[This story was originally posted on my personal blog]
Starting from my first ever email address firstname.lastname@example.org (don’t ask me: the name came to me at a random out of my interest in science and astronomy at school and the pressure of coming up with a name that was not already taken back then) that I created in 2001 during my initial encounters with internet, it has been a challenge to have an email address that I like, sounds cool, is easy enough to share and does not raise suspicions. Anything you can think of would have already been taken and things that I may think would be surely available, tend to be alienating.
I’ve tried a lot of email providers like Rediffmail, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, GMX along with a few of my custom domains purchased from GoDaddy for non-personal use. I settled down for a combination of Gmail and AOL for a few years, until I started to see the need for change.
The original idea of having an email address that would be unique (and not from a mainstream email provider) did not seem to work well. When sharing my email address with people, “Gmail” or “Yahoo” sounded very familiar but anything else, even something as popular as “AOL” led to a lot of trouble over the phone. Besides, almost none of my email addresses had my name due to my belief that it is close to impossible to have one unless you are planning to append random numbers to your name like something related to your birthday or something random as meaningless as “99”.
That was my problem before I created an email address with exactly my name on Yahoo, which I considered to be THE email address of mine for a while.
As if alienating names were not enough, I made a few bad decisions with choosing email providers. My move to AOL felt so cool to me before I realized that it did not have half of the features other email providers provide (I may be wrong).
My email address with Yahoo was as clean as it could get with precisely my name and no numbers or irrelevant characters but the service had enough issues for me to sacrifice the claimed Id. It started with sync issues on my BlackBerry, which one would imagine being one of those many growing problems on dying BlackBerry devices like shutting down of services that matter to you the most like Evernote, Dropbox, etc. However, it later turned out to be a generic problem syncing emails on my Android devices, including not only the stock Gmail app but also the dedicated Yahoo app. Then there were a few instances where my important emails were not delivered and I kept thinking that the other party is ignoring my emails purposely.
Performing some research and running a few tests on the available free email services, I came across a few very interesting options.
ProtonMail has encrypted email but a small mistake like forgetting your password could make you lose all your emails. ZohoMail is great but has been designed for teams. There is a service called 10 Minute mail that even though creates an email address for you within seconds, ‘dissolves’ your email address after 10 minutes, which is its actual purpose. I kept a distance from Outlook Mail for obvious reasons. I could not find anything that is easier to pronounce except for Mail.com that also provides you with over 200 free domains to choose from but has remote email access only on a paid subscription.
On the other hand, if you ignore the existence of those dozens (or maybe hundreds?) of services that come along with a Google account, Gmail seems to be the best option. It feels like it is THE email service which almost everyone has (I do not see how one wouldn’t if they are even remotely aware of the internet) and has so many features that it can easily knock out other email services out of the picture.
Creating a Gmail account is creating a Google account at the first place which did not sound good to me, considering the fact that I already own a Google account that is associated with over a hundred (who knows how many) services all over the web that I do not even remember, has so many Google Play Store purchases, contains my YouTube channel, syncs all my web-browsing bookmarks, preferences and history across all my devices. There is also no way you can change your Google username once created. However, creating one just for emails was not such a bad idea, especially with Google’s account management interface that allows you to see where and with what all services your account is associated and also lets you control your privacy.
My other problem was that every time I moved my mailbox, I had to keep checking emails at my older email addresses and the list kept on increasing on every move. That ended up creating a lot of email accounts being synced on almost all of my devices. I was looking for a way I could get rid of all of those old email mailboxes and just live with one.
I used two features from Gmail in conjunction to achieve what I wanted:
I created a new email address with a name as close as possible to my public name and added it as a secondary email address to my existing Gmail account. Once I did that, I selected the secondary email address to be the default one used for sending emails. This would ensure that all my human contacts will see my new ‘personal’ email address and I could use the old ‘digital’ email address for the web. Email delegation was also an option, but was limited in scope and did not seem to fit my purpose.
