If your email is your identity, then who is hippachik1998@gmail?


People were devilishly creative when brainstorming their online alter egos back in the ’90s—after all, you were only as cool as your AOL screen name. It was the wild west and we all had gunslinger names like WildBill or BillydaKid or Bubblefarrts5000.

Since the rise of Facebook and its real name policy, oAuth to identify users across multiple platforms, and the general mainstreaming of the internet, creative names have given way to real names or recognizable variants on real names.

While informative, these name-based emails can unintentionally cause headaches—for example, davehung@gmail.com is not the same as my friend dave.hung@gmail.com (this was before google implemented the “ignore the dot” feature in their emails). I’ve sent the first Dave plenty of emails meant for the second over the years. Sorry Dave!

Just imagine how many spam emails tim@gmail.com must get every single day. Amol’s email amol@yahoo.com has become a massive honey pot: it gets around 150 spam messages a day including other people’s phone bills, bank statements, and other official comms. People are too lazy to type in a real email so they just type amol@yahoo.com (there are a lot of Amols in India).

Pity the poor early adopter.

An NPR piece on email doppelgangers tells the tale of how Jeff Kohl became in charge of coordinating a high school reunion he never attended. Email mix-ups are the modern day wrong telephone numbers. It has become the recipient’s duty to right the wrong, especially when sensitive information is involved.

So be diligent—is it one or two L’s in that email address? Is it gmail.com or google.com? What’s your game plan when you have two Emily’s on staff?

There’s always room for play when you’re setting up new email addresses. Some companies like to keep things fun, like law firm Morrison & Foerster—their domain is @mofo.com. And they probably don’t get sent too many mistaken emails.

And one more thing. The K is silent.



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