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Interview With Jeremy Howard of FastMail.fm

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the doing-one-thing-well dept.

The Internet 135

Siker writes "In a world of giants such as Gmail and Rackspace, email service provider FastMail.fm is somehow doing great, with signups above the million mark and reliability above four 9s. Email Service Guide interviews Jeremy Howard, founder of FastMail.fm, to find out how. Also covered are the company's contributions to Open Source software such as Cyrus-IMAP and Thunderbird. Jeremy discusses the future of IMAP, how open protocols help FastMail.fm, and why he thinks SLAs from email providers are a con."

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Oh lawd (5, Insightful)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631447)

You can tell it's a slashvertisement when the URL is casually dropped four times in the title and summary

I don't know what you're talking about (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631575)

FastMail.fm is a great service, and if you've ever tried FastMail.fm you'd know this. In fact, FastMail.fm is so great that I was very excited to see a FastMail.fm story here on Slashdot. And the man behind FastMail.fm? That's FastMail.fm-tastic.

If you don't like it, you can go FastMail.fm yourself, you FastMail.fm-er.

Re:Oh lawd (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631597)

It referred to as
Fastmail.fm for less ambiguity. (fastmail.com is not related...)

Fastmail.fm is not a URL. It is missing the http:/// [http]

Do you have the same thoughts about articles on openoffice.org, or x.org?

Re:Oh lawd (0, Troll)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631663)

whoosh

I saw the problem when I saw the name kdawson. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631843)

kdawson consistently publishes pointless or stupid OPs. Whenever I see the name kdawson I know that there will be a problem. Whether kdawson lets through a spelling error, or kdawson puts forward slashvertising, or even whether kdawson makes an egregious logical error in editorializing, I always know what to expect when I see the name kdawson.

taged firekdawson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631893)

whenever I notice his crap I tag it firekdawson... kdawsonispants might work to.

Re:taged firekdawson (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29632167)

Really? I thought kdawsonsucks was the traditional tag for that purpose. I reserve pants for idle.

Re:I saw the problem when I saw the name kdawson. (2, Funny)

mazarin5 (309432) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631949)

1a. Help & Preferences -> Dynamic Index -> Exclusions: Put a check next to "kdawson"
or
1b. Help & Preferences -> Classic Index -> Authors: Uncheck "kdawson"
2. ????
3. Stop crying yourself to sleep every night there is a kdawson story

Re:I saw the problem when I saw the name kdawson. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631999)

3. Stop crying yourself to sleep every night there is a kdawson story

Fuckin' emos are going to cry themselves to sleep over something or other. Might just as well be kdawson as opposed to anything else.

Re:I saw the problem when I saw the name kdawson. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29632211)

4. Cry some more.
5. Whine more than 4 had you crying.
6. Profit!

I bet you were crying when you awoke, /u/ fag (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29632899)

1. Empty bottle of tears.

2. Put kdawson into bottle.

3. Advertise to nerds about Bottle of suck that can be opened on your analring or pre-pubescent pen1s.

Re:I saw the problem when I saw the name kdawson. (1)

iYk6 (1425255) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633695)

I tried that. But then I put kdawson back when I realized that half the fun to coming to Slashdot is making fun of the summaries, and the commenters, and complaining about the lack of news and substance and how there aren't any editors.

Re:Oh lawd (5, Informative)

howardjeremy (241291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632319)

You can tell it's a slashvertisement when the URL is casually dropped four times in the title and summary

To the best of my knowledge, 'Siker' (the submitter of the article) is not affiliated with FastMail.FM in any way. And since I'm the Jeremy Howard in the interview, and I very rarely nowadays post whilst unconscious, I'm also fairly sure it wasn't posted by the interviewee.

Have you actually read the article? I did try hard in the interview to provide some actually useful info, regardless of whether you are an FM user or not. For example, I provided examples of how IMAP has been extended in recent times, and pointed to some interesting proposals which show where it's going in the future.

    Jeremy Howard

Re:Oh lawd (4, Funny)

roguetrick (1147853) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632423)

Of course we didn't read the article, what do you take us for!

Re:Oh lawd (3, Insightful)

EQ (28372) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632497)

Have you actually read the article? ...

Jeremy Howard

You must be new here.

Re:Oh lawd (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29633757)

You also mention in the interview that you and your partners are accomplished astroturfers.

First post from an actual fastmail subscriber? (1)

Empiric (675968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631457)

rlong@

Synchronicity happens.

Re:First post from an actual fastmail subscriber? (2, Informative)

Tx (96709) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631623)

I'm also a fastmail subscriber. Can't fault reliability and features of it, although aesthetically speaking, there is room for improvement with the web interface. The only real issue I have with fastmail is the mailbox size (600MB for my service level) - when I signed up, I was only regularly using one machine to read my email on, so it wasn't an issue to get my mail via POP3, and use my local mail storage when I wanted to search old messages. Now I have four or five devices I regularly read my email on, so the Google Mail 8GB of storage is starting to look attractive, I can have all my mail searchable from any machine. My current fastmail quote isn't nearly large enough for that, and it ain't cheap to upgrade to gmail levels of storage.

Re:First post from an actual fastmail subscriber? (1)

Mostly a lurker (634878) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632913)

it ain't cheap to upgrade to gmail levels of storage.