This enabled me to read all my emails from my new ‘personal’ email address on my old ‘digital’ email address. This does not only let me read all my emails from a single account but when used with the previously mentioned feature, helps me maintain all my received as well as sent emails in a single Gmail mailbox. The plan was to use the newly created email address only for the purpose of sharing. All activity like writing, receiving and responding to email could now be done from my old email address.
According to the usual exercise that I perform on every email mailbox move, I moved all my emails from my old Yahoo mailbox to my primary Gmail address, which according to the plan was the only place to keep all my emails. It was surprisingly a struggle in its own as Yahoo hid it behind an option that failed to indicate the existence of such a feature and it costed me about an hour to figure out for whether it is even possible to do so with Yahoo.
Gmail labels have been a confusing concept for me since the time I created my Gmail account. I used to think in terms of mailbox folders that you would arrange emails in. Speaking of which, I always thought of 'Inbox' as a folder that the emails that you receive reside it and 'Sent Items' as the folder that contains the emails that you send. Before this enlightenment occurred to me, I used to use labels as folders and always used to use the feature called "Move To…" to move email from my Inbox to other custom created folders. Sometimes I used to end up in a situation where an email showed up at both the places: Inbox and the other folder that I intended to move it to. Turns out, labels are far more powerful than a folder. One can apply more than one label to an email conversation (yes, you label conversations and not individual emails). My old method of using "Move To…" does a simple task of removing the label ‘Inbox’ from an email and adding the specified label, effectively ‘moving’ the email between the two labels. However, it makes so much more sense to me now for why an email tagged with multiple labels would show up at two different places: simply because it has to. The only confusing thing is that the label shown on an email listed under a particular label is the other label that the email has been tagged to, and the current label is omitted. For example, an email conversation that has been labelled as both ‘Inbox’ (which is what Gmail does for all email arriving in your mailbox), and ‘Finance’, would show only ‘Finance’ as the label when looking at the email in the Inbox list and when you view the list in ‘Finance’, it would only show labeled ‘Inbox’. So smart!
Having figured out the mystery with labels (which I would consider was too late for me after using Gmail all these years), the next thing that I finally understood the purpose of was archiving. It used to happen that instead of moving an email to a ‘folder’, upon unintentional archiving of an email, the email used to disappear with a success message that the email has been archived. Now that I know that archiving only tells Google to remove the label ‘Inbox’ from a conversation, the action is very clear to me. As soon as you archive an email, the only place that you can find it is under any labels that you applied to it. For a conversation with no labels, there is no place to find it but the ‘All Mail’ folder (think of it as a pseudo label). This was a revelation, I'm so dumb!
With all my email in a single mailbox, I could finally sort all of them the way I always wanted to. Earlier, I used to have folders (or labels) with the same name and purpose across multiple email accounts. That not only was difficult to maintain but also led to confusion when I needed to find a particular email as I had to look for it across email accounts.
This time, I created a beautifully nested tree of labels in my Gmail mailbox under which I can find almost every single email that I would ever want to, regardless of the email account it was sent to back in the past.
Will all this came the real bonus: a zero email inbox. All my email conversations are now properly labeled and archived and the ones that are not, they reside in ‘All Mail’ for future reference. The concept of ‘All Mail’ saved me the effort of maintaining an additional label called ‘Misc’ or ‘Others’ that I used to maintain earlier, so now moving an email to 'Misc' is just as simple as archiving it. Today, I can only see those conversations in my inbox, that I need to have a direct reference for this week or two. Everything else stays out of the way. This is the way I have been used to, for all my official email at work.
The last task to conclude the entire activity of unifying my email addresses was to update all references to my previous personal email address. It did not take long for me to update it on all bank accounts, social accounts, developer and gaming portals, secondary portfolios, web-based services and my own personal website including my resume.
For a recap, I went from a total digital email accounts mess to an arrangement that finally provides me with:
- A single email account to access all emails
- Lesser number of email accounts to sync on devices
- Ease to organize and find emails
- A reliable, shareable personal email address that says who I am