« Don't Tread on Me | Main | Fear the Leprechaun »

Friday, March 21, 2008

Email Performance of Yahoo, AOL, Google, Etc.

Like many or most of you, I have multiple email accounts that I forward to a central web-based email program (in my case, Yahoo).  This allows me to have professional email accounts and personal email accounts that I can read and search through in one central place. 

Far too frequently, emails, through no fault of my own, get lost somewhere in the Internet haze.  This is extraordinarily frustrating, because you often never figure out what emails were sent to you that you never received.  In many cases, the senders never receive delivery failure warnings.  Relatedly, if I send an email out to somebody else and I don't receive a reply, I don't know if my intended recipient, in fact, sent a reply or just never got around to it yet.  This can create some awkward moments when you try to follow up ("I'm not sure, err, if you got this email or if you're just slow to respond, so I'm, err, resending it.").

Right now, my "princeton.edu" email is not forwarding properly to my Yahoo account.  I spoke to the people at Princeton's IT group, and they send that Yahoo has been blocking email from the princeton.edu domain.  It's not a spam filter issue; the email just hasn't arrived (yet?) to Yahoo. Apparently, this can happen if the domain is sending too much spam or perceived spam to Yahoo.  I was told that this sort of thing happens from time to time.  (I was also told that it happens more frequently with certain other email providers more often than with Yahoo.)  Princeton's IT group does not alert users to the problem (Why? Because it only affects those forwarding to Yahoo I'm told).  This means that a person may be unware that he missed emails and the sender will not always receive a delivery failure notice.

I'm no expert on all of this, so here's my main question: Are AOL, Yahoo, and Google competing to be the most reliable email service provider?  Perhaps they are, though, I'm not aware of any claims to superiority.  Are there data on the relative performance of these email providers? Also, can anyone comment on why there isn't a better technological solution to all of this?

Posted by Adam Kolber on March 21, 2008 at 12:45 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Email Performance of Yahoo, AOL, Google, Etc.:


Here's a suggestion that incorporates three concerns: 1) web access, 2) backing up emails, and 3) forwarding problems:

How about using both Outlook and forwarding? On your everyday computer, you use outlook (POP, etc.) in order to avoid (3). At the same time, you also set all your accounts to forward to gmail AND keep a copy on the server (for outlook downloading). This way, when you're away, you can use gmail, which may occasionally have missed some things, but you'll catch them on Outlook when you get back.

The primary drawback of this solution (as I've described it, though this might be fixable) is that any email deleting through the web-based solution would remain in your Outlook inbox to be deleting again upon your return home.

Posted by: Steve | Mar 22, 2008 6:11:15 PM

Prof. Kolber,

I think I know what you're about now - see this: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook/HA010860351033.aspx - that is one example of what you might be referring to...

Also see this interesting blog entry: http://blogs.zdnet.com/Hinchcliffe/?p=12


Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 21, 2008 2:45:24 PM

I'm wondering if it's a third-party vendor issue. Last week emails sent to my berkeley.edu alumni account were delayed for three days before finally arriving at gmail. As you say, it was massively frustrating and very nearly professionally debilitating, had the sender not followed up with a phone call.

But in cases such as these I'm inclined to look askance at the third-party vendor the alumni association contracts with. They have admitted that they sometimes have problems with forwarding to gmail, but given how they apparently have also unilaterally installed spam filters on people's email without their knowledge or consent* I'm far less likely to suspect Google and more likely to suspect them.

* I happened to discover in alarm one day that said spam filter was filtering out email from every correspondent I had in Asia. Which was a bit of a problem, seeing how I was busy planning a trip to Asia... They've since assured me that they've removed the filter from my account, but it never should have been on anyone's account in the first place if they'd not asked for it, which surely they wouldn't have done if they knew it was so terrible.

Posted by: Cathy | Mar 21, 2008 2:43:14 PM

Prof. Kolber,

We may be having a difference in vocabulary here. Let me be clarify what I am saying.

1. Princeton.edu receives a message, finds that a forwarding rule is applicable, and sends the email on to Adam Kolber at Yahoo!.

2. Because princeton.edu is on a list somewhere (not necessarily even maintained by Yahoo!), the email gets caught in a net, and is very delayed, or never reaches at all, Adam Kolber's Yahoo! account.

Therefore, some sort of web solution is posited.

However, the web solution would suffer equally from this problem, espectially if the list catching messages forwarded from Princeton is not maintained by the email provider (Yahoo!, in this case) but a server or router of a third-party SPAM catcher (Sprint, AT&T, or an internet security company).

Now, what you're suggesting about "backup" seems to have no relevance to these prior comments, but is only suggesting where the messages are stored for later retrieval.


Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 21, 2008 2:32:48 PM

Yes, it could well be the case that what I'm looking for doesn't exist. But suppose the Outlook-type program that I envisioned backed up to the Internet, it wouldn't have to go through mail servers and spam filters. It would backup just like ordinary Internet traffic.

Posted by: Adam Kolber | Mar 21, 2008 2:24:09 PM

Prof. Kolber,

What you're asking for is what you already have, minus the SPAM problems, is it not?

Then, we're back to the same issue. Gmail, for instance, will allow unlimited archiving (staying within space limitations), etc., but it's difficult to say whether or not you'd experience the same problems with email forwarding.

I do not think there is such a "middle" ground, or else, you're already subscribed to it with Yahoo! mail. You could look at Microsoft Office Live - http://workspace.officelive.com/LearnMore#3 - but I do not think Email is part of it.


Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 21, 2008 2:19:42 PM

I believe that Jonathan's solution would reduce the likelihood of the sort of problems I'm describing. I wonder, though, if there's any way of having a "system-based" program like Outlook that I can access from anywhere. I realize that there are remote-desktop-access programs, but is there anything less extreme? Like an Outlook-type program that backs up your email on to the Internet, so you can search through your email archives as long as you have an Internet connection?

Posted by: Adam Kolber | Mar 21, 2008 2:07:18 PM

Prof. Kolber,

The difficult thing that you're dealing with here is the varied and increasing intelligence of SPAM attacks, and the creative (though not always function) ways that providers of web services deal with these attacks. I have seen similar problems occur before.

What I would recommend is rather than using forwarding, use a system-based program (Outlook, for instance), that is capable of accessing Princton's email and Yahoo directly, and downloads messages from both into the program itself. There are several good free email programs that might do this, but it mays also depend on Princeton's capabilities (do they set up POP3 / IMAP for off campus access - see here: http://helpdesk.princeton.edu/ - several of their documents reference this capability.)

I am generally leery about email forwarding - no internet technology is perfect, and the more steps in between you and your email message, the more chance of something negative happening to it.


Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 21, 2008 2:01:06 PM

Thanks Brandon, though I'm not sure how this relates. I think you're describing a method of sending email from a major web-based email provider that will appear to recipients as though it were sent from a university account. This won't help though when people reply to the university account and it then gets forwarded to a Yahoo or an AOL that blocks receipt of the message. Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding...

Posted by: Adam Kolber | Mar 21, 2008 1:40:00 PM

Google supports this explicitly. There are directions from the Gmail Help page on how to do this. You can even send mail from within Google that nevertheless has your forwarding e-dress ([email protected] or whatever) in the From: field. I have used this functionality for over a year and have no complaints.

Posted by: brandon | Mar 21, 2008 1:32:45 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.