I have been interested in starting my own free email service for some time now.
Over the years i’ve seen free email services such as hotmail.com, yahoo, and now gmail.com, to name just a few of the many thousands out there.
First of all, most people would think that this is a saturated market, and you would be correct to think that. However, you must look at possibly the most successful email service and one of the most successful portal websites to understand how webmail can be utilised to keep your users coming back time and time again.
This is one of the reason Yahoo! become such a hit, they offer free email and their users keep returning. Yahoo became a community portal very quickly and people are proud to say they are a member. If this is the effect of free email, then what are the options?
For me, i’m only really interested in offering this to a very limited audience. The reason being is that spam is very difficult to defend against, and spam protection can be expensive. Throughout the whole process of finding a solution I will be ensuring that the issue of “automated” signups is covered and “anti-spam” measures are in place.
One of the first things I looked at was the free email services that offer the ability to use your own domain. There has been a couple or so for many years (since about 1998). They are:
- I-P.com (run by Outblaze)
- Zap Zone Network
This is all very well, however, the problem arrises when you begin to use the service and you realise that their branding is all over the place all over your emails. It makes you look unprofessional. However since it is a free service they must get something in return to cover their cost.
If you’re looking for a free email hosting service that has been around for quite some time, is quite flexable, and doesn’t require any server administration but is branded, then these are for you.
I’ve tried both of them in the past, I-P.com was very simple to work with, but began experiencing issues with automated signups and spam some years ago. I’m assuming they have overcome these issues now.
Everyone.net as I recall has elongated terms and conditions, and is a little bit more complicated. However I am on the understanding that they have a stronger anti-spam protection.
On the other hand, more recently Google and Microsoft have put a bid in for a battle to offer free services for domains…
- Google Apps offers Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheets, Page Creator and Start Page
- Microsoft Live offers easily create custom Windows Live accounts in your domain that work with Windows Live and MSN services.
Of cource the great thing about this is that your domain is able to use their services completely free of charge. One thing you have to understand is that the moment you start using their services your subject to their terms and policies which you may not always agree with, yet will be unable to do anything about it.
If you’re looking for security with a well known company, not bothered about their branding and very little to think about this is probably the best option for you.
However, if you’re like me you want more than that, something that you’re able to remain in control and not forced into using someone else’s branding, then this is where we pickup…
In this part of the free email service options there’s two choices… purchase or open source…
The difficulty is that to find a pre-build email service that has webmail, allows users to signup and offers adminisitration is quite hard to come by, here’s a list of a few…
- hivemail claims it is a powerful web-based email program that allows you to offer personal email accounts to your site visitors. [$130/$180 setup and $35/year]
- atmail famously known to be used by spymac.com the first “open-to-public” email service to offer 1GB of space. [Various Prices]
- SocketMail - Didn’t try it.
- B1G - I couldn’t figure this out as it was German.
- DWmail - I didn’t try this, but it looks okay. [£70 for professional]
And asif it wasn’t hard enough to find such email service, I’ve located just a few free ones…
- With a combonation of qmail, vpopmail, qmailadmin and vqregister/vqsignup, it can be achieved. All you need then is a webmail interface (such as SquirrelMail with a nice theme or RoundCube).
- Using Squirrel Mail and a solution by uoa.gr they have created the ability to signup to Squirrel Mail on their servers.
All this aside, there might be light at the end of the tunnel. Since hivemail hasn’t been updated since v1.3.1 in 2004, the folk from RoundCube have talked about merging the projects into an open source solution. Having said this, Kevin who owns the trademark to HiveMail has said he “don’t ask me to make HiveMail an open-source project or distribute it for free”.
In my opinion, if hivemail doesn’t see the light and jump on this while they still can, someone out there will create an open source product that has has the same features, and then some. I mean, people have already started releasing their own HiveMail updates. Its only a matter of time before the whole thing is redone… If HiveMail want to keep their userbase, they need to sort themselves out.