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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Take control of your e-mail now or suffer later

There are a bunch of questions that people should start asking themselves, in light of these reports that their Google accounts have been shut down for one reason or another. How much control of your online life have you handed over to someone else? Is it an individual, a small company, or a giant company? Do they have any reason to care about you? What makes you so sure?

Let's say the entirety of your e-mail life is a traditional Gmail account. If anything bad happens to it, you're toast. If you don't know someone on the inside with some pull (as opposed to the many on the inside with no pull), or if you aren't some kind of Internet personality, forget about it. You might as well start gambling. It'll give you some idea of the odds.

So, take a step back. Perhaps you register a domain and you are actually the registered owner for it (as opposed to having some hosting company own it). You then point that at Google, turning it into a "Apps for your Domain" situation. You're now a second class citizen in terms of trying to use things like Buzz or that other thing that everyone is gabbing about now, but hey, you have your hosted e-mail now.

Now imagine something bad happens as before in this scenario. You can just go to your registrar and swing the authoritative DNS servers over to somewhere else. If this is not your line of work, it will be a trying time. You have to put all of this together and do it without the benefit of your e-mail account. I hope you didn't lose access to your registrar account, since the "unlock your account" e-mail will go into the Mountain View black hole. Make sure you have a registrar you can get on the phone, in other words. Out of band access will save the day.

The next step up from that would be to use someone else as your hosted e-mail provider, and actually pay for it. Aim for some place which is smaller and is known for customer support. Odds are, they will care about your business and won't want to break your stuff by turning your service off at the drop of a hat. They actually need your business, and need customers who will recommend them to others -- the "net promoter" concept. Also, there's a good chance you'll have an actual way to call in and get help if something really bad happens.

Stepping back once more, you could go to the trouble of getting your own server somewhere, whether virtualized somewhere, or an actual physical whitebox or 2U sitting in a rack somewhere. This is probably much too far to the side of freedom for most people, since now you have to put on an actual sysadmin hat. You have to worry about running the box in addition to paying for it. This is probably far too crazy for most people.

On one end, you have a corporation that has no reason to care about you. On the other, you take all of the responsibility. Aim for the middle.