Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Facebook e-mail? What your e-mail address says about you.

By Alexandra Petri

Facebook, as I type, is in the process of unveiling some sort of beyond-e-mail e-mail service.


Forget everyone's concerns about safety breaches (Koobface, anyone?) or about spending even more time on this famously time-sucking site.

E-mail has always served two purposes. It allows you to communicate, and it allows you to weed out evolutionary weaklings from the herd.

You know the old saying: Never trust a man with an @yahoo email address.

Learning that your prospective date still has an Earthlink e-mail is the equivalent of discovering his vestigial tail. E-mail says something about you. It says, "I can be reached here," but, like a physical address, it also carries a certain cachet. Gmail? You're probably reliable and tech-savvy. AOL? You are probably someone's grandmother. @mindspring? You probably live in a box under a bridge.

Now even AOL seems to have sensed the stigma its addresses carry, upgrading its e-mail with something called "Project Phoenix." Because nothing says, "I am a reliable e-mail server," like "I am named after a mythical, undead bird that was known to burst into flame without any apparent warning."

What does your e-mail say about you?

Unintentionally bad email addresses are the misguided tattoos of our era. "Oh, it would be funny if I enshrined Robert E. Lee in my e-mail address!" you think to yourself one night. You are 11. You spend the next seven years receiving angry letters from civil rights groups, and one e-mail from the Virginia Historical Society inviting you to a gala. And your friends weren't so lucky.

For those who grew up with AIM and AOL e-mail, innocently selected e-mail addresses were an exercise in rude awakenings. Remember DogLove, SandwichLover, or SwallowsAlways? We loved dogs, sandwiches, and swallows, those majestic birds! We wanted to celebrate them in our screen names! Suddenly, we were getting e-mails from strange men demanding our ASL's. Most people changed them. But there were some who didn't realize how bad they were.

There are some warning signs that you might have a bad e-mail address. First, is it oddly specific, but does it end in a number? You probably need to rethink your life. Anything along the lines of NobodyLovesTheCircusMore5 or ClevelandMortThePirateHunter7 is just a cry for help. The people who own these e-mail addresses clearly felt that they had their lives well in order until they noticed that NobodyLovesTheCircusMore was taken -- four times. At Hotmail.

Second, is it anything along the lines of your first name and a number that might be your zip code but, then again, also might not be? That's unnerving. makes you sound like a citizen of a frightening dystopia that has run out of last names.

Third, is it a personal statement, and are you a grown person? There was a brief window of time in the 90's before everyone realized you needed to claim your actual name when everyone picked names like JennyAppleseed and, but now having something like that implies you're a hippie whose website homepage plays flute music on loop.

And for everyone else, this is the breakdown: You miss that screaming sound your computer used to make before getting online. Your screen name might be bizarrely personal, like You used to pride yourself with being ahead of the curve in the 90's. You use verbs like "twittering" and spend a lot of time worrying about "sexting rampages." Your password probably memorializes your deceased dog. You have a tendency to forward people joke e-mails and you still send e-cards.

@YourWorkEmail You either work somewhere important or don't understand the concept behind e-mail. You have a tendency to forward people joke e-mails with picture attachments.

@YourCableProvider You wish you had an office e-mail address to use. You are going to miss Oprah a lot when it goes off the air.

@Yahoo You're not sure how you got this e-mail address. You might be a fine person, but it is difficult to tell at this point. (Who has a Yahoo e-mail address?)

@Gmail You actually know your way around a computer. You view anyone who doesn't have Gmail in the same way that the caveman who had figured out fire viewed all his non-fire-equipped contemporaries or the way most people nowadays view the Amish. You don't understand how to get in touch with anyone who doesn't have Gchat.

@Hotmail This e-mail address says, "I probably carry my phone in a holster." You keep insisting that this e-mail service has "a lot of good features," but you don't sound entirely convinced.

@Facebook You figured you might as well get one of these, because you were going to be on Facebook, anyway.

