner ads that ride the top of the user's inbox. Tucsonans who log in, for example, get ads for Phoenix web sites or the next concert in town. People logging in from Alaska get ads for airfare to Tucson.
So far this advertiser-supported setup has worked pretty well. HotMail hit its 3 million user mark in April, two months before its one year anniversary. There were no online figures for their ad revenue, but judging the speed with which they've upgraded their services it looks like they're making a decent amount of money.
It would be unfair not to mention the other free email services out there, like Juno and NetAddress, but they work differently than the dominant web email providers.
Juno is free, but not web-based. The same targeted-advertising
setup applies but users must download Juno's software and dial in though
local access numbers. Not to worry, though - Tucson has two access numbers, as does Phoenix. Even Yuma has an access number.
NetAddress, which is web-based, took their advertising a little
too far, sticking their ads in the taglines of the user's outgoing email.
Sure, they'll take out the ads if you want them to - for $25. Skip it, unless you don't mind annoying everyone you send email to, or paying the $25.
All of the services have policies against spamming, chain mail, and mass emailings. They also make it explicitly clear that they are not to provide anonymous email accounts, although their current setup doesn't make it hard for users to do so.
Adding to the fray are the many forwarding services available that let users' email appear as if it is originating from somewhere else, like @beer.com, or @theoffice.net. A few forwarding services combined with web email could make for a clever way to hide an identity, or at least the chance for multiple online personalities to spring up in record time. Who would know that email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com all lead back to the same person? No one.
Potential abuses aside, Web-email has earned it's place in the 'Why didn't I think of that' category in record time. Dealing with a few tiny banner ads is a small price to pay for free email, so if you're looking for something new to play with or simply would like to try web email, check it out.
#1- January 24
#2- January 31
#3- February 4
#4- February 7
#5- February 11
#6- February 14
#7- February 18
#8- February 21
#9- February 25
#10- February 28
#11- March 4
#12- March 7
#13- March 11
#14- March 14
#15- April 15
#16- April 18
#17- April 22
#18- April 25
#19- April 29
#20 - May 2