I guess "cheap" is a subjective term. The additional cost to upgrade from "Full" to "Enhanced" membership (6GB email space plus 2GB file space) is US$20 per year. Casual email users might balk at that, but is is surely an acceptable cost for people who use email as a critical tool.

Re:First post from an actual fastmail subscriber? (0, Offtopic)

Threni (635302) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631643)

~ Whence do you come, slayer of men, or where are you going, conqueror of space?
Where do you come from, Cotton-Eyed Joe?

Re:First post from an actual fastmail subscriber? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631955)

Quoting the gospel of mary? Gnostic teachings seem out of place on slashdot.

Re:First post from an actual fastmail subscriber? (0, Offtopic)

Empiric (675968) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632129)

If it hadn't been for cotton-eye Joe, I'd have been married a long time ago.

Or maybe it was Thomas Saying 79.

Or 23.

SLA, from the article (5, Informative)

rwade (131726) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631559)

From the article:

Jeremy: SLAs are generally a bit of a con. If a customer canâ(TM)t access their email when they need it, that could cost them enormously, either commercially or personally. But all SLAs Iâ(TM)ve seen only offer a small refund for a large outage â" itâ(TM)s really no help at all to the customer. So instead of offering such a miserable token, what we do instead is support independent 3rd party resources like pingdom uptime monitoring and the Email Discussions forum so that prospective customers can get a truly independent and complete view of what we offer.

I'm inclined to agree with this approach. E-mail is how everyone works today. A client e-mails me a task or a request, his way of measuring my worth to him is how fast I finish that task. If I can't reach my e-mail, the potential for injury to my reputation and the relationship with that client because of just that one 2 hours-a-year outage could be a loss of such extent that the e-mail provider couldn't possibly offer me enough compensation.

In other words, information on how well the provider does in practice is much more relevant to me than some clause for token compensation.

Re:SLA, from the article (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631645)

i've been working in the industry for 13 years and have never seen a single SLA honored, even in instances where they are clearly at fault and the impact is huge ( week long outage in the middle of the tax season for an accounting firm).

they are nothing more then arse covering exercises for CTO's

Re:SLA, from the article (1)

Thundersnatch (671481) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632745)

Rackspace honors their SLAs. We've received two months credit for two outages of 1 hour in the last 3 years. that's over US$35K for my org.

Re:SLA, from the article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631667)

If a client threw a hissy fit because I got an email 2 hours late, I wouldn't want his business anyway.

Re:SLA, from the article (1)

rwade (131726) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631761)

Who says they have to throw a hissy-fit? What the client cares about is who can give him the answers and advice when he needs it. If he can find that from someone who can answer an e-mail reliably, he's going to go that route rather than sticking it out with me with my lousy e-mail service.

Re:SLA, from the article (3, Interesting)

idiot900 (166952) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631853)

I had always thought the point of an SLA was for there to be some real, immediate monetary cost for downtime to the provider, which would provide an incentive to make sure their internal processes for ensuring uptime were robust. The payment to customers is just sort of a side effect of this.

Re:SLA, from the article (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632539)

Really, a best effort communication system with potential for delays at numerous points would do all of that because of a minor delay.

Your screwed.

Fast Who.What ? (1, Offtopic)

lbalbalba (526209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631587)

Neverheardofthem. Move along...

Re:Fast Who.What ? (1)

Charles Dodgeson (248492) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631821)

Well now you have heard of them. If you take your email seriously, this is a service you should seriously look into. These guys grokked IMAP from the very beginning. Also keep in mind that their business depends on providing good email service. Your ISP only provides email services so that you get locked into their domain name for your address.

I had really shopped around for email services (as well as running my own on a VPS for a while) before settling on fastmail many years ago. Fastmail runs the kind of system that I would have like to design.

Other than as a very happy (and a very demanding) customer, I have no connection to Fastmail. But if you haven't heard of them you should check them out [fastmail.fm] .

Re:Fast Who.What ? (1)

lbalbalba (526209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631889)

I had really shopped around for ema1il services (as well as running my own on a VPS for a while) before settling on fastmail many years ago.

Sorry, but I stuck to Gmail years ago...

Re:Fast Who.What ? (1)

Charles Dodgeson (248492) | more than 4 years ago | (#29634875)

Sorry, but I stuck to Gmail years ago...

I moved to Fastmail before Gmail existed. But I remember all of hype about Gmail when it hit beta. Other than the quantity of storage space (which was much larger) it offered only a proper subset of the features that Fastmail already had. And it didn't fully implement IMAP so you couldn't get all the features it did offer in the mail client of your choice.

Re:Fast Who.What ? (1)

Bronster (13157) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633819)

Fastmail runs the kind of system that I would have like to design.

Why thanks :) I designed a lot of the current system (Cyrus replication slots and stores plus the "10 minutes to reinstall any server" and "make -C conf install" to get config up to date on any server)

Bron ( sysadmin at FastMail )

Re:Fast Who.What ? (1)

Charles Dodgeson (248492) | more than 4 years ago | (#29634837)

Fastmail runs the kind of system that I would have [liked] to design.

Why thanks :)

You are very welcome.

