When Free is Bad

Everyone likes free stuff. And some of the best technology and services I use are also conveniently free. But today I got a thorough lesson on the perils of free, and when you should pony up some cash for services.

Like many other people, I use Gmail for everything. Email for my various domains (10 last I counted) all ends up in Gmail. In short, Gmail contains my internet life.

I’m sure you can see where this is headed.

Earlier this afternoon, as I hit ‘send’ on an email to my dad, I was informed by Gmail that my session had expired. So I logged out, logged back in, and was then informed that my account was suspended for “unusual activity,” and that generally speaking, these things are resolved within 24 hours. There was no way to get in touch with anyone at Google, and no more information about why I’d been locked out.

As I generic cialis online was seething with rage and trying to figure out how to get in touch with all my business contacts to let them know that I wasn’t ignoring them, I realized that while Gmail kind of sucks, I also had unrealistic expectations of the service they were providing. For free.

Because Gmail is free, they have absolutely no obligation to me or my mail. There’s no obligation to provide anything resembling customer support. Customer support is expensive. So for a whopping total of free dollars, it’s not surprising I’m not getting any.

That’s the problem with free. As a customer you have no leverage. Telling a company I’m going to pack up and take my $0 elsewhere is hardly a compelling reason to do anything.

I use email for business all the time. And while I cursed all things Google and waited for the Gmail fairy to restore access to my mail, I signed up for an account at pobox. At $50 per year it’s not free, but as a business expense it’s pretty cheap. And then I set it up for use with my own domain. That way in the future if I’m not happy with my mail hosting, I can change without having to send out the “hey my email address is changing” message I’m writing right now.

My new email address will be, but I can’t decide what. seems redundant. does too. Maybe I’ll just set up a catch-all and make up my email addresses as I go along. Suggestions?

7 thoughts on “When Free is Bad”

  1. Use a catch-all and when you sign up at websites, you use that website’s name at For example, when using yahoo, you would use yahoo at Then you can find out who is giving away or letting leak your email address. It also adds one more thing to what you can filter with.

  2. I use my JayceLand domain for all my mail. I use Dreamhost for hosting and there was something funny about catch-alls (lack of spam filtering, I think; I was getting lots of bounced mail from “[single-letter]” every once in a while) that led me to switch to setting up individual forwards. I use a different e-mail for different sites thinking it would help curb spam.

    As it turned out, very few sites either got hacked or gave away my e-mail — usually after they went out of business. Alas, all the work of maintaining the list of unique names yields little benefit.

    Knowing what I know now, I’d probably set up a unique account with an encryption-like name (i.e. a random jumble of letters and numbers). Then I’d have e-mail forward to that account from all the common combinations I can think of (jason, jayce, me, etc.) I would send mail with a return address from one of those common names that I liked.

    I’d actually avoid initials (sorry, Jonathan) because of my own experience with spammers setting their return address to a working domain with single letter names. When they land on “k”, you’ll suddenly be flooded with thousands of junk bounces. I imagine anything could be possible, but I’d wager is much more common than “” so “kelly @” would probably work okay.

    1. Thanks Jason, that’s some really useful insight. I’ve come up with a somewhat Rube Goldbergesque system that meets my needs, I’ll post about it in a bit.

  3. Lots of good ideas!
    Just because you pay for it, doesn’t give you anything.
    Look at some of the ISP’s. Earthlink went from 5 star to beyond worthless.

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