Why not to use AOL

I’m sure everyone who runs a mail server already knows this,
but clearly all the thousands or millions of people who use AOL,
including a number of my personal friends, do not.

This is addressing only the problem of the AOL mail delivery
service. I know there have been other problems with AOL in the
past; I don’t know or especially care about the current status of
those problems.

I also know that the people who are using AOL are doing it because
they haven’t actually done any research about the alternatives. So
while I don’t know anything about the price of using
AOL versus the alternatives, I strongly suspect that they don’t
either, which suggests that AOL is probably using this ignorance
to get away with charging more than the alternatives.

The reason to not use AOL to deliver your mail is that they
have an official corporate policy of not caring whether your mail
is delivered or not.

When they get one spam report about anyone in your
domain, they block all email the mentions that
domain.
If you think this sounds like something an
organization that wanted you to get mail from your friends would
do, you can stop reading now. I assure you, this policy includes,
and is often applied to, very large and famous and frequently
referenced domains like harvard.edu.

They currently have laymusic.org blocked. My
normal method for sending email uses this domain in the Sender, From,
Reply-to, and signature of my emails, so I have to do something
radically different from usual to not mention laymusic.org in my
emails.

It took
me a while to remember the magic for finding out where to report
this. If you try going to postmaster.aol.com, you have
to be a better documentation reader than I am (I used to make lots
of money being a good documentation reader)
to figure out what
to do from what they tell you there.

If you run your own webserver, the mail log gets the bounce
response from AOL which includes a URL to go to to fill out a form
asking them to stop bouncing your mail.

I used to run my own, but when I finally decided not to depend
on Verizon being able to fix anything for my internet access, I
had to give up my static IP address, which means that while I can
get dynamic dns and refer to my address by name instead of number, I can’t get what’s called reverse
dns (being able to go from the address to the name), which means lots of places (even ones that really want their
customers to get their mail) will bounce my mail if I use a server
on my machine, so I’m using the comcast server. Comcast doesn’t
pass on the bounce information from their logs in the bounce
message.

So the trick to find out where to go to tell AOL to debounce
your domain is to send a mail from gmail, which will put the
information from the log into the bounce message they send you.
Then you go to that URL and fill out your form. I did this last
Fall, and my domain was unbounced in a small number of days.

This Spring, this hasn’t happened yet. They asked me to fill
out a customer satisfaction survey this morning, and this is what
I wrote:

I reported that email from or referring to my domain was bouncing on May 21.

I was told that the problem had been resolved and mail would stop bouncing in “24 business hours” from then on May 27.

The mail is still bouncing on June 3.

I think your policy of bouncing all mail that mentions a given domain name based on one spam complaint about that domain is not the policy of an organization that wants to deliver the mail.

Your performance on resolving such a block is not the performance of
an organization that wants to resolve problems.

Then when I submitted the form I wrote that on, they said they
couldn’t count my survey because they didn’t think my verification
number (which I’d gotten in the mail this morning) was valid.

Even if you think AOL is the best way to get internet access,
you should still have some other way to get email. gmail,
hotmail, and yahoo will all give you an account for free, and many
organizations and universities will give you an account if you’re
a member or an alumnus/a. Even if you currently have a good isp,
you should still have a mail address that doesn’t depend on its
name, because it’s likely to change its name or go out of business
or become a not-so-good isp for you, and you’ll have to change
your email if that happens.

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