I designed a lot of the current system (Cyrus replication slots and stores plus the "10 minutes to reinstall any server" and "make -C conf install" to get config up to date on any server)

Bron ( sysadmin at FastMail )

Cool. Some day I would like to learn how IMAP service is distributed over several boxes. In the late 90s I thought about that problem and decided that I didn't have the sysadm skills to do it (so just threw more memory and faster disks at our IMAP server).

Explain? (2, Insightful)

manekineko2 (1052430) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631625)

Okay, so could someone who is familiar with who these guys are explain what they have to offer? From a quick look, my impression is that as a consumer who doesn't necessarily need 5 9's of reliability, there isn't much reason for me to use them over Gmail.

Re:Explain? (2, Interesting)

Mattazuma (1255022) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631703)

I started using them initially because I wanted an email address @ my domain along with IMAP and fastmail was about the best provider out there. Now, I just like to have e-mail that is independent of the 'big guys' and that isn't going to go down. Also they have e-mail proxies that can get around any ISP or business port blocking. If you are happy with webmail and don't mind occasional downtime, gmail is fine, I use it, too.

Re:Explain? (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631941)

Google Apps for domains....

They'll do your domain's mail, for free, and give you around 8GB of space. Up to 50 mailboxes too.

I don't want to sound like I'm shilling for them, bus as someone whose mailserver-under-the-bed stopped being an option due to moving around too much, I think it's awfuully good of them to do that. Plus there's smtp/imap access.

Things that FM.fm provides that Gmail doesn't (5, Informative)

Straker Skunk (16970) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632079)

  • Server-side Sieve filtering/sorting
  • File storage, optionally Web-accessible (I use this to serve up a simple, static-only Web site)
  • Various authentication options (reduced-access password, one-time logins, passwords via SMS, etc.)
  • Teh Google is not reading your mail, so you can put your tin-foil hat away :-)

Re:Things that FM.fm provides that Gmail doesn't (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632979)

  • Google mail has rules, which are assuredly not as powerful as Sieve, but they are there. Half point to FM.fm.
  • Google had google page creator and now has google sites.
  • Full point to FM.fm here; Google allows basically one way of authenticating on the web, and one way for POP/SMTP (TLS with Login authentication.)
  • Teh Google is reading my mail, but then it's ignoring most of it. Since the government is already reading my mail, who cares about google?

Re:Things that FM.fm provides that Gmail doesn't (1)

Mostly a lurker (634878) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633081)

Teh Google is reading my mail, but then it's ignoring most of it. Since the government is already reading my mail, who cares about google?

If you are using Fastmail.FM with secure login, the government most likely is not reading your mail. I suspect NSA can break SSL, but I am confident it is expensive and they only do so on an extremely selective basis.

Re:Things that FM.fm provides that Gmail doesn't (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633193)

If you are using Fastmail.FM with secure login, the government most likely is not reading your mail. I suspect NSA can break SSL, but I am confident it is expensive and they only do so on an extremely selective basis.

If I'm using gmail via Firefox with FireGPG, then the government is reading my mail even less. They do however track the sender, recipient, and subject of all mail that travels any significant distance. The former two are the only reliable fields in the whole header, with the possible exception of the last received entry. That tells them which mail they need to break, assuming they have enough of your mail.

Re:Things that FM.fm provides that Gmail doesn't (1)

Koim-Do (552500) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633571)

Well, FireGPG is really awesome, accept that plaintext drafts are still sent to google from time to time. if you could avoid the draft mechanism completely, it would be secure. until then I'll use proper mail client with encryption support

Re:Explain? (1)

Mostly a lurker (634878) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633029)

Okay, so could someone who is familiar with who these guys are explain what they have to offer? From a quick look, my impression is that as a consumer who doesn't necessarily need 5 9's of reliability, there isn't much reason for me to use them over Gmail.

For most casual email users (and even some not so casual) Gmail is quite sufficient. I happen to use Gmail extensively (but not exclusively) myself. However, I have several customers who are small business users and, for them, Fastmail.FM is usually a much superior alternative. It's not just a question of reliability (though FM, today, is more reliable then Gmail) but also because of features. Gmail has better search and a cleaner UI than FM, but otherwise all the feature advantages lie with FM. For instance

  • an executive being able to share some of his emails with his PA but not others;
  • support for multiple personalities so that an entrepreneur can easily wear multiple hats switching intuitively between them;
  • the ability to select which emails get forwarded to your smart phone based on almost any criteria;
  • very easy realtime backup of both received and sent emails to a backup server (for which I invariably use Gmail)

These are the kinds of things that really matter to many users.

Re:Explain? (1)

water-and-sewer (612923) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633787)

I've been a Fastmail user for about 4 years now, and I'm happy with them. Their IMAP and SMTP are straightforward and I can access them using every email client I've ever tried, I've never ever experienced any downtime, the tech support people are first rate, and their spam filtering is good. Furthermore, not being tied to any ISP means if I change ISP my mail is not affected. So Verizon and Comcast, bite me!

They have a couple of lesser known features I use extensively: They let you access your address book via LDAP, which is an easy way for me to keep my addresses synched across many computers. They also run a Jabber server, so I can chat with Googletalk people. They also allow limited file storage you can access via FTP. So I have a small script on my machine that uploads the manuscript of a book I'm writing every time I ask it to; nice to have an offsite file backup system. It's limited space, but that's all I need.

