worked well for me, but lately it seems that I’m not getting email from mailing
lists I’ve signed up for, and the list owners blame AOL. What’s up with that? I
also heard these rumors that AOL is charging to send email? How will I be
impacted by that? Should I just find myself another ISP?
I actually can’t answer that last question – it’s a decision you’ll have to
make for yourself. Some of it depends on your level of comfort with computers
in general, since AOL remains relatively easy to use for the less computer
But apparently it’s also going to depend on your level of tolerance for
AOL’s attempts to thwart spam.
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We all know spam’s a huge problem. In a recent
analysis I determined that fully 87% of the mail my wife and I received
last year was spam. Fortunately we have tools in place such that we didn’t
actually have to deal with it all personally.
This puts large ISPs like AOL, MSN, and large email providers like Yahoo and
GMail, in a very difficult position. Their customers rely on them to filter out
spam. But telling spam from legitimate mail (colloquially referred to has
‘ham’) is impossible to get right 100% of the time. Hence mistakes are made –
spam makes is through, and occasionally legitimate email gets filtered.
The real test, in my mind, is how much control do the ISPs give you over
those errors? What recourse do you have to prevent, say, these “false
positives” filtering your legitimately requested email?
At this writing, the answer – at least for AOL – is apparently “not
Many list owners are very upset at recent changes to AOL’s spam
filtering. Many mailing lists are currently experiencing problems and are
unable to deliver reliably to AOL customers. And what’s important is that these
are customers who explicitly asked for this email. Reports are that
AOL is not responding well to customer complaints, and mailing list managers
who are working with AOL to get their lists delivered are having difficulty as
Some lists are simply giving up on AOL.
Which is unfortunate, for the lists, for the AOL customers, and ultimately
for AOL as well.
Spam is a difficult problem, to be sure, but ultimately it seems like the
paying customer should be able to say what they do, and do not, want. AOL seems
to feel otherwise.
On top of all this are recent news reports that AOL is considering a plan
that would charge mailers to send messages to AOL customers. Rumors have it as
a per-email charge, or a bulk charge, and it would be charged to only some
mailers or all. It either would, or would not, replace AOL’s “whitelist” (a
list of mailers that AOL whitelists based on obscure criteria that boil down to
The concern is that one would have to pay to get on to this replacement
whitelist or its equivalent. The bigger concern is that some legitimate mailers
(say, non profits, with no budget) would be excluded from this program, and
that spammers would gladly pay to be on it. AOL customers would presumably not
pay – unless you consider getting more spam and less of the legitimate mail you
asked for a “cost”.
In my opinion there’s still a lot of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)
concerning this plan, and not a lot of concrete specifics yet. I wouldn’t make
any decisions based on it, until it’s actually been implemented and the
specifics are clear. But the concept has an already concerned internet
community quite up in arms.
Now, to be fair, the mailing list for my
newsletter has many AOL subscribers, and my biggest problem has not been
with AOL delivering the newsletter, but rather with readers using the This is spam
However should a problem develop, or more importantly, should I be required
to pay to send to AOL subscribers, I may be forced to give up on AOL
So, what should you do if you’re an AOL subscriber?
In my opinion: simply be prepared. Get another email address with a
different provider. I’m kind of partial to GMail these days, but there are many
free email providers out there. My recommendation is that you migrate your
mailing list and newsletter subscriptions to be delivered on one of those
accounts instead of your AOL account.
As I said before, whether you leave AOL or continue to use it is really a
more personal decision based on your comfort level with your computer and your
level of satisfaction with the value you’re getting from your monthly payment
to AOL in general.
If you’re happy, don’t switch.
But get that backup email account anyway.