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What your email address says about you
Hi, everyone. Leo Notenboom here for askleo.com. I got an interesting comment as I was looking through questions the other day. It was related to email, and it was essentially what about AOL? A number of people are using AOL.com email addresses.
They were wondering why it hadn’t come up in any of the discussions of late on various email services and such. To be clear, AOL is a fine, fine service. They’ve been around forever. They have both a free and a paid service. You can, for free, go and sign up for an AOL.com email address if you’d like.
But they also have paid services that add things like support, supposedly 24/7 live support if you need help with your AOL account. That’s actually kind of cool. Now as it turns out, I have an AOL account. It’s actually an AIM account. AOL Instant Messenger which is something that I was using for awhile some years ago.
I just did a password reset on it before recording this video, as a matter of fact, because I hadn’t used it in quite some time. It’s still out there; the interface for AOL mail looks fine. I put it basically on a par with the other free email services. It’s good and I’ll probably end up mentioning it and occasionally recommending it from time to time as we move forward.
But one of the things that thinking about AOL brought to mind is this concept of email reputation or more correctly, email address reputation. There’s an interesting adage I use a lot when I talk about writing and it’s an old advertising phrase for a vocabulary course. It goes, “People judge you by the words you use.”
Well, the same is true, although to a smaller degree, based on what email address you use. People judge you by the email service you happen to use. That’s been true for a very long time and it’s been true pretty much for all of the free email services since their inception.
One great example is Hotmail.com. For many, many years, Hotmail was really looked down upon by a number of internet providers and the technical community because they saw it as the realm of children, spammers and less experienced internet and computer users.
In fact, there’s one story of at least one at the time very popular humor email list who simply ended up refusing to take subscription from people at Hotmail.com email addresses simply because in his experience, supporting Hotmail users wasn’t worth the effort.
His concept or his position was that they couldn’t follow simple directions; they didn’t understand what he was saying. Whether that was true or not, it’s an example of some of the kinds of the preconceptions that an email address can bring along with it.
Today, Gmail is actually another free service that has a much better reputation. People tend to believe that users of Gmail.com are taking email just a little bit more seriously and are perhaps a little bit more technically astute.
Again, whether that’s actually the case or not is, as it turns out, almost immaterial. It’s the preconceptions that we have to worry about. It’s the prejudices that exist. AOL, then, is another case of having some serious, I won’t even say serious but at least having significant preconceptions about what an AOL user is typically like.
And the big one is that, in general, the technical community often assumes that an AOL user is an older person with little or not computer background. Now, the interesting thing about that in researching this a little bit, again, before recording this video, is that one of the benefits of signing up for one of the paid plans with AOL (in addition to service) is that if you’re over 50, it includes a membership in AARP – the Association of Retired People. So in a way, AOL seems to be embracing that. They seem to be saying, yep, we are specifically supporting the notion that our users are older than the average computer user out there.
I understand that even younger comedians often make jokes about AOL addresses that their grandparents are using. Again, does it really matter? Does it make a difference? Not really. Again, AOL is a fine service. Hotmail is a fine service. Gmail is a fine service. Any of these other free email services, as long as it’s a “named”, a well-known company, they’re probably all really fine services.
It’s this preconception, these preconceived notions that you may be faced with from time to time that actually might impact how you are perceived by others on the internet. I want to be clear; it’s not nearly as bad as it once was. In the early days, absolutely, these kinds of preconceptions were fairly widespread as more and more people got on the internet.
And to AOL’s credit specifically, they are responsible for a lot of people actually making it on to the internet and being able to connect to the internet in the first place. So in that sense they’ve done the community a huge service but I think one of the things that happened as a side effect of their huge marketing push years ago is that a number of people who got AOL for the first time and got on the internet for the first time then, are still there because it’s comfortable and it works, and you know what, yep, we all got older in the meantime.
There is one exception to this, and I’ll talk about this in a second, and that is if you’re doing business. I want to definitely call out business use of your email as something else, but the bottom line here is that yes, people, some people, particularly in the technical community may make some assumptions, make some prejudgments about who and what you are and what you are capable of based on nothing more than your email address.
Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you change your email address so that you’ll be perceived better. This isn’t really that big of a problem, it just is this low-level undercurrent to the communications you might have with others on the internet.
In particular, if you’re dealing with technical companies, if you’re dealing with technical support, it is possible that some of their representatives, may make some assumptions based on your email address. Not really a lot you can do about it, it’s one of those things that I simply want you to be aware of as you exchange information with individuals to at least be able to understand that they may respond in a way that doesn’t necessarily match who you really are, based again, on nothing more than your email address.
And I like I said, it’s not as bad as it once was, but it’s definitely still prevalent. Now, the one exception that I wanted to point out here is this concept of using email for business. And I’m going to actually delve into this into much more depth on Ask Leo! on Business in the coming weeks because I think it’s very important for people who are trying to conduct business on the internet to have a professional appearance, and I’ve got to say it, flat out, using a free email account, be it Gmail, or Hotmail or AOL or any of the others is not something that honestly, looks very professional if you’re trying to do business online.
But like I said, that’s something I’m going to delve into in a little bit more detail or a lot more detail in Ask Leo! on Business as that project proceeds over the course of the next few weeks So that’s one of the things that I just wanted you to be aware of. Like I said, I don’t think there’s anything you need to do to change. You’re certainly change people’s attitudes, people’s preconceived notions. I don’t think that’s a valid thing or a valid thing to even consider but you can at least be aware that sometimes that might be happening.
I’d love to hear your experience, particularly if you’ve got an AOL address. Here’s the deal: If you are using AOL, if you’re using their paid service, I would love to understand how their online support, how their 24/7 technical support is working out for you. I ask that because one of the things that I sometimes struggle with is this concept of, “Well, Leo, if free email addresses aren’t good. In other words, they don’t have any support and I run into trouble and I have nobody to turn to, what paid services do you recommend?”
Well, AOL has a paid service, but I don’t have any good track record, any good information on exactly how good their technical support is, so if that’s you, if you’re a paying AOL.com customer, let me know in the comments below. As always, go to this link up on askleo.com. You’ll find this video, the transcript and all of the moderated comments with your information.
I’d love to hear what you think – both about the topic but again on AOL’s support specifically. Thanks again for watching. I will see you again next week. We’ll talk some more, I think about email. Until then, have fun, stay safe and don’t forget to back up. Take care.
(*) Actually AARP stands for American Association of Retired Persons.