They also have this new family package I'm looking at now, where you can link all your family's emails and manage them, share address books and mail folders, etc.

In general I get the idea they are trying hard to offer good service, and are doing so. Bully for them! Gmail is genius in many ways, but I refuse to give them my mail so they can target advertising at me; happy to pay Fastmail for good service.

Re:Explain? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29633933)

I've been using Fastmail.fm for some of my accounts and it's terrific.

I also run my own servers for other domains, and I see the spam flow. I always see a lot of spam from the big free email providers (Yahoo is currently the worst), I never see SPAM coming through fastmail servers.

Bravo to Fastmail for intelligent control of outgoing mail.

Lavabit (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631627)

Lavabit [lavabit.com] has a great service concept.
Only minus point: When using the free 1GB plan, the ads invalidate PGP signatures. They have ad-free 128 MB though.

Features: http://lavabit.com/features.html [lavabit.com]

Been using them for years (3, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631647)

I've been using fastmail for years, and have been very happy with it. As a free email provider they are one of the best. Arguably gmail gives you more, but I use my fastmail and gmail accounts about equally, and I really like them both about the same. And fastmail doesn't have the looming spectre of gmail's targeted ads based on the content of your messages, suggesting that they care a bit more about your privacy. Google has a little bit nicer interface, and way more storage for free, buuuuut... fastmail of late has had better availability/uptime.

Go fastmail:)

Re:Been using them for years (1)

Graff (532189) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631953)

I gotta agree, the people over at Fastmail are great. Low cost, very reliable, lots of flexible plans. I've been with them for a long time, first using their free service and eventually becoming a paying customer.

The folks over at Fastmail are also pretty open with what they are doing. Regular updates on any service problems, discussions on ideas they have for new features, and they are pretty open to suggestions. They've also been doing the minimal, clean, and standards-compliant interface thing for a long time, just like Google.

I was really reminded of just how important it is for web services to be browser-agnostic when I was recently forced to use Microsoft's webmail for my school e-mail. You can't even access most of your settings or features without using Internet Explorer under Windows. This is especially bad since one of the features only allowed under Internet Explorer are the handicap accessibility settings! You better not have special visual needs and use Firefox or you are out of luck with Microsoft's webmail...

Services like Gmail and Fastmail are great simply because they work well with pretty much all standards-compliant browsers. Kudos to them!

Re:Been using them for years (1)

icydog (923695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632447)

To be fair, the version of Outlook Web Access that goes with Office 14 (2010) is pretty slick... vastly improved over the previous one. I haven't used it on Windows yet, but on Firefox in Linux it does pretty much everything that I do in the native Outlook 2007 interface and does it well. Rather than cripple itself in Firefox like it did it versions before, this one is actually worth using in Linux.

Re:Been using them for years (1)

jedrek (79264) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633891)

Maybe they fixed that bug where you couldn't download attachments via the Web interface if they were sent from MS Entourage on a Macintosh. That got me into the office at least 3 or 4 times back in my last job.

My experience with FastMail.fm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29631653)

Great service but they have had problems in the past with hardware failure, although my account was never affected.

I do like their support. When I have a problem I get a response from Rob (the software dev guy) and he knows his stuff.

Their web interface is not in the same class as gmail, but I use IMAP so this is not an issue.

One feature I love is that advanced users can write sieve scripts for filtering.

Re:My experience with FastMail.fm (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632009)

Hey fellow anonymous FastMail.fm user who's not affiliated in any way with FastMail.fm despite knowing the name and position of staff members *wink wink*! I too would like to chime in to say that as another FastMail.fm user who's not affiliated in any way with FastMail.fm I'm very satisfied with FastMail.fm!

Although I once heard that they had $RANDOM_NON_IMPORTANT_INCONSEQUENTIAL_ISSUE and they're not quite as polished as $MAIN_BIG_NAME_CONCURRENT. At least with them I have $OBSCURE_FEATURE_THAT_SHOULD_APPEAL_TO_ADVANCED_USERS.

$MAIN_BIG_NAME_CONCURRENT aside, FastMail.fm is the best hands down!! (Well, except maybe for the part where the free option has a ridiculously small storage space, is ridden with advertisement, closes after 45 days if you don't use it, doesn't offer POP3 or SMTP, doesn't let you transfer more than 40 MB a month)

Re:My experience with FastMail.fm (2, Insightful)

Mostly a lurker (634878) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633119)

Your post made be laugh. Thanks for that. But, seriously, Fastmail.FM is not a free email service. The "Guest" account is severely crippled (as you correctly point out) but is really only intended to allow people to get a feel for the service before paying to use the service for real.

As for your point that serious FM users know all the names and positions of the key folks at FM, that is because of the open communication on the EmailDiscussions forums. It is a compact, transparent organization with good people.

