Still Using AOL?

For several years now, those of us in the technology field have been warning business users about the risks of using AOL for incoming business correspondence.

While a fine service for consumers, the risks of email delivery failures to AOL's members have always been too great to trust the service for critical business email.

Problems for Recipients

While anecdotal evidence abounds, PC World recently featured a real-world example (http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,114993,00.asp) that drives this point home. During four straight days, every single email sent by any of TDS Telcom's 100,000 subscribers was simply "bounced" back to the senders as undeliverable.

While more specific numbers are not provided, consider that if each of TDS's members tried to send just one single email to an AOL user each day. This would mean that 400,000 emails were bounced (and the number is quite likely much higher) and for no good reason that AOL was willing to share.

In fact, the PC World article indicates that lower-level technicians at AOL were equally frustrated and unable to identify any specific reason for the bouncing emails, other than to indicate that some spam filtering mechanism was involved.

While the situation has now resolved itself, this example represents just one of who knows how many email interruptions caused by AOL.

While the disruption of consumer's messaging may be nothing more than an inconvenience, consider the economic consequences to business users.

The questions all business users should consider include:

How many of TDS's emails were actually bounced due to AOL's misbehaving spam filters? How many of these were business related? What was the cost in lost opportunity to the intended recipients? How many other email providers might this effect? How much business did this cost me?

While the answers cannot be known, what can be said with certainly is that business people who use AOL for their business communications are certainly missing prospect leads and client/customer correspondence on a regular basis.

What the cost of one potential relationship means in economic terms depends very much on the industry being discussed. For a small retailer, the cost might be nothing more than $20. An insurance or travel agent could lose hundreds of dollars per lost email, and a real estate professional thousands.

While no email system is perfect in delivery, if you use an AOL account for prospect, customer and client communications you must consider the true costs of entrusting a consumer Internet service with your important business correspondence.

Problems for Senders

There are substantial costs associated with the other side of the AOL email transaction as well.

The effort that senders must expend to attempt delivery to AOL users can be a significant drain on both productivity and profitability as well.

For instance, while AOL users make up a small percentage of subscribers to my e-newsletter (Canale's Tips & Tricks) the resources consumed by dealing with AOL addresses have become prohibitive.

Not only do senders of email to AOL users have to weed through the endless and inconsistent bounced messages generated by the system, but significant efforts must be expended communicating with customers regarding complaints of non-delivery.

Because the AOL user seldom realizes that the reason they have not received email is because of their AOL account itself, such communications can be quite frustrating for everyone involved.

As it applies to sending Canale's Tips & Tricks, delivering to AOL users has become a money-losing proposition. The excessive time and effort dealing with AOL's systems exceeds the price charged for subscriptions.

Current subscribers with an AOL addresses will need to provide an alternate address in order to continue receiving the newsletter.

While few other commercial services will likely adopt such policies in the near future, (though this may be an ever growing possibility) you can be assured that efforts to insure delivery to AOL addresses have diminished considerably over the years, that costs are eventually passed along to consumers, and these trends will no doubt continue.

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Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale