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 literate.
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 much”.
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 well.
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 “good behavior”).
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 button inappropriately.
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 as well.
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.