Email is not Communication (1)

BrightSpark (1578977) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631655)

Email is a one way tranference of information. Communication is two way, needing a confirmatory "message heard and understood". We have become casual in assuming that text messaging, social application posting and email are part of global communication. It is not. It is like shouting from your front porch; you have to hope someone is listening and understands the message. Email has a role to play, just don't think it's communication. This is why chat, IRC and Skpye all offer the immdediacy of knowing you're message is on target, even it is just a subtle joke. How often do those blow up in your face using email? Cheers

Re:Email is not Communication (1)

nextekcarl (1402899) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632023)

I'd like to disagree with you. But I can't. I have a friend that I do a fair amount of business with in another city and for some reason, his email is extremely unreliable. I knew he was extremely busy (a wife, 3 kids, a more than 40 hr/week job, oh, and working on his Masters degree) so I didn't expect immediate response from him. But he didn't respond very often at all. So I finally called him and asked him about something, and he told me he didn't get most of the emails (well, he did get some, but not very many, which just enhanced the confusion for awhile). We chalked it up to an overactive spam filter, and verified some was getting caught that way, but since he got literally hundreds per day (he has a public facing email address) he just couldn't go through them all. Then we found other people who were having the same problem getting through to him via email. Eventually he signed up with Cloudmark and for a little while it seemed to be getting better, but based upon a conversation last week, I think emails are just flat out not getting to him for some reason. All in all, very annoying problems, and no matter what the root cause is, it all just illustrates your point.

Re:Email is not Communication (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632045)

While a pleasant definition, the idea that "communication is two way" does not seem to be founded in law, information theory, or common English usage. On what do you base this claim? And given that even normal letter writing and conversation may have pauses while the messages are transmitted one way, or may overlap each other as email does, on what could you _possibly_ base the claim that email does not include two way communication?

After all, you and I are communicating right now. Doesn't that count?

Re:Email is not Communication (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632897)

the idea that "communication is two way" does not seem to be founded in law, information theory, or common English usage...

Here's one version of a common definition (from Oxford English Dictionary): "sharing or exchange of information, news, or ideas".". That does indeed imply a two-way process. If your law or information theory don't cover that, then that's just too bad. The word itself (and its Latin origin) have been around far longer. And as far as your concept of English usage is concerned, I would suggest that yelling from the rooftops might be considered redundant in the absence of someone who hears and understands the message.

Re:Email is not Communication (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#29634235)

Please read the definition you provided again. It says "sharing _or_ exchange". The word "sharing" allows it to be one-way. And even if your logic were valid for that single definition, to then say that because it does not match _that_ definition, email is not communication, is a "strawman" fallacy. It's selecting a single relatively easily argued point and ignoring the rest of the issue. In fact, I'm looking at the definition from the Oxford Compact Dictionary, at http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/communication?view=uk [askoxford.com] , which says:

        communication: * noun 1 the action of communicating. 2 a letter or message. 3 (communications) means of sending or receiving information, such as telephone lines or computers. 4 (communications) means of travelling or of transporting goods, such as roads or railways.

So even without my correcting your interpretation of that first definition you cited, the definitions above, from a related source, _specifically_ include letters and messages. So your entire line of reasoning that somehow email is not communication falls apart.

It's not that you don't have a point that staggered communications, such as email or letters or Usenet or Slashdot or Wikis, do not alter communication and reduce or delay feedback. But to say that it's therefore not communication is ill-founded.

Re:Email is not Communication (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29632433)

Well, just because nobody ever answers your emails ... :)

Four 9s (2, Funny)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631709)

How long will they have their four 9s reliability now that they've been slashvertised?

Re:Four 9s (1)

Bronster (13157) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633823)

I haven't been paged yet (fingers crossed)

Nice try. (2, Insightful)

domulys (1431537) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631781)

I am - like many other Slashdot'ers, I expect - just now looking at what FastMail.fm has to offer. (Note that I am an extremely happy user of Gmail, a FREE e-mail service.) Let's take a look:

Free Account: 10MB email, IMAP

So, I've already lost interest. FastMail.fm does not have the capacity to handle 4 of the past 10 e-mails I've received today, unless I give them my credit card.

With regards to uptime, I concede that GMail had some issues a few weeks ago. But, look - Google is good at one thing, and that's redundancy. It's build into everything they do. With greater volume comes greater visibility and responsibility, and I'm honestly not sure I'm willing to trust "FastMail.fm" with my precious data. (What is this "fm" extension anyway? It's not that I care, it's that millions of other people do - and that's the problem).

try it! (2, Interesting)

beckett (27524) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631865)

i pay the $15 per year for 600mb. it's fast, it works well on imap, i can use aliases, and my email won't trigger behavior profiling, won't target ads, or freeze me out of my email because someone sent me a spreadsheet [consumerist.com] .

i know everyone is used to paying for email, but i really like email without ads, someone that will support mail from a domain i own, from a server i don't have to manage but can access anywhere with anything. i think they provide a great service for what i pay for.

Re:try it! (1)

DesertBlade (741219) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631929)

You have no proof that you account wouldn't get frozen at fastmail. If the law says freeze the account then the company has no other choice.

Re:try it! (1)

Yaur (1069446) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631977)

assuming its a @yourdomain.com address you could just update your MX record and it wouldn't matter if they froze your account.

Re:try it! (1)

DesertBlade (741219) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632033)

But all your previous emails still stored at fastmail, would still be frozen. Also if you re-point your mx records to keep an account open you would most likely be in contempt.

Re:try it! (1)

beckett (27524) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632113)

Do you have jurisprudence saying that repointing mx records to keep an account would be in contempt?

