Vincent Cheung

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

RIP Mailblocks

The reign of Mailblocks has ended.

Mailblocks was created by Phil Goldman (also the creator of WebTV) and went live on March 24, 2003 and I’ve been a devout worshipper of Mailblocks since April 5, 2003. After Phil Goldman’s death at the age of 39 on Christmas 2003, Mailblocks sold out to AOL Aug. 4, 2004. I hate AOL.

I got an e-mail today saying that AOL is shutting down Mailblocks on Nov. 16, 2005 and this is my 30 days notice. Apparently, I can signup for a free AOL e-mail, but I’d never sell my soul to devil. They say I can get a refund (I paid something like $10 or $15 for 3 years as it was some sort of sign on bonus), but I’ll believe it when I see the money.

Mailblocks, although having a rather cheesy name which “Princess” has been pestering me about for the past little while, wasn’t just another webmail account. It was very innovative for its time and unfortunately, things went downhill (read: sold out to AOL and stopped innovating) after Phil Goldman’s death.

The key to Mailblocks was its ability to completely eliminate spam. To date, Mailblocks has stopped 13,695 spam from entering my inbox. Its challenge/response system requires the sender to verify that it’s not a computer by having the sender type in alphanumeric characters from an image, which, right now, computers cannot effectively do. Until this verification is performed, the e-mail stays in the “Pending” folder for up to 2 weeks. Some smarts were built-in in that this verification only needed to be done once, people I send e-mails to were automatically put on the “white-list”, and I could also authorize people manually.

Mailblocks was also able to fetch e-mails directly from Hotmail and put them through the challenge/response process, effectively eliminating spam from my Hotmail account (which back then before all this spam filtering stuff, I was getting close to 30 spams a day). Further, it consolidated all my e-mail into one account (I like getting all my e-mail in one place). Mailblocks also offered IMAP so that e-mail programs such as Thunderbird, could be used.

Another one of Mailblocks’ innovations was trackers. This was another spam / filtering system. I could for example, create a “tracker” with the e-mail address, and any e-mail to this address would go into my “shop” folder. I would use this e-mail address for online shopping, which then did two things. One, it sorted out my e-mails automatically for me as all shopping related e-mails went into my “shop” folder. Two, if a seedy online retailer sold my e-mail address and I started getting spam at this e-mail address, I could just remove this tracker and create a new one, say and delete the old one so I don’t get the spam at the old tracker. Gmail does support something like this now. You can say, use and those e-mails will get into my Gmail account and I can filter based on who the e-mail is sent to. The problem is that the “+” symbol is incorrectly determined by many sites to be an invalid symbol in an e-mail address. Gmail does let you put a “.” anywhere you want, so for example, is the same as and you can then filter based on this.

Lastly, I got 15 megs of space with Mailblocks at a time when Hotmail and the other webmail providers were only giving 1 or 2 megs.

I had known for some time that Mailblocks was eventually going to be killed off b/c AOL bought it to build its own webmail system. A few copycats started up after Mailblocks and I signed up for a “Fusemail” account a while ago. It has many of the same features as Mailblocks, but an even cheesier name…..

2.5 computer years is a long time and things have changed. I’ve effectively transitioned from my Hotmail account and get much less spam (maybe 5 / day at most) because of better spam filtering. Folders are outdated. 15 megs can be the size of a single e-mail.

I have been using my Gmail account more and more lately. One of the things that helped me transition was Gmail’s secure SMTP. I have Bell Sympatico DSL back in Toronto and they don’t let you use SMTP, except their server, but when I’m at say, school, I cannot use Bell’s SMTP server. Gmail’s SMTP server, being “secure”, doesn’t use the regular port 25 and thus, I can use Gmail’s SMTP server in Thunderbird to send all my e-mails from where ever I am. What then happens is that it looks like all my e-mails are sent from Gmail.

Gmail gives me 2+ gigs, has labels, tracker like things, and good spam filtering. Gmail doesn’t however, have IMAP support, which makes using multiple computers to check my e-mail with Thunderbird difficult. Gmail does support POP, which is a half assed solution. I use Thunderbird on my laptop to check my Gmail using POP, and for my desktop computer at home and school, I have to use the web page, though Gmail’s web interface is pretty slick. Plus, I’ve been using labels more effectively now, which is not supported in Thunderbird. Gmail also cannot fetch my Hotmail e-mail, but Thunderbird has a webmail plug-in that’ll somewhat do the trick. I rarely get any e-mail from my hotmail account, so this isn’t much of an issue now.

So, in the end, while I was quite surprised with the e-mail I got this morning and Mailblocks’ sudden demise, I’m not too upset, as I was already transitioning to Gmail anyways.

Let the reign of Google begin...


John said...

wow u got a blog??

have no fear, there's always sneakemail

Anonymous said...

argh i cant believe john got here first!

at least i even know abt this now - -

my fortune for this year says that with relationships. i'll get into arguments easily. so i should be more tolerant

JazJon said...

RIP Mailblocks
Gmail has come a LONG way since 2004

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