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Oct. 21 2009 - 9:41 am | 467 views | 3 recommendations | 12 comments

Domain Shame: Your email branding

If you're still using AOL, you've got a branding issue

If you're still using AOL, you've got branding issues

A prominent journalist with whom I occasionally correspond recently surprised me. His e-mail address changed.

Since I met him in 2008, I had corresponded with the 50-something journalist at LASTNAME@aol.com. Earlier this year, I got an email from him at a new address: LASTNAME@gmail.com.

I asked him why he made the change. It was not Gmail’s superior storage system or chat features. He responded, “My nephew told me AOL was rotten for my image: made me look like an old fart. That’s all it took.”

It was a good change for another reason — he’ll look better to potential creditors.

Credit Karma has done a study of credit scores and email addresses and discovered that gmail users have the best credit while yahoo users have the worst credit. AOL users came in second to last on the credit score matrix, with an average score of 660. (Hattip: Mashable)

What else does your email address say about you?

When I first started writing for Above The Law, I used a hotmail address to correspond with readers. (I preferred to reserve my primary account — a gmail account — for personal correspondence.) In response to my first post sharing my hotmail address, one reader commented:

So far so good, but really, she still uses Hotmail?

Gmail is hot. Hotmail is — ironically given its name — not. Anecdotally, Yahoo, Comcast, Bellsouth, and AOL also fall into the “not hot” category. You’re prejudged if your e-mail lands in someone’s box with one of those domain names. Don Fernandez spotted this email prejudice way back in 2005, calling it “domain shame.”

Addresses originating from Hotmail, Yahoo and America Online are often painting a picture of the user.

Cheap, naive, unsophisticated, amateurish, low-rent. Or perhaps the most dreaded label of all – spammer.

Granted, a large chunk of the almost 123 million Americans zapping e-mails daily might care less about the label on their correspondence. But others are casting a judgmental eye.

“When I see a Yahoo or Hotmail domain, I think not only cheap, but also disposable and possibly porno, because of the anonymity of those domains,” Elizabeth McDaniel said. “And I think ‘dumbo’ when I see someone nowadays with an AOL account.”

via What does your email domain say about you? – Cox News Service.

Having worked with people abroad, I can say anecdotally that Yahoo tends to be the email provider of choice for non-Americans; it’s especially popular in Africa. Maybe some of our prejudice against Yahoo is of the xenophobic variety.

Back in 2005, Fernandez wrote that people pooh-poohed free accounts like those offered by Hotmail and Yahoo, but that Gmail remained cool because of its exclusivity — you had to receive an invitation from an existing user to sign up.

That’s not the case anymore but Gmail still remains associated with the tech-savvy set. I think this is due in part to Google’s overall coolness.

But where does cool come from? BrandTags is a site that allows people to play word association with brand logos. According to the site, “the basic idea… is that a brand exists entirely in people’s heads. Therefore, a brand is whatever they say it is.” Check out user impressions for Google (awesome, cool, fun, fast, though also evil) versus Yahoo! (annoying, boring, crap, dead, lame, old, and outdated.) AOL fares similarly.

But even if you’re still rocking an @aol.com or @yahoo.com email address, I’ll still be your friend. Though I might not loan you money.


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  1. collapse expand

    This is great. When gmail first came out it barely worked in Africa. The internet was too slow, and so Yahoo was a better option. With the “new Yahoo” though, I’m no so sure that’s still the case.

  2. collapse expand


    “A”n “O”ut of the “L”oop user is how I would categorize the AOL users I’ve dealt with.

    As AOL has phased out much of it’s dialup, I still run across people paying 19.95 a month for the AOL email even though they were connecting via AT&T DSL and could login for free to AOL.

    I like my gmail account the best. Works well the custom labels and archiving features. Also good for photos when used with Picassa 3.

    I have a hotmail that is increasing harder to read as they update and a yahoo account I opened 10 years ago. I keep that because I use yahoo as a home page.

  3. collapse expand

    @kashhill Migrating is tough- I have > a half dozen active email addresses, and my Hotmail account is for the people who won’t update! Essentially, Hotmail is receive only.
    OTOH, I still use Hotmail as spam bait.

  4. collapse expand

    I think the hottest email address is the personal domain. That says savvy + power. Gmail is for those too lazy to go for the personal domain. Always, though — no matter what domain — the actual name is what says most about a person. Straightforward first dot last name? Creative play with words or letters? Don’t tell me you don’t connect that to personality.
    Special note to @robp: I have and still (gasp!) use my aol email address. I’m stubbornly nostalgic about it and I’m convinced it will one day be considered retro.

  5. collapse expand

    So true. My older brother still uses aol and I can’t figure out how to tell him that it’s not cool without him taking it personally. Gmails technology is much better also.

  6. collapse expand

    Fascinating! The class dimensions of cyberspace never cease to amaze me.

  7. collapse expand

    So glad you included “evil” among the gmail descriptors. When I see a gmail address its like I’m watching someone trying to pretend their lover is not cheating on them!

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    About Me

    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

    If you have story ideas or tips, e-mail me at kashhill@trueslant.com. I've hung out in quite a few newsrooms over the last few years. Currently, I can be found in Breaking Media's Nolita office. In the past, I've been found in midtown Manhattan at The Week Magazine, in Hong Kong at the International Herald Tribune, and in D.C. at the National Press Foundation and the Washington Examiner.

    I have few illusions about privacy -- feel free to follow me on Twitter: kashhill. Or friend me on Facebook... though I might put you on limited profile.

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      Over at Above The Law, I write about lawyers, law firms, judges and the legal industry.

      We especially like “colorful news.” (Yes, that’s a euphemism for gossip.)

      Check out the site here and my stuff here.


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      While most of my writing occurs online at Above The Law and True/Slant, I do occasionally venture into the world of print.  These are some of the magazines and newspapers that I’ve written for:

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      Time Out New York

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      washingtonian issue for tsThe latest (and longest) “real ink” project: the cover story for Washingtonian Magazine’s December issue.

      While I’m usually a writer and reporter, I’m sometimes asked to play pundit. In November, the New York Times asked me to write a mini op-ed for its Room for Debate blog. In December, BBC radio asked me to talk about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook privacy settings for its Newshour (19:00 minute mark), based on this True/Slant post.

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