If you answered “one”, I’m here to tell you you’re setting yourself up for a
lot of spam, viruses, abuse and who knows what else. Heck, if you answered
“two”, there’s still room for improvement.
Yes, I believe that anyone who uses email extensively (and who on the
internet doesn’t these days?) needs at least three separate email addresses.
Perhaps even three separate email accounts. Accounts and addresses are
most definitely not the same, and I’ll explain why that’s important in a
In my opinion, the days of using just a single email address are long past.
Fortunately ISPs are getting wise to this as well, and with the plethora of
free email services, it’s easy to have a virtually unlimited number of email
addresses. If you happen to own your own domain, then the possibilities are
But why would you want more than one? And assuming you have more than one,
how should they best be set up?
starts with spam
The single most important reason to consider using more than one email
address is simple: spam.
But only if you do it right. Here’s what I suggest as a start.
Create three email addresses:
- A private email address. Keep this address private, and
give it only to well-trusted friends, family, and perhaps
very important services, such as perhaps your bank. Never use
it in a public forum, or for anything that doesn’t have your utmost trust.
- A public email address. You use this for anyone else that
you want email from, that doesn’t meet the criteria for the private
address. Casual friends, business relationships, people you meet on the street,
newsletters and websites that require registration and ongoing communication.
The key here is that you may not completely trust them, but you do
want to get their email, should they send some to you.
- A throw-away email address. This is for situations where
you’re required to give an email address – perhaps one that you need to be able
to respond with – but after that, you just don’t care. If you’re going to post
an email address in a public forum, for example, this would be the one to use.
Signing up for a contest, or a website registration, but you don’t want to get
spammed by follow-up marketing material? Again, your “throw-away” address would
be the one to use.
Let’s look at each in turn, and why each has an important role.
Private Inner Circle
If you’ve managed your private email address properly, and
your friends are all trustworthy (including being rigorous about their own
anti-virus and anti-spyware scanning), then in most cases you should get almost
no spam on this address. I know of several people that even after a couple of
years have used their private email address judiciously and get no
spam on it. You might even consider bypassing spam filtering on this address,
if you like. Or, if you care to and have access to the tools, since you
know who you gave it to, you could set a higher-than-normal spam
threshold for this account – which would filter anything the smells the least
bit like spam, and then explicitly whitelist everyone you’ve given the address
to. Those whitelist entries would then bypass the spam filter completely.
The key here is that your private email address is, by
definition, your most important. Later, when we talk about rules and actively
managing your inbox, you can also take special actions on email you receive on
this address, to ensure it gets your attention before some of your less
Your public address should still be treated carefully, but
it’s this address on which you’ll expect to get more spam, and more other
emails of questionable value. By keeping it separate from your private address,
you can treat these emails differently. By definition, they’re less important,
right? So besides looking at them after you’ve dealt with your private
email, you might also consider not looking at them as often, or in batches. If
you’ve tweaked the spam filter settings for your private mail, you might select
a somewhat lower setting for your public mail, so as to reduce the probability
that legitimate mail will be spam-filtered.
One thing you should most definitely avoid is to posting it unaltered in a
public forum or web site. I’ll discuss techniques to avoid that in a future
Address for Riffraff
Your throw-away address is just that. If it went away
tomorrow, you wouldn’t be heartbroken. Free email accounts are perfect for
this. (Often because sometimes they do just disappear.)
The best example is a website that requires free registration in order to
view. You know you never want to hear from them again after you’ve
completed your registration, so your throw-away address is perfect. Register,
respond to the confirmation request sent to that address, and then ignore all
email sent to that address until you need it for some specific purpose again
If you must post a valid email address in a public place or untrustworthy
situation, these are also candidates for your throw-away address. If it starts
to get spammed to heavily, you can either ignore it, or create a new throw-away
address and discard, or ignore the old one. The key here is that except for
very short time, specific needs, you really don’t care about email sent to this
address at all. Anyone you really want to hear from on some kind of ongoing
basis will have either your private or public addresses.
As I discussed in a previous essay, On Domains, Accounts and
Addresses, email accounts and addresses are two different things. Each
account is a separate download or service. Multiple addresses could all forward
to the same account.
So what do you want? Three different accounts, or three different addresses
that all feed the same account?
I strongly prefer three different accounts for a couple of
- You can prioritize how you check your mail. Check your private mail first
or more often. Check your public mail less often. Check your throw-away mail
never, or only when you are actually expecting something on it. Especially on
the throw-away account, that means you’ll simply never see or download a
significant amount of spam.
- You can set up forwards to those accounts that are more flexible. For
example, you could in fact have several different private email
addresses, that all forward to your private account. (Why you might want to
have several addresses is the subject of a future essay, but for example you
might have a different private address for family and business use.) Similarly,
for your throw-away email, you always check the same account, but perhaps have
several addresses that forward to it … perhaps one for each public place
you’ve used a throwaway address, so you can see which is causing you to receive
Ultimately the ability to create and use more than one email account and
have different email addresses forward to them will be a key component of
taming your email. While not absolutely required, it will definitely make some
of our tips and techniques easier.