web analytics

Bill Bennett


Tag: mail

If Vodafone dropping mail worries you, you’re doing it wrong

At the New Zealand Herald, Holly Ryan writes Vodafone axes email services – NZ Herald

Customers with a Vodafone email address will have to switch at the end of November, when the telco plans to axe its email services after 20 years.

Email addresses affected include its Clear and Paradise services.

Vodafone had about 200,000 to 250,000 active email users but many operate dual email accounts, a Vodafone spokesperson said.

The accounts would be switched off on November 30, however, Vodafone has promised customers it will automatically forward emails from the closed accounts to a new email of the customer’s choice, for as long as they are a Vodafone customer.

While 250,000 sounds like a lot, many accounts are unused. Other accounts are rarely used.

To grasp the scale of the problem, ask yourself how long it is since a mail message arrived from any of the Vodafone account domains listed at the bottom of Ryan’s story.

Few Vodafone customers will find it hard to move to another mail provider. Many already have Gmail or Outlook.com mail accounts. For them the change means nothing more than forwarding messages if they haven’t done that already. That won’t challenge most users.

There will be stragglers who depend on a Vodafone account. They have been through a lot. Vodafone says it is killing its mail service because of problems with spam and delays. Spark went through something similar with Yahoo mail.

Users won’t miss that pain.

Vodafone should offer support for those customers who struggle with the moving process. The problem here is that customer support is not a Vodafone strength.

The problem with ISP mail

Vodafone’s move is a timely reminder of why you shouldn’t use ISP mail services. The move is also one of the reasons. ISP mail users are at the mercy of an organisation that isn’t focused on providing a first class mail service. It’s better to find a specialist who wants to excel at mail.

At the same time, an ISP mail account ties your hands. Moving from Vodafone or any other service provider is difficult if everyone you’re in touch with reaches you via a vodafone.co.nz mail address. There are often good reasons to switch ISP, so the fewer chains binding you to one, the better.

Modern ISP-provided mail services often include a webmail option, it isn’t always easy to use these across all your devices. With a Gmail or Outlook account you can sync everything across your phone, computer and other devices. You can also read your email from someone else’s computer.

Another reason to use something other than an ISP mail address is that it signals a lack of computer savvy. It tells criminals and others that you may not be as on top of technology as those people with their own custom mail addresses. In this competence hierarchy, a Gmail or Outlook address ranks higher than an ISP address.

You can find better options than Gmail and Outlook. But that’s a subject for another post.

Still living in a Notification hell – Om Malik

It doesn’t matter what app it is — they are all trying to get me to turn on notifications, again and again, so that I can come back to their service. Facebook and Instagram are the most aggressive, b

Source: Still living in a Notification hell – Om Malik

There comes a point where this is counter-productive with some users. In my case I first smelled a rat with Linkedin because of the constant barrage of notification mails. The service seemed desperate to get my attention.

That got thinking about the value I got from LinkedIn — close to zero and certainly not enough to compensate for the  time lost.

I killed my LinkedIn account. Nothing bad happened. In all the years I was a member I got maybe, one small freelance writing gig from LinkedIn. Since leaving my work in-tray is as full as it was and I’ve eliminated a time-sink.

Leaving Facebook is harder. There are people who are important to me who I’m in touch with there. The don’t seem to have any alternative online life. So the account lives, but I’ve turned off all notifications. In fact I’ve turned off almost all notifications from every online service or piece of software.

The only exceptions are where I need to react fast for business reasons. And, anything relating to my immediate family.

Here’s the thing. Nothing bad has happened. If anything I’m more productive.

Notifications are often not about serving our needs, but are about someone else’s business model.

After ten years of mail pain Spark is done with Yahoo

Spark pitches the move from Yahoo Mail to SMX mail as “bringing mail home to New Zealand”.

While that is clever marketing communications, it doesn’t begin to the tell the whole gory story of the company’s unhappy relationship with Yahoo.

Those with long memories may recall Spark moved its mail to Yahoo in 2007. At the time it was still called Telecom NZ. The Xtra broadband brand had yet to bite the dust.

Tired brand

Even then Yahoo Mail was a tired online brand, past its sell-by date. But Spark needed a way to give customers what looked a modern web-based mail system. Yahoo had one it was ready to licence.

It wasn’t great in 2007. One of the most annoying aspects of YahooXtra Mail was the way it would display distracting animated advertisements. Compare that with the discrete, inoffensive advertising Gmail serves.

Anyone with an ounce of computer savvy1 signed up for Gmail and left their Xtra mail address to wither. It was possible to forward messages from one to the other, which made the process less painful. All you had to do was to wait long enough and the legitimate Xtra mail would die of neglect.

Note the word legitimate in that last sentence. YahooXtra excelled at one thing and one thing alone: delivering piles and steaming piles of spam.

