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Monday, July 23, 2001
Lead Article

No more free-mail?

It was free, it was fast—e-mail revolutionised the way in which people communicated with each other. As long as the boom lasted, free e-mail was seen a user-generating add-on with almost every portal offering the service. Facing a financial crunch and decreasing advertising dollars, many popular companies that offered free e-mail are now exploring the option of a paid service. Is this the end of free e-mail? What are the alternatives? We take you through the e-mail maze.

What’s happening
by Peeyush Agnihotri

WHEN dot.coms started a few years ago, they used the free e-mail service as bait to gain popularity, hit rate and, thus, lure advertisers. Today, the scene has changed—the bait is now becoming supper as advertisements are slipping out of the Net.

Other options
by Naveen S. Garewal

OVER the past decade, e-mail has changed the manner in which the world communicates. This quick messaging system has given a serious blow to the conventional snail mail, with almost everyone familiar with the Internet getting an e-mail account.



What’s happening
by Peeyush Agnihotri

WHEN dot.coms started a few years ago, they used the free e-mail service as bait to gain popularity, hit rate and, thus, lure advertisers. Today, the scene has changed—the bait is now becoming supper as advertisements are slipping out of the Net.

Strange though it may sound, yet there has been a paradigm shift in the way dot.com companies are looking at the means to generate revenue for their sites. Initially more subscribers meant more revenue. At least that’s what most dot.comers thought. Today the profits have dwindled and companies are looking at more viable options and models for revenue generation.

The focus has changed and the portals are getting qualitative rather than quantitative. The thrust now is on getting full reimbursement of the service being provided, even if this means serving just a fraction of subscribers.

The days of having five to six IDs at various portals may soon be over. The e-mail facility that initially started as a value-enhanced service on various sites may no longer remain one of the freebies going by the latest trend on the Web. More and more companies are toying with the idea of making make this a paid service, much to the chagrin of those who are regular visitors to the cyber cafes or, for that matter, those who otherwise have access to this wonderful means of communication at their workplace.

"In today's changing business environment, revenue sources are no longer adequate to support our Net@ddress free e-mail service. The current Net@ddress free e-mail service will be discontinued on July 31, 2001. To keep your current Net@ddress email account, subscribe for a new Net@ddress Messaging Center account today," so reads an announcement on the home page of a popular e-mail service providing site, Netaddress.

Talking to Log…in Tribune, Danette Lopez, Director of Public Relations, USA.NET Inc., says: "In today's changing business environment, revenue sources are no longer adequate to support our Net@ddress free email service. The current Net@ddress free email service will be discontinued on July 31, 2001. We are offering all of our current customers the opportunity to sign up for our new Net@ddress Messaging Centre service for a modest fee. Subscribing to the new service allows customers to keep their current e-mail address and get enhanced services that currently include:

Mailbox with 10 MB storage, instead of 5 MB (new)!

Virus scanning of messages before they arrive (new)!

Ad suppression - no advertising (new)!

Microsoft Outlook access - Desktop download with enhanced POP3 (new)!

Increased reliability (new)!

E-mail forwarding to wireless devices

Anytime, anywhere access via Internet-enabled devices

Junk mail (SPAM) blocker

Filters that direct incoming messages to folders and wireless devices

E-mail collecting from other accounts

Scheduling of e-mail message reminders

Online and telephone customer support for answers to your questions

"To show our appreciation to our loyal Net@ddress users, we are allowing them to keep their current e-mail address for the one-time, introductory offer of less than 9 cents a day! If they sign up by July 31, 2001, they get the introductory rate of $29.99 year. "This is a 40 per cent saving off our retail price of $49.99 per year," Lopez says, and adds, "if customers choose not to keep their current Net@ddress e-mail address, they need to do nothing; their e-mail account will be cancelled on July 31, 2001, and their e-mail address and messages will be permanently deleted."

To subscribe for a new Netaddress Messaging Centre account, current users would have to log into their e-mail account as usual at www.netaddress.com and follow the directions.

Bradford from USA.NET agrees: "Net@ddress is being closed due to simple economics. Although we attract thousands of new subscribers every day, advertising revenue continues to decrease. Net@ddress is closing because there are no longer advertising dollars to support a free e-mail service. USA.NET is also releasing Net@ddress Messaging Centre as a successor product which is available for any annual fee," he says.

While portals like rediff have no plans, at present, to become a paid service, other e-mail service providing portals like Lycos plan to follow the Net@ddress way, albeit cautiously. "We are constantly working on improving our services. We will keep the general e-mail service free but we could offer premium paid services with additional features. So our basic offer will not change in the near future," Martin Knabenreich, PR Director, Lycos Europe, says rather diplomatically.