Re:try it! (1)

DesertBlade (741219) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632269)

The court order was to deactivate the account. Not deactivate it and then activate it on another server. If a judge ordered a website to be taken down, and you moved it to a different server how is that not contempt?

Re:try it! (1)

DesertBlade (741219) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632275)

And these are moot arguments because in this case it was a gmail account. If it was a fastmail.fm it would have been the same outcome.

Re:try it! (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633739)

The judge ordered the ISP to deactivate the account. What you do depends on what the judge tells you. If my website gets taken down damn right I'll point the name somewhere else. Until I've been taken to court and been prosecuted why wouldn't I ?

Re:try it! (1)

Yaur (1069446) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632267)

1) keep local copies of e-mails.
2) If we are talking about something that parallels the Google incident the order would be directed to fastmail not to you. If you as a third party to (and possibly without knowledge of) the court order could be held in contempt for violating that order it is certainly non obvious.
p.s. IANAL

Re:try it! (5, Informative)

howardjeremy (241291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632353)

You have no proof that you account wouldn't get frozen at fastmail. If the law says freeze the account then the company has no other choice.

FastMail.FM operates under Australian law, not US law (although the servers are in the US, they are owned by an Australian company). Australian privacy law offers more protection than almost anywhere else in the world. For instance, an Australian company that receives a request for information about an account under the Telecommuncations Act is legally required to not provide any actual email contents to the requesting law enforcement agency.

To have an account closed, law enforcement would have to jump through plenty of hoops first, and we'd check really carefully to be sure that the request was legally enforceable before we complied.

    Jeremy Howard
    FastMail.FM

Re:try it! (1)

DesertBlade (741219) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632637)

I am sure google also made sure they legally required to comply with the request. I was unaware that fastmail.fm was an Australian company (assumed it was American since prices was in dollars, shame on me). International law does make it more complicated to get an account shutdown. But since the servers exist in the US can a court order that they be seized? (IANAL)

Re:try it! (3, Funny)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633125)

FastMail.FM operates under Australian law, not US law (although the servers are in the US, they are owned by an Australian company).

The servers are here in the US? I feel safe in speculating that if *you* will not pony up the emails to a US judge, the people who maintain the server farm *here in the US* will. US judges generally couldn't care less about how they do it in whatever country, and, as you said, the servers are here in the US...

Re:try it! (5, Interesting)

howardjeremy (241291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633953)

I feel safe in speculating that if *you* will not pony up the emails to a US judge, the people who maintain the server farm *here in the US* will.

They can't - they have no access to the emails, because they can't login to the machines and they can't access the encryption keys for the data. All maintenance of the OS/software is done from Australia.

We've had a number of US-based law enforcement bodies over the year try to get hold of our data without going via the appropriate Australian bodies, and it doesn't work out for them. In the end, they have always ended up submitting a request for cooperation via the Australian Federal Police, as they are required to do, and we respond to that request in line with Australian law.

Re:try it! (2, Interesting)

Beetle B. (516615) | more than 4 years ago | (#29634905)

We've had a number of US-based law enforcement bodies over the year try to get hold of our data without going via the appropriate Australian bodies, and it doesn't work out for them. In the end, they have always ended up submitting a request for cooperation via the Australian Federal Police, as they are required to do, and we respond to that request in line with Australian law.

Since people were asking, this is one of the things that makes Fastmail.fm great.

OK - Feature-wise all the other big dogs have caught up in some form or other. Fastmail.fm, though, was a pioneer in many aspects. I think they may have been the first reliable free email provider that offered POP/IMAP - years before the major ones did. Heck, I'd bet that's why they got so many customers. And their excellent customer service was why they stayed.

I've never been a member, but I've always recommended them to friends looking to pay for hassle-free email. Looking across the years, they have had the best service (in terms of customer service, etc) for folks who need it. It may be a somewhat largish operation, but they've always maintained the mom & pop attitude.

I get my current email served via my web hosting account. I'm thinking of changing hosts, and if the new place has crappy email, then Fastmail.fm's going to be the place I'll look to.

Re:try it! (1)

hey (83763) | more than 4 years ago | (#29635175)

I don't really think that the servers being own by an Australian company would give you any protection if a US court demanded access. Say you were an Australian person in the US and a US warrant was issued for your arrest ... um you'd be arrested.

Re:Nice try. (0, Troll)

Bazman (4849) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633447)

I reckon the 10MB free account is mainly to give people a chance to check out the system and see if it's worth paying for more. I just got myself one, looked at the webmail client, thought 'this is a web 1.0 non-ajaxy non dragNdrop piece of donkey genitalia' and went back to gmail. Anyone know what it is?

I guess most slashdot leet haxxors will be using IMAP clients on their Macs, so only see the webmail interface as an emergency fallback when their Macs and iPhones have HCF'd.

The 'fm' extension is clearly a repetition of 'FastMail'. They do have a whole load of other domains you can generate accounts on too - fastmail.various-other-tlds, and a bunch of other related names I forget now.