Which is ironic. When Telecom NZ first switched to YahooXtra the biggest complaint was that it had overzealous spam filters. So overzealous that many small businesses could no longer get incoming communications from customers. Companies lost a huge amount of business at the time of the switch.2

Yahoo Mail decline and fall

Yahoo was in decline in 2007. Its empire was crumbling and there were barbarians at the gates. Some of them got inside the gates. Or, at least, managed to get past the firmware and other defences.

We know of at least two known major security breaches at Yahoo in recent years. No doubt there are more. Reported breaches are often only the tip of the iceberg.

It took the company two years to talk about a 2014 data breach, which, at the time, was on the record as one of the largest data hauls ever.

The incident saw hackers gain Yahoo user names, email address and passwords. YahooXtra customers were also subject to a series of phishing attacks.

People I know inside Spark say the telco was furious at Yahoo over its lack of disclosure. I’m told Yahoo was famously difficult to deal with. The company would not accept any accountability and treated Spark with disdain.

There was a trapped feeling. Spark didn’t appear to have anywhere else to turn.

SMX saves the day

That was until SMX turned up. It is a New Zealand-owned cloud email company. SMX now hosts Spark’s email service. The telco says it now has more than 800,000 customer accounts running on the new system.

SMX is one of those New Zealand companies that flies under the radar most of the time. It supplies mail services to millions of users at thousands of companies. It partners with big IT brands. SMX handles spam for many government departments.

These days an ISP-operated mail service is unusual. Many don’t provide mail address to customers, they expect them to go to Gmail, to Microsoft’s Outlook.com or maybe to use tools like Facebook Messenger instead.

Spark says it moved 800,000 accounts to SMX in one of New Zealand’s biggest migration projects. At a guess, at least half of those accounts are unused or rarely used.

That Spark still feels the need to provide mail address is interesting. To the company’s credit it is good to see it hasn’t walked away from a problem that spent years in the too hard basket. On the other hand, perhaps it should have walked away from the abusive Yahoo relationship earlier.

  1. It’s easy to be smug about this. Not everyone is tech savvy today. Fewer were in 2007. For a lot of people mail was such a novelty they didn’t dare look outside the comfortable walled garden. They trusted Telecom. Yes, yes, that may look dumb today. If you doubt me go and ask your parents or grandparents. ↩︎
  2. I also remember having trouble getting YahooXtra to work with mail clients in the early days. My recall of this is vague. Can anyone confirm this? ↩︎


Microsoft double-dipping with Outlook.com ads

Microsoft’s Outlook.com web mail app is clean, crisp and efficient. It is almost everything you’d want from a browser-based mail app.


It fails because there’s an advertising pane on the right hand of the screen. You can’t miss it.

Of course that’s the idea. Advertising is supposed to be in-your-face.


Advertisers won’t pay up unless their message catches your attention. And that means distracting.

And annoying.

It’s one thing for Microsoft to show advertising on its Outlook.com web mail to casual users. After all, the service is free. Microsoft needs Outlook.com to earn its keep.

It’s another thing entirely for Microsoft to show ads to people already paying for an annual Office 365 subscription. It amounts to double dipping.

Paying subscribers already contribute towards the software.

Sure, most Office 365 subscriptions include a copy of the Outlook 2016 desktop app. And, yes, that app does not include any distracting advertising.

Outlook versus itself

But Outlook 2016 is a clunky, heavy-duty application. It gobbles resources and memory. The web version provides all the key functionality in a tighter, simpler, lightweight package.

It would be nice to use it without distraction. It would be more productive to use it without distraction.

Ruining the app this way is dumb. Outlook.com with competes with Gmail and Apple iCloud Mail. Each has its own set of features, benefits and pitfalls. Let’s put that aside and focus on the deliberate advertising distraction.

You can hide Gmail’s advertising. There never was any advertising on iCloud Mail.

Online ads are a commodity. They do little to earn money. They do a lot to cheapen the user experience. If Microsoft wants its mail service to be taken seriously as a productivity tool it needs to drop the advertising. Showing advertising to paying customers is greedy. Microsoft can be better than this.

If your message matters don’t use Facebook

If you need to contact someone in a hurry, don’t use Facebook or other social media. That is, unless you know the person is happy getting messages that way. Many do, many do not.

Facebook is huge. It has 1.6 billion users. Facebook and its assorted apps account for about 30 percent of all US internet use.

Given those numbers, your message stands a good chance of getting through.

With a billion people spending 20 minutes a day on the site, statistics say your message should reach its target sooner rather than later.

Yet not every person is on Social media. Not even in the world’s rich countries . Not all the people with Facebook accounts are frequent site visitors. Many users are, to use the popular jargon, not engaged.

So unless you know your target will read your message before too long, social media is not the best way to send important messages. It can be hit and miss.