Spokespersons from popular sites like Hotmail and Yahoo! could not be contacted for comment.

Needless to say most of the consumers are not happy. "We should form a joint forum. I am sure if one million Internet users shout, even Microsoft will melt," says Palash, a regular visitor to cyber café.

Another Net freak, Neha, a university student, feels that it was a well thought-out ruse. "See how calculatedly the companies moved. Initially, they provided the e-mail service free to hook on the subscribers. Once they got addicted, the portals warned that they would start charging. Smart move," she comments. Well, smart it is.

While subscribers are clearly on the tenterhooks, cyber café owners have a divided opinion. Rakesh Bansal from Cyber 16, a café in Panchkula, avers that business would come down by 40 per cent. "Almost 60 per cent of clients come to e-mail and chat. Not all of them have credit cards. So if sites start getting paid, clientele would come down and people would start weighing other options too," he says.

Others like Sanjay Chaudhary from I-Way cyber café, think that business would not be affected much. "What I personally feel is that Net is such a place where void is filled very fast. If reputed sites get paid, other dot.com companies would chip in to provide free e-mail service. What would happen then is that subscribers would change their IDs and move on to other sites," he says and adds that future business strategy could be such that cafes might get paid by dot.com companies to remain site-specific. "But then this might be too far-fetched." he thinks.


Name of portal

No. of subscribers

As on (date)


Hotmail 84,000,000 15Dec 2000 San Jose Mercury News
Mail.com 20,400,000 26 Oct 2000 Yahoo!
Netcenter 20,000,000 31 Aug 1999 CNet News
Yahoo! 18,000,000 19 Aug 1998 CBS MarketWatch
Juno 14,200,000 25 Jan 2001 Yahoo!
MyPersonal Email.com 7,074,382 11 Jan 2001 MyPersonalEmail.com employee
Netscape 6,000,000 03 March 2000 CNet News
USA.net 5,700,000 07 April 1999 CNet News article
My Own Email 2,000,000 10 Sept 1998 Email from My Own Email employee
Chek.com 2,000,000 01 Feb 2000 Chek.com web site
MoreMail.com 622,300 10 Sept 1999 Email from MoreMail.com employee
TheMail.com 457,300 01 Aug 2000 Email from a TheMail.com employee.
MailStart.com 130,000 17 June 1999 Wired
Freeze.com 70,000 21 Dec 2000 Email from Freeze.com employee



Other options
by Naveen S. Garewal

OVER the past decade, e-mail has changed the manner in which the world communicates. This quick messaging system has given a serious blow to the conventional snail mail, with almost everyone familiar with the Internet getting an e-mail account. While there are hundreds of Web and POP mail servers, Web servers like Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Netaddress (usa.net) have achieved enormous popularity. There is hardly anyone using e-mail today who does not have an account on some Web-based free e-mail server. But, unfortunately, with the slowdown in the US economy, things are going to change for most of the Internet users all over the world as many free Web servers have been forced to become paid services for survival.

Messages about discontinuing free services in your e-mail that read "Netaddress (usa.net) will no longer be free after July 31, 2001" or "Sorry we had to make your favourite e-mail forwarding service, netforward.com, a paid service" have become routine. Atleast half a dozen free e-mail servers either shut down or become paid services every week. This has serious implications for a simple e-mail user, who has cultivated an e-mail address by letting his acquaintances now a particular identity over the years. He now suddenly finds himself cornered and has to either pay up or lose precious mail.

There are indications that even a service like Hotmail, backed by Microsoft Corporation, intends to generate some revenue from its subscribers by offering premium services that will take care of financial hiccups. Hotmail has already given a new look to its site that marks the first step in this direction. Yahoo, yet another very popular free e-mail server, has decided to charge for accounts that are 6 MB or larger. Those who have not decided to charge are offering premium services like larger mailboxes, Web space, customised e-mail identities, etc, to generate revenue to tide over the severe recession that has hit the information technology industry.

More than the implications, most of us would be more interested in a solution that would remedy the possible disruption in the e-mail service. There are several alternatives available to tackle this, but for those for whom missing an e-mail sounds death, the simplest way out is to pay up and continue receiving e-mails. For those who don’t mind changing their e-mail identities, there are several options available. Like the proverbial saying, "when God closes one door, he opens several others," after some free e-mail servers have become paid, several new operators providing free e-mail accounts have emerged. The reliability of these services at this time, however, remains untested.

