If you’re reading this, there is an almost 100% chance that you have an email address, and that you use email at least occasionally. It’s more likely that you use email every day, and you might even have more than one email address. But have you thought about the ramifications of where you got your email address from? Most normal people don’t really think about it, but they should. Some people might not even know that there are different ways to get an email address or account.
The most common way for people to get an email address is from their Internet Service Provider (ISP). When you sign up for Internet service, you get an email address assigned to you. You may or may not have any control over the first part of the address – the part before the “@” sign – but you won’t have any control at all about the domain name – the part after the “@” sign. For example, if you have Comcast, the email name that they provide ends with “@comcast.net,” and the first part is the “name” of your account. Other vendors use a similar approach, where the domain name part (again, the part after the “@” sign) identifies the provider.
These vendor provided email accounts are provided “free” and many people use them. They provide basic email with few extras, and generally they work okay. The real problem arises when you need to change your Internet provider for some reason. Maybe you move to another area of the country that is not served by your provider. Or maybe you get tired of the cost or customer service or performance of your provider and decide to switch. Whatever the reason, if you change providers, you lose access to your old email address. Not only do you then have to go through the pain of distributing your new email address to friends and family, but you also have to change the address with all of the vendors that use it to send you notifications and updates (your bank and credit card companies, among others), or that use it as an identifier (Amazon.com comes to mind, but they are legion). So I generally advise people to not use an ISP provided email account.
One alternative to ISP provided email accounts is to create a free account with Microsoft (outlook.com) or Google (google.com). I recommend sticking with one of the “big two” for a couple of reasons. First, they are unlikely to go out of business and leave you in the situation of having to change email accounts (see paragraph above). Second, they handle so much mail that their malicious mail filters (for spam, phishing, and other nefarious types of email) do a pretty good job. These free accounts avoid the problem of changing ISPs, but you’re still stuck with their domain name, which also means you might not be able to use the “name” (the part before the “@”) that you want. For example firstname.lastname@example.org is almost certainly already taken, and I’ll bet your name is, too. Still, if you can come up with a creative and clever name, you might be fine. These email accounts are fine, and I recommend that everyone create one to use as a backup, at the very least.
Another alternative to ISP provided email, and the one I recommend for people who are willing to spend a little bit of money on their email account, is to register your own domain name (again, the part after the “@” sign), and then create your email account in that domain. Domain names are relatively inexpensive – .com, .org, and .net domains are typically about $13 per year to register. Once you have your own domain, you set up an email hosting account with a provider (Microsoft and Google both offer full-featured email hosted on your own domain, but there are other vendors as well (some of whom re-sell Microsoft or Google services)). Then you can create whatever “name” you want (well, within reason), and, as long as you pay the bills for hosting and to renew your domain name every year, your email address never has to change.