Your email address is your identity

It seems like I’ve had the same conversation several times lately. Someone asks me for help with Linkedin, or blogging, or some other aspect of social media. They’ve signed up somewhere and let an account go dormant, and now they’re finally motivated to get it going again. This is pretty common, especially with Linkedin.

Anyway, as they try to get the old account going they realize it’s connected to the email at their last job. After all, Linkedin is a work thing, right? Why not have it connected to work email?

But they’ve forgotten the password, and while Linkedin is happy to send it to them, it’s going to go to an email address that is now dead. They didn’t realize that on the internet, their email address is their identity.

Your email address is your identity

I also come across people who are interested in an opening where I work, or what me to pass something on for them. They forward a resume, or pass on their contact info. And then I notice their email address – bigv8speedr@hotmail.com, or it’s the spouse’s email address, or worse yet it’s the spouse’s work email address. These folks also don’t realize that their email address is not just their identity, but their brand.

Many sites, like Linkedin, use email addresses to identify users – really as the unique identifier. On Twitter you can login using your email address or your screen name, and that’s quite common. The wonderful thing about email addresses is that they are unique, so it’s nice when I go to a site and they’ll take my email address as the username. I know I won’t end up being swduncan51 or some other oddball thing.

So, if your email address is both your identity, and the most basic brand that you will have, shouldn’t people take it more seriously? They should. The problem is that people still think of the Internet and their online presence as new, fangled, and therefore not really permanent. But it is and if you don’t think so now, you will the next time you have to change email addresses because you changed jobs or internet service providers.

Control your identity

Get yourself a permanent email address that has a decent, neutral brand. You won’t have to change it, ever. It will project a simple but clear brand: I am who I am, and I can communicate reliably. It will cost you as little as $10 a year, and you can get it done inside of an hour without hiring anyone. That hour includes the time necessary to find, and read more detailed instructions on exactly how to do it. Here’s the high-level:

  1. Go to a domain registrar, like godaddy.com, and buy a domain. A domain is the part of an email address after the @, and the part of a website address after the www. Your first name followed by your last name is a great choice, but not always available. I use swduncan.com because it was available and short, but .net, .org, .us, .cc, .biz and all the others work perfectly well. You can also use something nonsensical or a unique word – I used to use lornitropia.net – but keep it short and easy to spell phonetically. A domain costs about $10 per year, if you go year to year. Not bad for your own, never-changing identity.
  2. Either use the registrar’s email service, which might cost $5 a year, or go to a more serious provider like Google (free), Yahoo, Fastmail.fm, or one of the many others out there. This could be free, or cost as much as $100 per year. The advantage is that you will get good email support, lots of storage, and great uptime. Note that you are NOT stuck with whatever provider you choose. You can start with the registrar’s email, switch to Google, and maybe switch again later. Your email address will be the same.
  3. You will have to ‘point’ your new domain to your email provider. This is done by editing the DNS settings at the registrar’s site, specifically adding MX records. The details of doing this are fairly easy to find via google, and it’s really just filling out a form. Your email provider (that would be google, fastmail, etc) will tell you the names of servers to enter in MX records. Sounds hard, but you just enter in 3 to 6 server names and you’re done.

That’s it. At this point you have a functioning email address. It’s yours, and you can repoint the DNS records to point to whatever email provider you want just by re-editing the MX records. It takes a while for DNS servers to talk to each other and these settings to get all over the globe, but within 24-48 hours it’s a done deal.

Now the trick is to transition all those people who send you email to the new address.

  • Send an email to your friends with the new email.
  • Forward ALL of your non-work addresses to this new address, and change to your new address on the various sites that need to send you email. Make sure you change to it everywhere. A nice tip is to set your new email reader to show emails that have been forwarded from your old address in bold or a special color so you remember to notify that sender.
  • If you’re provider has the feature, use an auto-responder on messages that arrive using an old address. Sometimes the ‘on vacation’ feature will do this. This will help with those folks who need a lot of reminding.
  • After 6 months or so, and you are getting few if any messages coming to old addresses, you can let them drop.
  • Relax, knowing that you now have your own identity and brand, and that you won’t have to change it ever again.

Here’s a special Linkedin tip – always, always add whatever functional emails you get to Linkedin, including your work address. Linkedin uses those addresses to identify you when someone invites you to connect, and having these addresses in there prevents a new account from being created when someone invites you. However, make sure the primary email address in Linkedin is your new personal address. You want to do this so that if you unexpectedly get laid off you know your still going to get messages from Linkedin, and receive any password resets. If you really want to get the Linkedin emails at work, that’s fine – just set up a rule to forward them there. That way you’ll get them at home as well.

Another bonus tip: When you have your own email domain, you own all the users in that domain – everything before the ‘@’ in an email address is the user. This means that you can make up and use new addresses on the fly. At some store and being asked for an email address? Just give them one. I was at 2nd wind fitness and they asked for an address. I told them 2ndwind@swduncan.com. This is nice because I will know if they sell it, and I can block email coming to that address later if I want to.

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