The free e-mail Web servers like Hotmail and Yahoo have gained popularity due to their reliability to begin with. Besides, all those who do not have their own personal computers at home and use cyber cafés for sending and receiving e-mails use these e-mail Web servers. Web-based e-mail servers are also used by those on the move, who want to check their mailboxes from any part of the globe. For those who have computers at home and subscribe to an Internet access service from a local Internet service provider (ISP), the ISP provides one, two or even more e-mail identities. Despite an e-mail account from an ISP, many people still prefer to have an additional Web-based free e-mail for the above reasons.

Reliability and permanence are the two most important factors that have to be kept in mind before deciding on maintaining any e-mail identity. In the past it has been seen that even e-mail identities provided by ISPs, as reliable as those backed by the Indian government, have changed domain names several times, leading to change in e-mail address. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), a major ISP in India, started giving out e-mail with @dot.net.in, which was soon changed to @vsnl.net.in and has now become @sanchar.net. The same could be true of several other ISPs, who, threatened with financial debacles, are always on the verge of closure or a takeover by a bigger giant who would rename the domain. The recent speculation about the American company AOL buying stakes in Satyam is one such example.

In this confused scenario, where one does not know what to do, a good alternative is to go in for a forwarding address. Forwarding address is an address on a server that redirects your e-mail to the specified destination. For example, Pobox.com or netforward.com allow you to make an account, for a small price of about US $ 10 per year, where you can maintain a constant e-mail address while changing your ISP or e-mail address as many times as you wish. Forwarding services allow you to make an e-mail account like abc@def.com which remains constant, but when you change your ISP you can simply change the forwarding address, telling the server where to send the mail received for abc@def.com.

E-mail forwarding is a service where e-mail address remains constant while you may change your service or ISP as often as you wish. Basically all e-mails received at the e-mail forwarding address are re-directed to the desired destination. This desired destination could be changed as frequently as needed by simply logging on to the e-mail forwarding server. When you acquire an e-mail forwarding address, say abc@def.com, you can actually configure it in a manner that the sender will send you e-mail at abc@def.com, but it will be delivered at abc@e-mail.com or whatever address you wish.

The advantage of forwarding is manifold; firstly, you get a permanent address and even when you change your ISP, your e-mail address remains the same. Secondly, you can configure this account to forward your e-mail to a POP address, which in turn will allow you to receive your e-mail on your desktop, thereby reducing the Online time. Besides, forwarding servers have come up with some kind of permanence in mind. With dot.coms passing through a difficult time, it makes more sense to go with a forwarding address, as the future of many Web servers remains uncertain.

While there are several sites that provide you free e-mail forwarding, there are some paid sites. Paid sites are obviously more reliable and offer you greater flexibility. The mail forwarding works like this: first you create an account that gives you a permanent e-mail identity like say naveen@theoffice.net. In the account there is a provision for filling up the e-mail address, where all mail received at this address would be re-directed. Every time you change the e-mail service all you have to do is to replace the old ISP’s e-mail identity with the new ISP’s e-mail identity, for example, all mail is sent to naveen@theoffice.net, while earlier I wanted it to be redirected to naveen@satyam.net.in, but now I want it to go to naveen@glide.net.in, so all that is required is to change the address in the account naveen@theoffice.net. (See accompanying list for free e-mail forwarding services.)

When you buy a premium service with a free Web server, it gives you several options like filters that prevent junk from entering your mailbox. One free feature that puts Hotmail above other similar services is its "block sender" option that lets you block multiple junk in one go. The problem of junk mail is, however, quite insignificant when you subscribe to local ISPs as those indulging in spamming prefer to reach a much wider database as in the case of a Web based e-mail service.

The dot.coms are passing through a very rough phase. There is no doubt that in this turbulence, some dot.coms may pass away, but it is almost certain that the e-commerce and the dot.com industry would bounce back. But till that happens, e-mail communication cannot be put on the hold. It is for the user to decide what option suits him the best.


Even free e-mail redirection and forwarding services are going the paid route. The following sites provided this facility free at the time of going to Press:

PlanetAll free e-mail forwarding @planetall.com

DotMail free e-mail forwarding @mail.dotcom.fr

Beer.com free e-mail forwarding @beer.com

Bigfoot free e-mail forwarding @bigfoot.com

Beer free e-mail forwarding. free electronic Post box @beer.com

Deneg.net free e-mail forwarding @deneg.net

iName 300+ addresses, free e-mail forwarding

Polbox.com free e-mail @polbox.com. POP3, forwarding.