EARTHLINK & MISSING E-MAIL

Remember Earthlink? It’s still in business but not particularly relevant. (Companies providing dialup access became an anachronism when the telcos and cable companies shut them out of broadband access. Earthlink all but disappeared, and AOL is following it down the same path – AOL is just taking longer to go away.)

Well-known tech columnist Robert X. Cringeley has written an interesting tale of a friend who discovered almost by accident in June that Earthlink was dropping 9 out of 10 of his e-mail messages – they weren’t being bounced, they were just disappearing. Messages were supposed to be delivered to his Earthlink mailbox and also forwarded to a Blackberry address; for every 10 messages during a bunch of testing, 1-2 would get to the Earthlink mailbox, 1-2 would get to the Blackberry (but not necessarily the same ones), and all would appear in a GMail mailbox used for comparison. An Earthlink tech support rep eventually acknowledged that Earthlink’s mail servers were so overloaded that some users with Earthlink-hosted domains or aliased addresses were missing up to 90% of their incoming mail.

A spokesman for Earthlink turned up today with an unapologetic description of what sounds like a completely different problem – “Yup, our equipment was overloaded and crapped out in October but we fixed it right away, you betcha!”

There are three lessons.

  • If you are still an Earthlink subscriber, it’s long past time to move on. If you are considering signing up with Earthlink, your computer should be confiscated while you attend classes bringing you up to date on developments in technology and communications companies in the last ten years.
  • This is not just an Earthlink issue. Other ISPs are going to drop mail periodically without admitting it. If you have mail that isn’t delivered, it is very, very hard to figure out where it has gone.
  • Finally, this may happen with increasing frequency because of the recent onslaught of spam, predicted to get worse next year. It is hard to comprehend the volume of spam but my impression is that it’s worse than we have any idea, simply mind-boggling. ISPs are struggling and will sometimes fall down; ultimately the fault belongs with the bad guys sending the crap.