Re:Nice try. (1)

Bronster (13157) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633839)

fastmail.net is pretty good - we've had that for a few years now. Sadly we don't have .com. Plenty of other .coms though:

http://www.fastmail.fm/help/signup_domains.html [fastmail.fm]

Re:Nice try. (4, Informative)

howardjeremy (241291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633929)

The web interface was written from scratch and has been continually developed over the last 10 years. It's not drag-n-drop because in our experience that's not the most powerful and efficient way to manage email. It's designed to be lean, yet powerful - but folks who want something simple and full of eye candy would be best off looking elsewhere, frankly.

It does use asynchronous requests (I hope you don't mind if I don't say "AJAX" - for many reasons, I can't stand that acronym) when it provides a real advantage. For instance, many parts of the interface appear/disappear without doing full page refreshes (for speed), to addressing fields in the Compose screen have a really powerful autocomplete system, and message composition is extended in a number of ways (such as inline spell-check and automated auto-formatting of plain-text emails).

Re:Nice try. (1)

howardjeremy (241291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633943)

Sorry - I forgot to add a disclaimer to my post: I am the Jeremy Howard of FastMail.FM who was interviewed in the article.

Great Service (4, Informative)

stbill79 (1227700) | more than 4 years ago | (#29631937)

After my university account expired, I went with Fastmail after deciding I did not want my non-throwaway email account to be sold to spammers, open for 'harvesting', or at the whims of some company's profit motives. I went with Fastmail's $20/year account and have been a happy customer now going on 4 years. Features I like best:

  • Aliases - instead of having to keep a bunch of throwaway accounts with Yahoo, MSN, etc - I just set up a few aliases. Every so often they're purged, thus the spammers rarely get a hold of my address.
  • Secure Imap (and POP3) access on non-standard ports. Corporations have this nasty habit of blocking access to the standard mail ports. I can access my account using my client of choice from pretty much anywhere
  • Online storage space (in addition to the mailbox space). This allows me to store things like my resume, some ebooks, and other docs online, and even share it as the files are able to URL accessible. I believe the files are accessible over Webdav, but the web interface is good enough.

They've increased storage space over the years, but this is still one thing I wish they'd improve upon. I don't expect them to offer gigs and gigs of space, nor do I intend to basically store my music collection on their servers, but the 600MB mailbox quota and 100MB file storage limit might be increased a little bit. SFTP access to files would also be cool! Another thing that is bothersome is that my main account uses the .fm. This is non-standard, and I wonder how often it looks a little shady to some people who expect all emails to be of the com, edu, or org variety. Might be nice if they'd register another domain under .com that could be aliased to my main accounts.

Another feature that'd be worth the $20/year itself would be the ability to create aliases under the .edu domain in order to get cheap versions of software! I'm sure this is more difficult than it sounds, though.

Re:Great Service (5, Informative)

MLease (652529) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632051)

They've increased storage space over the years, but this is still one thing I wish they'd improve upon. I don't expect them to offer gigs and gigs of space, nor do I intend to basically store my music collection on their servers, but the 600MB mailbox quota and 100MB file storage limit might be increased a little bit.

Go Enhanced ($40/year instead of $20), and you get 6 gigs of mailbox and 2 gigs of file space.

Another thing that is bothersome is that my main account uses the .fm.

When I signed up (several years ago), I picked mailbox.com as my domain. Now I have my own domain, but the base address it points to is still in the mailbox.com domain, and my wife uses mailhaven.com. Didn't you know about the dozens of alternate domains they offer? They have .net, .com and .org domains, as well as others. And, of course, you can always set up your own domain (mine costs me about $10/year from 1and1.com), and host it at FastMail.

As for the .edu, I think registrars are pretty strict about who gets those; I think you have to prove you represent an accredited educational institution. I don't think FM can help you with that. :)

-Mike

Re:Great Service (1)

timmyd (108567) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632089)

It looks like the standard account for fastmail.fm limits you to only 7 aliases. I use tuffmail which is a similar service but they give everyone with a paid account unlimited aliases. Another thing that looks worrisome with fastmail.fm is that there seem to be bandwidth and polling quotas.

Re:Great Service (2, Interesting)

howardjeremy (241291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632271)

It looks like the standard account for fastmail.fm limits you to only 7 aliases.

You effectively have unlimited email addresses by using subdomain addressing. This lets you use [anything]@username.domain as an email address. Also, if you have a folder name called [anything] (i.e. with a matching name) then messages to that address are autofiled to that folder.

Personally, every time I give my address to a company (e.g. when subscribing to a service) I put the company's name in the [anything] slot, so I know who gave out my address if I get unsolicited mail (or to block over-zealous marketing from the company in question).

Disclaimer: I am the Jeremy Howard interviewed in the article.

Re:Great Service (1)

LowlyWorm (966676) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632335)

Their staff also seem to care about customers. A few years ago, I had a temporary problem logging into FM. It only lasted 24 hours or so but because I noticed, FM gave an extra month free. Their costs have also come down.

Worth it not to be sold for advertising (2, Interesting)

dirkdodgers (1642627) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632771)

I've been on fastmail for several years, and $40/year is nothing for the peace of mind I get knowing that our private emails are not being used or sold for advertising to us or anyone else, as well as the ability to serve as the mail host for my domains and used by me and my family.

They were ahead of Google in offering IMAP, including SSL for IMAP and SMTP, although I see Google has now caught up.