By Alexandra Petri  | November 15, 2010; 1:16 PM ET
Categories:  Only on the Internet, Petri  | Tags:  Facebook  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Top 10 moments of 'Sarah Palin's Alaska' premiere -- she's as outdoorsy as Roosevelt (Franklin)
Next: TSA and John Tyner -- usually, this sort of thing is preceded by dinner


Um... I got my email address back when Yahoo was hot. I have absolutely no reason to change it, and my mom would be hopelessly confused if I did.

Besides, it's just email - who uses email anymore (except to stay in touch with Mom)?

Posted by: drewdane | November 15, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I prefer 'Tele-kinetics'.

But not everyone is "hooked up" to it, so here I am..... again.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | November 15, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

This is really really stupid.

The people I know that have yahoo addresses are generally techies who got them over 10 years ago and still use them. They usually have other email addresses as well used for different purposes, but keep the Yahoo address for family/personal contacts. I have at least five email locations myself - three I check daily. And at least a dozen email addresses that feed them.

For the most part I use @"somedomianname" anyway.

Who actually uses @"some provider" anymore?

Posted by: rapchat1 | November 15, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

No mention of what it says about the state of our society when your email address validates your personal worth.
I may be alone in this, but the people I know that impress me the most, are most often the ones who aren't trying to impress me.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | November 15, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I think FB email is another annoyance foisted upon us by FB.

Posted by: tojo45 | November 15, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

I hate these kind of snotty email articles. I still use my hotmail addresses because I'm not going to make a new account every single time a new trendy email service comes out. Hotmail works just fine for my purposes and if gmail users look down their noses at people who don't use gmail, they are just obnoxious snots. Furthermore, a lot of them were probably still in diapers when the rest of us began using our pathetic, unfashionable yahoo and hotmail emails. You know, before gmail came out.

Posted by: Akinoluna | November 15, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I'm 29, work in IT, and use Gmail for personal contacts and vital services (flight confirmations, bank statements) only. It's a combination of the people I want to talk to at (almost) any given time and the information I absolutely need to have.

For all the other stuff (anything likely to generate more spam), I use a separate Gmail shared with my wife and my archaic 1999 Yahoo account - keeps the FB notifications, the fantasy football trade offers, and all those sites that force you to sign up with an email address at arms length.

Posted by: archerdc | November 15, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I probably shouldn't tell anyone that WordStar and both PFS Professional Write and PFS Professional File work fine under Windows XP.

Seriously (actually they seriously do work), most people I know of anything over 30 have a Yahoo and/or Hotmail account that they simply haven't deleted, as well as a one or more accounts (gmail perhaps, a work account, and maybe one esoteric account that was started for any number of reasons, such as Army Knowledge On-Line or one of the other service accounts, MailCity, HushMail (a very encrypted e-mail service). But Facebook e-mail? Sorry, whether I have a Facebook account or not, I won't be getting Facebook e-mail any more than I'll get a Twitter account. I have enough on my technological and social plate as is.

Posted by: Dungarees | November 15, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

most tech savy people have several addresses... at least one for spam, and one for important business and family members, and one more for the workplace. there is nothing wrong with earthlink, verizon, comcast, or any other provider email address, and they are usually easier to set up with proper email clients like outlook, thunderbird, or eudora.
the only area i agree with the article is AOL... it is true that if you still are using an AOL address, you prolly don't know how to change to another one.

Posted by: bdubdc | November 15, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Kind of true actually. I used to do technical support for one of the major computer manufacturers a couple of years ago and you really can tell what kind of a person you were dealing with immediately based on their email.

People with AOL accounts were always a pain. "No no. I said left click. LEFT click."

Posted by: toreador | November 15, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

oh yeah, and my sister has a mindspring account. she doesn't live under a bridge, but she will not have anything to do with cell phones.

