In zombie email: part 1 I talked about how email addresses were tightly tied to internet access in the very early years of the internet. We didn’t have to worry about zombie email addresses because when an account was shut down, or ignored for a long time then mail would start bouncing and a sender could stop sending to that account.
There were two major changes to email accounts in the early 2000′s that led to the rise of zombie emails.
People started decoupling their internet access from their email addresses. Free addresses were easy to get and could be checked from everywhere. No longer did they have to dial in to get email, they could access it from outside the office and outside the home. Mobile devices, including the first generation of smart phones and laptops, helped drive people to use email addresses that they could access from any network. The easy access to free mail accounts and the permanence led people to adopt those addresses as their primary address.
When people changed addresses, for whatever reason, they didn’t have to stop paying. There was no way to tell the free ISPs to stop accepting mail for that address. Free mail providers would let addresses linger for months or years after the user had stopped logging in. Sometimes those addresses would fill up and start bouncing email, but they were not often turned off by the ISPs.
The lack of purging of abandoned addresses was the start of dead addresses accumulating on mailing lists. But there weren’t that many addresses in this state, and eventually they would fill up with mail. When they were full the ISP would stop accepting new mail for that account, and the address would bounce off a mailing list.
Everything changed with the entrance of Gmail onto the scene. When Gmail launched in 2004 they were providing a whole GB of storage for email accounts a totally unheard of storage capacity. Within a year they were providing multiple gigabytes of storage. Other freemail systems followed Gmail’s lead and now all free accounts have nearly unlimited storage. Plus, any mail in the spam folder was purged after a few weeks and bulk mail doesn’t count against the users’ storage quota. Now, an abandoned email account will almost never fill up thus senders can’t use over quota bounces to identify abandoned accounts.
Now we’re stuck in a situation where SMTP replies can’t be used to identify that there is no one home inside a particular email account. Senders can’t distinguish between a quiet subscriber and an abandoned address. ISPs, however, can and are using zombie addresses as a measure of a senders reputation.
On Monday we’ll talk about why and how zombie addresses can affect delivery. (Zombie emails: part 3)
Tuesday, we’ll talk about strategies to protect your list from being taken over by zombies. (Zombie Apocalypse)