Owning Your Email Address: The Workshop

published by Eric Mill on

It's been about 2 months since I published my guide to taking control of your email address by using your own domain name. I know some people who've used it successfully, but it hasn't been a smash viral hit or anything. I've talked with a lot of others about it since then, and very consistently, people think it's a great idea but just can't quite make themselves sit down and do it. This is not surprising to me -- it's hard to make long term ownership issues feel urgent. That's how we got into this situation in the first place! There's also a limit to how interactive and encouraging I can make a web-based guide.

I've been wanting to make it into a physical workshop from the beginning, because the actual steps are simple, all in-browser, and can be done in the space of under an hour. The big barrier, and what split my guide into 3 parts, is that there were 2 giant approval delays when setting up email forwarding with Pobox.

So after writing the guide, I wrote Pobox and told them my plans for a workshop and described the barriers to doing one. The Pobox team totally got it -- and then totally resolved them! Domain approval is now automatic for everyone (if you've already got your DNS records pointed at Pobox), which means I'll soon condense my guide to 2 parts. Account approval can now be automatic for specific events, if Pobox gives you a private account registration URL. That's all I need to run workshops, so that's what I'm doing!

I'm starting by doing a 1 hour pilot workshop for a small group of friends and colleagues at my office at the Sunlight Foundation on September 9th, at 6pm. I have about 12 people signed up, and can handle a few more -- email me if you'd like to come.

Next, I've submitted it to a conference in NYC in October. EYEBEAM, a prominent New York art and tech hub, is organizing a 4-day event of talks, workshops, and art called PRISM Break Up Thanks to Rebecca Williams for tipping me off to it.. As you might expect, it's an NSA-inspired vision of people teaching others how to protect their privacy and security online.

While using your own email address doesn't have any short-term security or privacy benefits, among EYEBEAM's goals is "generally getting over Google", which this definitely helps with. Below, you can read the workshop submission I sent EYEBEAM yesterday.

I'll post again if it gets accepted -- and if it does, I'll need a helper or two, so if you're in NYC on October 5th and would like to help attendees work through issues, let me know!


Workshop description:

You should own your email address. When your email address includes a company's name (e.g. @gmail.com), you can't take that email address with you when you leave. We demand to keep our phone number when we switch carriers, and we should demand the same with our email. To do that, you need to own both sides of the @ symbol in your address.

Thankfully, the Internet was designed for this. Owning your email is cheap and easy, and doesn't require any technical skills. You'll leave this workshop with a working email address using a domain name you own. You also don't need to leave your current mail company! You can keep using the same Gmail account (for example) behind the scenes, without changing your daily life.

This is an easy step because it's a small step. This doesn't make your email any more encrypted, or NSA-proof. But it's a step we can all take, techies and non-techies alike. And if and when you do want to leave your Big Mail Company, having your own email address will make it a hell of a lot easier.

The workshop is free, but the services we'll be signing up for cost a bit of money: be prepared to drop $25 on email forwarding, and $15 on a domain name (if you don't already have one).

URL of the work/documentation of the work:

This workshop is based on the guide I wrote here: http://konklone.com/post/take-control-of-your-email-address

Details of implementation:

I'll speak in front of a room full of people, with my computer attached to a projector, and guide a group of people through the steps of registering a domain name (if they need one) using iwantmyname, and setting up email forwarding with Pobox. For people with their own domain name, I'll help them work through the right DNS settings for their domain name registrar.

Who is your intended audience?

The audience is anyone, regardless of technical background, who's using an email address they don't own.

Technology/Space/Assistance/Budget required:

I'll need a room with reliable Internet, a projector that can connect to a non-Mac (Thinkpad) over VGA.

What will your proposed contribution add to this event?

It is intended to reach the broadest possible audience. This is something all of our family members and coworkers can do. The entire workshop will take place in-browser, and is doable in 45 minutes.

This workshop is less technically ambitious than many that will be there, I'm sure. Rather than security, this workshop focuses on basic empowerment and name ownership issues. But, self-ownership is a prerequisite for security. Anyone who wants to go on to self-hosting their own encrypted mail will need to first get a domain name and understand how to connect it to their email.

What do you hope to get out of this experience?

I'm hoping to spread the word about email ownership, get experience at working through the issues people may experience while doing so, and in general become a better teacher and evangelist.

I wrote my related guide shortly after the original NSA leaks, after migrating my own email address the way I describe. It's not a point I see a lot of people making; more people are working on NSA-proofing their email using highly technical means.

One day, I hope these high-security options will become usable and accessible to the layperson (and that the layperson will become, on average, more technically sophisticated). But until these two meet, there's a need for identifying basic steps that anyone can take to keep the marketplace for online services more competitive and diverse.


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  5. Martin S

    Hi

    mailbox.org offers email with custom domains for 1 euro a month. I have been using them for a few months, with good results.

  6. Aleksei

    I, like Ed, also prefer to use single service which can work with custom domains, instead of using redirects. Luckily for me, in Russia we have few of them:

    • pdd.yandex.ru which I personally use (they have English yandex.com version, but mail-for-domain service is available only in Russian)
    • partner.qip.ru
    • biz.mail.ru

    Not sure what to suggest to you in Western world... Maybe, Microsoft can help you? https://domains.live.com

  7. Eric Mill

    Yep, exactly. The current one is $50/year, and offers you less independence from Google than using your public email address as a pointer.

  8. Ed S.

    I was going to recommend using Google Apps for business, as that's what I use, but then I remembered Google cancelled the free version of that product. Oh well.