Why This Non-AOL’er Detests AOL By Angela Hoy

Late last week, when downloading my mail, I was surprised to see a ton of returned email bouncing back to my in-box. At first glance, I thought somebody had spoofed our address to send out sp*m. On second glance, I realized that every email I’d sent to AOL users in the prior several days had been returned to our servers, in one fell swoop. I was stumped. Richard took headers from the emails and contacted our hosting company. Our host has a special arrangement with the big hosting companies, like AOL, in which our host guarantees not to do business with any sp*mmers (meaning they’re on the big ISPs’ white lists) and the big hosting companies agree not to filter emails coming from our host’s customers.

We have more than 800 authors currently in print through our publishing company, Booklocker.com, and tens of thousands of double-opt-in subscribers on our WritersWeekly.com email list. Dozens of authors and thousands of subscribers do indeed have AOL email addresses and they’re not currently receiving the vast majority of emails being sent by us. Even customers who are waiting for receipts for their purchases or responses to their emails think we’re ignoring them, and are complaining.

Our host called AOL who allegedly said something had gone awry and that the matter would be fixed within 48 hours.

I logged into an old yahoo address that I never use and resent all those emails back to their intended recipients via that service. By that time, I was starting to receive complaints from authors and readers (all AOL customers) who accused me of ignoring their emails, not processing their orders, and more.

One author in particular had his book order delayed by several days because of this problem. He’d given me an incorrect card number and my response to him was, again, eaten by AOL. I told him to send his complaints to AOL directly as they are interfering with his business. Another author was extremely upset because she needed tracking information books she needed for a book signing. I kept sending the email to her over and over again, but it kept bouncing back. I finally got ahold of her and she provided us with two alternative email addresses. I’m more than a bit miffed that AOL thinks they know better than their customers as to what is a legitimate email and what isn’t. The situation has gone beyond ridiculous.

AOL did NOT fix the problem within 48 hours. In fact, not only are they still returning many of my emails, but they’re also now returning emails I’m sending from my old yahoo account. I’ve since found articles that state AOL filters more than 20% of legitimate email. I give up!

If you find you’re not receiving expected emails from friends and associates, it’s a good idea to check your sp*m filters or notify your ISP (they often dump legitimate email and it will not appear in your sp*m folder), instead of sending angry emails to the person who’s “ignoring” you. While sp*m filters, if used wisely and not too aggressively, can be a good thing, in the case of AOL, they are definitely hurting our customers’ (authors’) businesses. We are encouraging our authors to change ISPs to avoid AOL’s interruption to their businesses in the future. Three authors have already notified me that they’ve terminated their AOL accounts.

Additional information:

“AOL’s cable-modem service has implemented a new spam-blocking system that is catching innocent email in the crossfire.”

“There is one thing worse than spam and that is a spam filter that blocks legitimate email.”

“I recently have had trouble sending email to users of AOL.”

“If you are an AOL user who feels this is unfair, we recommend you address the issue directly with AOL.”

“The spam filtering system of AOL is blocking a solid 25% of legitimate emails.”

“AOL right now is blocking much legitimate email.”

READER COMMENT:

Angela,

I just read your article about AOL. I DID NOT know that. I am an AOL user, and as a writer, one important e-mail snagged in my spam filter could make or break me. Actually, it almost did a year ago. While I was hunting for an agent, I just so happened to check my spam filter. Behold…a proposal request from a big NYC agency was sitting there, days from being deleted. I thought it was just a freak occurrence. Thanks for the heads-up!

Angela’s Response:
Not all of the rejected email is going to show up in your spam folder. They bounce some messages that you’ll never, ever see. They have different levels of filtering.

READER COMMENT:

Angela:

I read with some interest your complaints about AOL. I can’t ever think of a reason to use that service as an ISP. Most of my e-mail goes out and into hotmail. I have learned to check the junk file just in case. I’ve found several items they threw in there, without me telling them to, that I needed. I’m sorry you are having problems with AOL but I am not surprised. Can’t ever figure out why there hasn’t been a consumer boycott that killed that ISP. Would be the best thing for the net. Anyway, good luck in the future and thanks for the heads up.
-Dan M., Reno, Nevada

READER COMMENT:

Hi Angela,

I had my own AOL story. A few years ago when I was planning my wedding, the manager of the B&B we were using had Earthlink email. We had AOL and AOL was rejecting all the Earthlink mail. Took a while to figure it out and even
longer for AOL to admit it. Just what you need when you are already a jittery bride!!

A.C.
Alexandria, VA

READER COMMENT:

Angela,

We were among the first to subscribe to AOL, and loved it so much we thought we’d keep it no matter what. Then DSL came along, with its greater speed and the ability for more than one computer to be online at the same time (which effectively staved off World War III in our house — at least that cause of World War III). When I tried to drop AOL, it took 3 months before they’d let us go, and when they finally understood they weren’t going to talk us into staying, the guy on the phone went from polite to snotty in nothing flat.

NOW, I encounter the same problem as you — it’s always a gamble whether things will get to or from those who still have
AOL. Attachments don’t work right. Forwards turn into endless attachments. I think AOL’s misguided logic is that if they are incompatible with everything else, people will stay with them. In reality, they have taken a big gun and shot a huge hole in their own proverbial foot — all they are doing is making their existing customers, and the rest of us that have to deal with them, mad. Too bad, because at one time AOL was great.

Laurie

READER COMMENT:

Angela,

Why anyone on earth uses AOL for anything is beyond me, but using its e-mail for business is just suicidal. Yahoo, which is free, has a fantastic filtering system and only delivers to a bulk folder, not deleting anything. My comcast account lets a little spam through, but I have yet to have an important e-mail not get to me. Meanwhile, business messages I send out to AOL users get bounced for no reason, even when
it’s a simple text message with a link or two.

Tim Leffel
author, The World’s Cheapest Destinations
http://www.worldscheapestdestinations.com
(a Forbes “Best of the Web”)