Why does a hosting service remove features in the name of improved service?
After a lot of toing and froing, I’ve realised why a lot of emails being sent to me were bouncing. It’s because my hosting company, Hostway, have upgraded all their domains to an Advanced Mail Service, which offers extra spam and anti-virus features. Unfortunately, they have in the process removed a feature that was my own anti-spam service, using something called Catch-All Aliases. And now I’m stuck in email hell.
An ‘alias’ is an email address that you set up that doesn’t really have its own account, it merely routes through to an existing account. So, say my email address is email@example.com, I could add an extra email address — an alias — for enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. In fact me and sales are the same people, and the emails end up in the same place, but it’s useful for me to offer a second address to a) impress people, b) let my email program sort them into separate folders to keep, say, business and pleasure separate.
That’s the alias bit. The ‘Catch-All’ bit occurs when you send an email to an address that doesn’t exist at bloggs.com. So say I sent an email to email@example.com. Now brian doesn’t exist, or has left the company. But if I had set my firstname.lastname@example.org address to be the default, Catch-All address, that email would end up in my inbox, just like the sales email. The advantage of this? Well, there are several. Brian’s emails don’t get lost, just because his email account has been deleted, or someone misspelled his name. But it also means you can give out any email address you like to websites, mailing lists or individuals and let your email filters do the work. So, for example, any Google email alert you sign up for could be given the email address email@example.com, so that you could set up your email filter to move all those emails into one place. Any email alert from Factiva could go to firstname.lastname@example.org. You don’t have to registered any of these email addresses. They just end up in your default email box. But by setting up a filter, your email program can look inside the header, see it was addressed to ‘email@example.com’ and funnel it through to a folder called Google alarts. Neat.
Not just that. If one of these virtual email addresses falls into the hands of spammers, you have a pretty good idea of who gave it away and can give them a hard time. In short, Catch-All Aliases are a great way to keep control of your inbox. I used them all the time, and must have set up more than 150 of them on the fly. The beauty of them is you don’t have to do any setting up; you can make up a name on the spot, and then when an email comes in with that address in the header field, you can decide what kind of filter to apply to it.
Not any more. Hostway have this week decided to ditch Catch-All Aliases. The tech guy tells me it’s because they were creating too much spam. (This is when spammers just blast lots of emails at bloggs.com with any old combination of letters and digits before the @ sign. If there’s a catchall address all these emails get through.) Now spam is a problem for hosters, I can appreciate. But to make a move like this, without allowing the user any chance to opt out of such a change, is to me extraordinary. I had a good antispam system going. I didn’t need their service. But I didn’t have any choice.
Now in the short term I’m left with the chaos of trying to remember what aliases I’ve come up with over the past few years and physically adding those addresses to my list of registered aliases on Hostway’s configuration page. In the longer term, of course, I’m going to be looking for another hosting company. Any recommendations?
Bottom line here, is the cost of spam to people like Hostway must be making them buckle and pushing them into illconsidered moves like this. But I would beg other companies to ponder deeply before removing features that their customers may really, really need. If I were in business I would be losing customers every time an email to me bounced. As it is I am going to be registering aliases deep into the night and hunting for a new home for my domains. Not how I planned to spend my time.