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Lessons from an Email Hoarder

November 10, 2009

cartoonFrom time to time, I take to this blog to make confessions about my online habits. Today, I’d like to confess the following: I am a hoarder. Of email addresses.

This morning, I woke up, and like any addict, checked my email immediately. As a marketing professional, I was not surprised to see dozens of emails roll in from various lists I subscribe to. We often send emails early in the morning; it’s standard fare. Most of the emails related to shopping, whether for clothes or kitchen supplies. I scrolled through them, reading subject lines, waiting for something to catch my eye and make me open it, but what really caught my attention was the fact that I had no emails from anyone I knew. Not even so much as a forward from a great aunt about kittens or bad luck. What has happened to my dear old Hotmail account? Is the email address I’ve had for so long destined to become just another dead account? Is it becoming every email marketer’s worst nightmare?

I started thinking back to my first email address: The year: 1990-something. The handle was my nickname, and the first 3 numbers of my private phone number (remember what a big deal it was to have your own phone number?). At this point, I haven’t logged into AIM in several years, and even before that, I stopped giving out and sending email from my AOL address. I thought, what a fun experiment to log into AOL mail and see what kinds of things are sent there on a daily basis. Here’s what I found:


Holy cow. 502 emails (and keep in mind, AOL will delete emails after a certain amount of time, whether you’ve read them or not), Nine West (typical), healthy home tips (typical), Zappos… then it starts to get weird.

“Great Savings on Parts and Service in Houston”

“Request Roofing Estimates in 30 Seconds”

“Time to rock herr socks buddy.” (I like that one very much)

And notice that 49 went to spam. Only 49.

I think three things happened here:

  1. I subscribed to too many mailing lists. It got overwhelming to manage them all.
  2. Somehow I got on some spammy lists and couldn’t get myself off of them. I probably took a survey or two to get a coupon for free ice cream and ended up with several thousand offers for hair plugs and porn.
  3. AOL stopped being cool. No one uses AOL for email anymore (what do they use it for?). Putting on a business card would never do.

So I abandoned AOL. After many, many good years, I jumped ship. I never sent out a “I got a new email address!” email, never really made much commotion about it. I just signed up for Hotmail and moved on. After all those years of retailers (and medical suppliers) knowing exactly where to reach me, I was all of a sudden missing.

I describe myself as a hoarder because I’m reminded of the A&E show about people who can’t throw anything away. I’ve caught an episode or two where, instead of cleaning house, the hoarders actually buy new houses, just to fill their second homes to the top with more junk. This is how I feel about my email addresses. Once I’m getting a lot more marketing material than friendly fodder, I go along my merry way to greener pastures. Of course, these email addresses float along forever, getting email after email that never see the light of day.

There’s a lesson here. Several lessons, actually.

  1. If you’re a marketer, clean up your email lists. It’s okay to remove someone from your list that hasn’t opened your last 50 emails. They’re not going to open #51. They probably don’t even know you sent it.
  2. Limit the mailing lists you subscribe to. For your own sanity.
  3. Keep your mailbox organized. File important things away, or respond and delete them.
  4. Don’t go giving out your email address like crazy, or spiders will quickly devour it.

Eventually my Hotmail account will become a thing of my past, and my gmail account will take over as my web-based mail solution of choice. For now, I’ll keep checking my poor Hotmail account in the hopes that something interesting or a coupon for a free Ben and Jerry’s cone comes along, though I won’t hold my breath.

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