On the track of those missing e-mails from an old domain


NET RESULTS:I have a ridiculous emotional attachment to an e-mail address I have used since we first got ISPs in the 1990s

THERE IS a unique kind of desperation that comes when you discover that you’ve lost hours of e-mail that have also permanently vanished off your e-mail provider’s server.

You can see the gap of hours between when you last received e-mails. But you can’t tell what you’re missing. And you have no way of knowing who sent e-mails during that time.

You hardly want to mass e-mail your entire contacts list to find the few who might have sent a critical e-mail. And you always know that very likely, many of the missing e-mails won’t have been from people on your contact list anyway. Frustratingly, there seems to be very little anyone can do about such a situation.

Unfortunately, this nightmare has been an occasional occurrence for me, connected to the fact that I use an e-mail address from an Irish internet service provider that no longer exists except as a kind of virtual ghost of its former self: Indigo. The company was purchased by Eircom, years ago. For a while, it was run as a separate service, with its own webpage, but that’s long gone and it has been years since anyone could get an Indigo.ie account.

I really like using my Indigo e-mail address though – it’s easy to remember and fairly short. Plus it has been my main point of contact for over a decade.

Eircom half-heartedly still serves those legacy accounts by keeping the e-mail addresses alive, and fair play to them for that. But there is no longer any way for a person with an Indigo e-mail address to directly access their account online, or to manage any files they may once have had in their server space (for example, from old websites – I have a couple of websites there that I cannot access).

Of course, at this point, there won’t be a very large Indigo user base, and many people still using their Indigo e-mail address will no longer be Eircom customers. Such is the case with me.

They do still offer support, though. And thanks to some helpful support staff at Eircom, reached via their promptly responsive Twitter account, and to discussions with support staff in the past, I do know the reason for my e-mail loss.

It has to do with the way the servers are set up for these old accounts. The total capacity allotted to each e-mail account is comparatively small, and for some reason the server occasionally seems to get blocked by a very large e-mail, or seems to lose e-mail if the total messages exceed the account allotment.

That said, to be told that a few e-mails that are only 1-2MB in size are likely causing problems – trivial these days when a single photograph attachment might be 2MB – really underlines how retrograde these old accounts are.

Sure enough, once deleted, the account began to work again. But some 16 hours of e-mails have vanished. And there’s no quick solution to the larger picture issue – it will take time to get all the people who use my old address to use a new primary e-mail address. So Eircom has set up an auto-forward for me as a short-term fix.

The problem of legacy e-mail addresses is likely to plague most people at some point, as ISPs and webmail services go out of business, are sold on, or change names. Given that most of us get most of our correspondence electronically these days, it’s a serious issue. It causes personal distress and frustration, and can also have a serious financial or reputational impact for a business that misses or appears to be ignoring critical e-mails.

ISPs and webmail services have no obligation to maintain old e-mail addresses, though many, like Eircom, do so as a courtesy. But again, there’s no promise that the address will still work in the future. So what to do?

Many people opt to use webmail from one of the big providers, such as Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Hotmail or Yahoo mail. All of these services have been relatively reliable, but any user is still subject to the whims of the individual business, which may shut down an e-mail service, go out of business, or be bought out – the same issues that arise with an ISP.

The best step is to acquire your own domain with your own personal e-mail address, entirely owned by you – this is a relatively inexpensive approach and means that as long as you own the domain, you can set up your domain to forward e-mails even if you stop actively using that particular e-mail address. The cost of annually renewing a domain is fairly small (though .ie addresses are more costly).

Acquiring a domain can be done through any Irish or international domain registry service – and most also provide cheap e-mail hosting and will take you through setting up your new e-mail account step by step. And even if the hosting service goes out of business, you still own the domain and can simply transfer it to another hosting service.

However, that’s little consolation if you have, as I do, a ridiculous emotional attachment to an e-mail address you have used since Ireland got its first ISPs in the 1990s – I feel like I’m bidding farewell to an old and trusted friend.