For better or worse, this seems to be the common practice when it comes to e-mail. Individuals tend to have:
- Primary work e-mail address
- Primary personal e-mail address
- Secondary e-mail address
The work e-mail is necessary for business-related conversations. In order to prevent it from filling up a possible quota or having possible distractions or embarrassing messages, we set up a personal e-mail address. Then for all those random sites we have to sign up for (and we’re not sure they’ll spam us or sell our information), we use another e-mail address. These personal e-mail addresses probably come from the popular 3 sources of free e-mail accounts: Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or Hotmail. You can’t just make up a fake e-mail address for many of these sites because they’ll send you an e-mail containing a link to verify that the e-mail address exists.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed:
- Knowing which site is selling your information
- Sorting incoming e-mail
- Having to check multiple e-mail accounts
- Blocking spam
If you have a Gmail account you can make use of a cool feature called Plus Addressing. For example, to send an e-mail to your gmail account I would send to YourEmail@gmail.com. With Plus Addressing, you can tell me your e-mail address is YourEmailfirstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, this works better on electronic registration pages than telling people. Now, you can set up a filter to label all incoming messages sent to YourEmailemail@example.com. If spammers were to get this e-mail address, YourEmailfirstname.lastname@example.org, you would know that I was the one that had published this address or sold your information.
This is a pretty cool feature, but it requires a lot of manual work in setting up filters. There are also plenty of sites out there that won’t let you sign up with an e-mail account that has a ‘+’ in it (Microsoft websites, just to name one example). Spammers, if they get smart (which they always eventually do), would just start parsing the ‘+spam’ out of e-mail addresses.
In order to address these problems, there is a better way of doing this. You can create your secondary e-mail account over at OtherInbox. Right now the site is in a private beta. If you sign up over at their site, they’ll periodically send out invitations in which the first 50 responders can create an account. The good news with it being in beta is that awesome new features could always be right around the corner.
Let me highlight some of the cool features that are currently available. Basically OtherInbox is exactly like any other free e-mail account, you can receive and send e-mail, but how OtherInbox differs is also what makes it the perfect secondary e-mail account.
When you sign up for OtherInbox, you’ll create an account. This will let you receive all your e-mail to @YourAccount.otherinbox.com. The trick to OtherInbox is that the first part of the e-mail address, which is usually your account name is actually for you to change whenever you’re entering your e-mail address somewhere.
Let’s say I’m creating a new account on StumbleUpon. The e-mail account I’d sign up with would be stumbleupon@YourAccount.otherinbox.com. You’d do the same thing with other sites you register with digg@YourAccount.otherinbox.com, delicious@YourAccount.otherinbox.com, and etc. You could even give out your e-mail address with this kind of information: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc. When you compose messages, you can choose which e-mail address it comes from, so it all stays together.
Now, when you receive an e-mail sent to email@example.com, it will automatically be put in a folder called stumbleupon with any other e-mails sent to that same e-mail address. Most likely, any e-mail sent from the StumbleUpon site will be sent to that address and thus should end up in the appropriate stumbleupon sub-folder in your inbox. You can see how this looks in the screenshot below.
This feature really takes care of three of the problems: sorting mail, knowing which site(s) are selling your information, and blocking spam. Wait, how does this block spam? Well, anytime you find out that an e-mail address of yours has been compromised, you just click the ‘Block All’ button. This will prevent any incoming e-mail from that address from reaching your inbox. It will get filtered to the Blocked folder on the left. If you still wish to do business with the site that sold or published your e-mail address, you can just go to their site and change your listed e-mail address to something else and see if they release your information again. I, however, would recommend finding an alternative website.
The final problem was regarding having to check multiple e-mail accounts. OtherInbox provides a few conveniences so that you don’t have to really log into the interface that often. You can have the messages forwarded onto another e-mail account of yours, if you would like. This is convenient, but pretty much defeats the purpose in the first place in my opinion. Another offering of OtherInbox fits much better in my opinion: RSS feed. You can subscribe to your Inbox in your favorite RSS Feed Reader, like Google Reader, and receive any new messages there. This helps bring your messages to you without cluttering up your e-mail.
One final cool feature of OtherInbox that I’ll highlight is the ability to add domains. It’s a lot to type each time you enter your e-mail address: example@YourAccount.otherinbox.com. If you own a domain, you can point your mail servers (MX Records) to point to OtherInbox, and they have easy instructions on how to do this. So now, you can take advantage of the OtherInbox features but have an e-mail address at your own domain. Example@YourAccount.otherinbox.com becomes firstname.lastname@example.org. This does a lot for branding and lets you take advantage of all the other features OtherInbox offers. OtherInbox has all the information you need to update the setting on your server.
One really cool side-effect of using my OtherInbox account for signing up at a lot of random sites is that I don’t have to guess the username. If they use the e-mail address as the user name, I then know that I sign in using sitename@MyDomain.com
Sign up for the beta over at OtherInbox and get yourself an account.