Posted by: bdubdc | November 15, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Oh yes. Sort of like when being a reader of the Washington Post actually meant something as opposed to every other two-bit newspaper in the land, before their copy editors disappeared, home subscribers subsidized the Weekly Reader edition (I'm sorry, "Express"), and dreck like this wouldn't have ever seen the light of day. What is this, a high school paper?

O tempora, o mores.

Posted by: jackdonaghy | November 15, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Lets see:

@worke-mail - check, but only for, you know, work e-mail (I'm dorky that way)

@hotmail - check, it's my old e-mail, it still works and I carry my smartphone in a holster because I hate having something bouncing around in my pocket

@gmail - check, I like having an account that I hold close for important personal business and legal business

@yahoo - maybe, I think I had one and didn't delete it. Does that count? :)

Posted by: scott032 | November 15, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

When I was a young geek, “fashion” was the clothes that other people wore. So it’s hard for my slide rule to compute that email addresses can be fashionable.

Before there were personal computers, I was into ham radio. My call sign was “WA3GEK” (almost a geek). My dad was “W4ESX”, which was a lot cooler because it didn’t have the “A”, and it was almost as good as W4SEX. The coolest ever call sign was “W1AW”, but all they ever broadcast was the time in Morse code.

So I understand fashion, but to me, older is better. I still wear jeans and a Beatles haircut. I got my first “email” address before they invented the @ sign (

And I have almost as many ex-email addresses as ex-wives. I lost touch with my first 3 ex-email addresses, but I’m still legally obligated to use

I have 20 or 30 Gmail addresses because Google keeps asking me to get one every time I watch a YouTube video. But I’m way too shy to use any of them. People might think I’m some newbie dweeb who just got a computer!

But after reading this column, I’ve changed my tune. I pre-ordered my new Facebook email address. Write to me at:

Posted by: divtune | November 15, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

My first email address was set up somewhere around 1999-2000. I was 16 and had no real use for email at that time beyond messing around. I have a Hotmail, Yahoo and a Gmail. Generally I enter my Hotmail whenever a website asks for an email...its my "spam" account. Yahoo is mainly my friends and family account, and Gmail is more business related activity...

Posted by: swmut | November 15, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

this is a bit of a dumb article, but it has a hint of truth to it. just a hint.

i use as follows:

@[myowndomain] for work, clearly. serious business

@gmail - semi-public work addresses + phone (voice chat). backup for work/tech support/ etc. in case work domains crash.

@yahoo - i'm letting them dessicate at this point, but i used to run some private yahoo groups for various private purposes

@hotmail - spam collector, junk mail receiver, registration for ll manner of dodgy sites, and an address i'll give to anybody without fear. go ahead, put me in your chainletter and join the pile of trash.

skype - hello, friends abroad

@facebook - thanks, but no thanks

Posted by: alarico | November 15, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

“O tempora, o mores.”
Posted by: jackdonaghy | November 15, 2010 4:14

What a great anti-Post post! That’s the way to trash the ComPost!

You and George Will should start a new, conservative version of the ComPost. How about, “By George (we) Will Post”. I’m afraid you’re the “(we)”, but Petri started out small too.

O(sic), it’s not “tempora”, it’s “tempura.” If you really want mores(sic) shrimp, the best ones are at McCormick & Schmick's.

Posted by: divtune | November 15, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I guess those of us who have a @gmail, @msn, @yahoo and a govt email, and we use all of them, are just confused?

Posted by: r_leever | November 15, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

From my vantage point as a 23 year old web developer/graphic designer/PC technician - I have to say that this article is spot on.

I literally started laughing out loud reading the comments from the people who are taking offense because you called them out on using deprecated email services like Yahoo or Hotmail... like it's some kind of personal attack.

If you try to defend Yahoo or Hotmail over Gmail, it's obvious that you (1) have never used Gmail and (2) have no idea what you're talking about. The only valid argument I can see against using Gmail is that you might worry about the amount of data Google might have on you... otherwise, Gmail is superior in every way. Better Bayesian spam filtering, IMAP accounts. Google Apps, practically unlimited storage, etc. Those are all things Hotmail and Yahoo try to charge extra for!

