Thursday, March 30, 2006

Will I Lose My Email If I Don’t Check It ?

I just moved and was not able to check my email for 3-4 weeks. Will I still receive emails sent in that time period?

Probably, but it depends on a couple of things: the rules that your email provider might impose and just how popular you are.

But it is definitely something worth planning ahead for.

Personally I don’t think I could go for three weeks without email. Too much of my business and my life revolves around it. But I also know not everyone’s quite as addicted geeky as I am.

There are two potential problems if you don’t check or download your email for a prolonged period of time.

If you stay away long enough, your account may be suspended for inactivity. This is most common with the free accounts. Some services will let you reclaim the account within a certain amount of time, but your email and contacts may well be lost if this happens. Typically the shortest timeframe I've heard of is about a month of inactivity before your account is suspended.

Many email providers or ISPs impose a limit or "quota" on the amount of email that they will store for you. If you don't download your email for a prolonged period of time, your email simply accumulates on your provider's server until this limit is reached, and then further email is bounced back to the sender.

There are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself from situations like this.

For the three to four week timeframe, your real risk is the quota, so I'd make sure you were using a mail service that had a large quota before penalizing you. How large? It depends on how much email you get. Take a look at your incoming email rate, if you can, and do the math to make a guess as to how much you might get in the week's you'll be gone. Make sure that your email provider can handle it. In fact, make sure they can handle at least twice that, just to be safe.

I'm sure many readers are thinking "GMail!, GMail!", and that's certainly my initial reaction as well (2.7 gigabytes, as I write this, is a LOT of space). However I encourage you to do the math anyway - if you're gone for a month, that's "only" 90 megabytes per day. If you're a heavy email user, or are on lists that regularly send around large attachments, it's possible that's not quite enough.

If you can, suspend your subscriptions to mailing lists while you're away. Much like stopping the newspaper delivery at home when you take a vacation, this is a quick and easy way to slow the rate at which your inbox fills up.

You'll also want to check with your email provider to see how long they'll let the account remain untouched before suspending it. The good news is that most paid accounts will stay active as long as you keep paying.

If your account would be suspended within your planned absence, then you'll want to make arrangements of some sort. The simplest is to make sure you have a way of logging in occasionally before time runs out. Alternately you could have a (very) trusted friend do that for you. If you're lucky enough to have a responsive ISP, you might even be able to contact them beforehand, and make arrangements to have the suspension "time out" lifted for your account.

In general, you're most at risk with free email accounts. These providers are constantly having to prune inactive accounts to recover their resources. Time limits and quotas are a common method. In my opinion it's yet another reason to never use free email accounts for anything truly important.

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