In the last few months, Gmail has offered two (free) features that everyone interested in maintaining their brand (i.e., @yourdomain.com) and controlling their data (locally, not just in the cloud) should take advantage of. Though I’ve used Gmail for years, I had been hesitant to make it a primary email account, but now I’m on-board and excited.
Note: I’m making the assumption here that using Gmail to manage your domain-branded email is better than using the basic POP or IMAP provided by your ISP. The main reason I switched to Gmail is its superior server-based spam filtering and server-based rules–which means crap doesn’t ever make it to me, especially on my mobile devices.
The first feature is what’s known as Google Apps. While it’s ostensibly an online productivity suite, it includes the ability to use your own domain through Google’s Gmail system. “But wait, Jared, I’ve always been using my domain-branded email through Gmail.” No, you haven’t quite. In the past Gmail emails for your domain have looked like this (though many people don’t even bother and just used their main gmail address for replies):
Call it what you want, but this isn’t professional enough for me. Google does this to get around spam filters (see Sender IDs for a technical explantion). Once you sign up for Google Apps, you’ll be sending mail through the appropriate (SMTP) server for your domain and your email will look this:
There were two other reasons why I wouldn’t use Gmail (or any web based email system) much in the past:
- If I worked offline or on a mobile device, there were things I couldn’t access (like filed messages) or synchronize (like filing and deleting messages)
- The primary place for me to work with Gmail (if I wanted all the functionality) was the web. While this sounds reasonable, it meant that my offline copies were difficult to maintain. POP access (the option other than IMAP) didn’t manage folders other than the Inbox
Gmail now offers IMAP, which means that all your folders can be synchronized between the web and your email clients–any activity performed in one place will be mirrored on the others. You can even use Gmail as an archive for all the old messages you previously had only stored locally (I just moved 3gb of old mail to the Gmail server so that it’s now backed up, searchable, and available anywhere).
If you’re not using IMAP on your mobile devices, laptop, or desktop, consider switching. It’ll give you a copy of your data and many more options for working offline or on-the-go.
Signing up for Google Apps (free for up to 6.5gb) [click here]
There’s a caveat here: you need to control your own domain. If someone else is managing your domain’s DNS then you’ll have an annoying (but most likely worth it) battle getting this in place. I imagine many readers of this blog own their own domain and this is an available option. If you don’t have access to your domain and your company doesn’t use Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes, bring this up with your administrator as you can host up to 100 email accounts at 6.5gb for free! (Or $50/user/year for 25gb each)
If you own your domain, you’ll have to point your MX records to Gmail to do this right. It only takes a minute to copy and paste Google’s instructions into an email that you can send to your web host support contact, but it’s a pain. Google also provides plenty of do-it-yourself instructions, but be careful if you go that route.
Configuring your Gmail and email application(s) for IMAP [click here]
If you don’t plan to use a desktop or mobile client, IMAP doesn’t matter much for you. I do encourage you to try a program such as Outlook, Thunderbird, or Penelope/Eudora. It should be faster than Gmail and is available when you’re not online. Personally I just like the comfort of knowing my data is not only stored on the internet (as Google doesn’t offer us data reliability unless we pay $50/year).
Run into snags? Have suggestions? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to help…