All that said, Facebook's mail system will probably surpass Gmail in the next 3 years.

Posted by: okirishsnake | November 16, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

Cute - and juvenile. Petri's post sounds like it was written by a clever high school junior. Gmail actually succeeds in making email hard to use by concealing messages within an email chain and making it possible to reply to people you don't mean to.

Posted by: VaNOWPrez | November 16, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

What does your email say about you if it's of the form: (or .com, etc)

Posted by: mertt | November 16, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Slim pickings for Milbank & Petri. I kept hoping they'd include astrological readings to discover who I am.

Posted by: JAS51 | November 16, 2010 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Slim pickings for Milbank & Petri. I kept hoping they'd include astrological readings to discover who I am.

Posted by: JAS51 | November 16, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

What does it mean if the first thing I do in the morning is go out to mailbox, retrieve my Washington Post & read the paper with my morning coffee?

Posted by: mmcarras | November 16, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse = (1)you don't want the hassle of changing your email address with a zillion accounts (2) you don't mind being a lagging indicator of technological change, and (3) you don't want to be an enabler of Google's takeover of the whole world.

And yes, this is a juvenile piece even for a slow week.

Posted by: cjohnson1 | November 16, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Those who see this article as snotty rather than snarky need to chill...or else they are insecure about their tech prowess.

I had hotmail (way back when those nice Indian gents owned it) I had Rocketmail before Y! bought 'em. I have Y! login for groups and now for my beloved Flickr. I had emails like celtgrrl, cymrugrrl, and redgrrl because in the 90's it was super HAWT to be a "grrl" now...I just have to grimace wryly when I see them. I always knew adding a number behind a login name was JV.

Now I have @workemail for work. I don't use @ISPprovider because I'm just too cool. I have several Gmails because I wanted to stake my claim to my name and because I had lots of invites 5 years ago. I keep dif Gmail accts for: online shopping, social & first life, second life, professional, & blogging.

FB email? Really? Never. With as much problems as they have with privacy & security I'd rather not.

Posted by: gwynethanne | November 16, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

This column = FAIL

I have three Yahoo email addresses, two of which I have used for close to 15 years. Why on earth would I change them now?

Posted by: Observer691 | November 16, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

I like that telephone thing.

Posted by: scarletpumpernickel | November 16, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

lifted from oatmeal

Posted by: plungerman | November 17, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I'm not sure "lifted" is quite the right term. It's really more of a fine line between "inspired by" and "outright plagiarized."

Posted by: DanielWeir | November 17, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I dunno... if you look at online email services, Yahoo! is still king. So who has a Yahoo! address? Apparently a lot of folks. I think the only thing an address says is you've probably had that address for a long time.

The vestigial tail joke was pretty funny (poor Earthlink/aol users)... but the rest of this just seems like snotty kid commentary.

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | November 17, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Alexandra! I am wounded to the core!

I started using @yahoo for all my personal email back in the 90's, when ISPs kept going belly-up and taking my email addresses with them. The only viable alternative back then was hotmail, which I reserved for technical correspondence with Microsoft. Besides, Microsoft kept deleting my hotmail account.

Yahoo was great all those years, until they recently, and inexplicably, and without a shred of remorse or apology, deleted the last five years of my "sent" folder, wiping out all proof of anything I had told anyone.

Still, @yahoo is how everyone knows to reach me, so I guess I'll have to live with your harsh opinion of me.

Posted by: covind | November 17, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Amazingly shallow work. Did you know our country has two wars on, a banking crisis that is metastasizing one more time, historically high unemployment, and spends more on defense than every other nation in the world combined?

Perhaps, I don't know, you could go do some reporting?

Posted by: Dollared | November 17, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company