Changing e-mail address due to unreliable ISP.

8 02 2007

Warning – this includes a bit of a rant about my current ISP (whom I’m not going to name, except to say that they have nothing whatsoever to do with this blog or its hosting), and isn’t related to Java or programming, but does include one “idea”, albeit fairly vague.

This week I suddenly discovered that my broadband ISP’s service has deteriorated to the point that most of the e-mails I send are being silently blocked. Apparently this is a well-known problem with this ISP, and has been getting worse month-by-month. It appears they haven’t been dealing with spam adequately, so many other services are now simply blocking anything that comes from their machines. The ISP seems unable or unwilling to resolve this issue, isn’t warning its customers, and as far as I can tell isn’t even prepared to publically acknowledge the problem.

Looking back, I’d had a few e-mails where I was surprised not to get a response, or thought it was taking a long time to get a reply. Then last week I was puzzling over why an automated mailing list had picked up one or two of the e-mails sent to it but not others (and just would not let me unsubscribe no matter how many times I tried). It never occurred to me that my ISP’s once-reliable e-mail systems were simply not delivering my e-mails. It only leapt out at me when I was testing a set of new e-mail accounts for my business, and could see exactly which e-mails did and didn’t arrive. It became obvious that most e-mails sent from my main home/personal account were simply vanishing. A quick search revealed many other users of my ISP moaning about this.

It’s all too typical of the way things go these days. This was a very reliable service originally, but was successful enough that it got taken over by somebody bigger, and then that got taken over by someone even bigger. Under the giant corporate that now owns it, the service is simply going down the drain. There have been other problems over the last year or so, but this is the final straw. (As it happens, at the very time that I was writing this I suddenly had a two-hour complete outage – just back now – good job I’m not paranoid!).

Well, I already knew it was time to find another ISP, but I’d been putting it off because I first want to get everyone away from using the ISP-specific e-mail address that I’ve been using as my main e-mail address for many years. It’s easy enough to get a new e-mail address going, but it’s a pain to notify everyone and update all my various accounts, subscriptions etc. There’s a long, long list of web-sites that each need visiting to make the change (or unregister from the site if no longer relevant to me). All of them are different, of course, and some of them don’t even provide a way to change the e-mail address they have for you (or have pages for this that simply don’t work).

Notifying people has been relatively painless, but it’s a different story with web-sites, subscriptions and the like. I’m gradually working my way down the list, one site at a time, and a fair old time it’s taking me too. Then I also have the joy of catching up with all the people that didn’t get e-mails I’ve sent out over the last couple of months. Well, it’s my own fault, the warning signs of a deteriorating service have been there ever since the latest take-over of the ISP, and I should have jumped ship straight away rather than putting it off. At least this time I can start using an e-mail address with a domain name of my own, so that any future switching between ISPs won’t affect it.

Maybe there ought to be a way to make changing your e-mail address easier? I don’t know of anything, but one can imagine some kind of standard protocol for giving contact details to web-sites and/or individuals, tracking who you’ve given which details to, and then automatically (but maybe selectively) notifying and updating some or all of them whenever you change any of your contact details. Maybe also for unsubscribing/terminating accounts. Kind of like what I’m doing with simple lists and manual effort, but all automated using some suitable protocol. As well as e-mail addresses, this could cover addresses, phone numbers, and other such details. It’d probably be non-trivial to get the security and privacy right, but something like this ought to be possible in these days of RSS, trackbacks, and all the web-services stuff. Maybe there’s already some kind of web-service standard for this, or even actual products that support it, but I’m not aware of any (and certainly not aware of web-sites stating that they support such a service).

More generally, I can’t remember the point at which I went from treating e-mail as hit-and-miss and unreliable to unintentionally taking it for granted. Well, I’m afraid I’m back to treating it as entirely unreliable again. I’m getting to much the same point with all the AJAX-heavy web-sites, which work some days and not others, and seem to have slightly different behaviour and bugs each time I use them. I remember the early days of the web when web-sites never quite seemed to work properly, but then we seemed to go through a phase where you could generally expect most serious web-sites to be fairly robust, usable and predictable. Now we seem to be back to each site being a hit-and-miss afair depending on your browser, firewall, configuration, day-of-week etc. Maybe the pace of change dooms us to have lots of inexperienced people hacking out quick-and-dirty solutions on technology they don’t quite understand yet, and then moving on to the next big thing – combined with companies whose only concern seems to be fancy marketing, analyst’s perceptions, and who’s taking over who (rather than actually providing good products and services).

Unfortunately I can see this all getting progressively worse rather than better. Hope I’m wrong. Grumpy old man here. Sigh.

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