Something else I appreciate is the effectiveness of the server-side spam filtering. I've never had to spend any of my time fiddling with training my spam filtering. The default server-side rules take care of everything.

Re:Worth it not to be sold for advertising (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29633135)

I've been with them for, I dunno, the last ten years or so. I paid $15 at the start, haven't had to pay anything since, have IMAP, no ads, unlimited@me.fastmail.fm accounts (which has resulted in less spam over all, because I can easily drop addresses companies have abused), and all the while I've watched my friends jump from email address to email address, sending out messages to everybody they know because they've changed ISPs.

I switched to fastmail after Apple changed their "one email address forever" free .Mac accounts, and am amazed at how rock solid and dependable they've been for so long.

Fastmail are awesome.

Another happy customer (2, Interesting)

Trerro (711448) | more than 4 years ago | (#29632945)

Their free account is rather weak, but I'm quite happy with what I'm paying $20/year for...

1. Actual security. It's the only webmail I know of I can log in through a secure connection, and it includes a no-cache mode so I don't have to worry about messages I read being in the cache on a public (and possibly infected) machine. You can also make a single-use password for when you have to use a machine that has a good chance of having key logging spyware.

2. On the flip side, there's a "log me in for freaking ever" option for when I'm on my own machine, which not only keeps me logged in, but sets the session to 8 hours so I can just leave it open when needed.

3. Long term file storage - especially when I'm developing something, there's a good chance the same file is going to get attached to a bunch of different messages. Needing to upload it only once (and having it already sitting on their servers for when I'm not on the machine I made said file with) is a huge time saver.

4. Full control of the spam filters, including custom entries. I have the tolerance set high (so I don't ever lose stuff to false positives) but deletion turned on for very high scores (so unquestionable spam is purged without me ever having to touch it.) Google gives you ummm... and "on" and an "off". :P

5. Full filter control, including the ability to autofile stuff into folders (the college I went to sends WAY too much crap, so I put that all in a folder, as I occasionally want to read some of it, but would rather not have it clog up my inbox.) Similarly, the ability to shove stuff you get from a mailing list in its old folder is good for the same reason.

6. File space can be used as webspace. Sometimes I need a temporary, quick, static webpage, and really don't want to be bothered downloading an FTP client (and risk leaving the password to my server sitting on a public machine).

7. Aliases - useful both for cutting spammers off, and for being able to select different sigs, whether to save sent mail, etc.

8. The "bounce" button - deletes a message and sends the sender the standard "this address doesn't exist" autoreply.

9. Real status updates - if something gets screwed up, they tell you exactly what went wrong, what they're doing to fix it, and when it'll be fixed assuming nothing else is borked.

10. Minimal downtime... I think I've seen them die 3 times in ~5 years. I DO have a Gmail account as well, and they're down far more often.

11. I CAN SEND .EXE AND .ZIP FILES. Seriously, as a freelance programmer, Gmail is often useless to me because they don't accept either.

12. Far more customizable, in general. I find Gmail's lack of options annoying.

Re:Another happy customer (3, Informative)

Mostly a lurker (634878) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633189)

I agree with all your points, with a few caveats that I shall mostly not bother with.

For your own information

  • There is no problem sending ZIP (or other compressed format) files through Gmail, depending on the names of the embedded files. It is trying to block executable files within the zip archive.
  • To overcome the problem sending executable files through Gmail. just change the filetype. For instance, change "myprog.exe" to "myprog.exe.rename", "myscript.vbs" to "myscript.vbs.rename" and "myarchive.zip" with embedded executables to "myarchive.zip.rename". Everything is then fine.

Can I disable the spam filtering? (1)

Lincolnshire Poacher (1205798) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633641)

One criterion that I have for an e-mail provider is that they let me be the arbiter of whether an e-mail is useful or not. Unfortunately, from reading their website, Fastmail.fm apply a series of SMTP and content-level filters that cannot be disabled.

For example, regarding levels of spam filtering they write:

Go to the Options -> Spam / Virus protection screen and switch from "Basic" to "Normal", "Aggressive" or "Custom" level filtering.

How about a ``None at all'' option? I don't receive spam and I baulk at a company blocking any e-mails addressed to me, particularly if I paying $40 per annum!

Re:Can I disable the spam filtering? (2, Informative)

Bronster (13157) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633845)

There's stuff that we block before we even know who it's addressed to. At one point (I haven't checked recently) we had over 1 MILLLION IP addresses that were being blocked from even connecting to our MX servers (for a 24 hour rolling block none less) because of their behavior.

But you can certainly turn the spam scanning right down to the point where anything that's not pretty ugly will be allowed into your mailbox. I have my spam scanning turned a fair way up, and the only false positives I've had are newsletters from companies that I do have a relationship with. Adding them to my address book fixes that up just fine.

Training my personal bayes database has certainly helped reduce the spam through to my Inbox as well (my personal domain address has been around for a while and gets ~400 spam/day)

Bron ( FastMail sysadmin )

Re:Can I disable the spam filtering? (1)

stevey (64018) | more than 4 years ago | (#29634219)

I'd love to know what kind of levels of success you're seeing in capture and rejection of SPAM. But I guess that information isn't publicly available?

For what its worth I just published this document [mail-scanning.com] describing how my defunct anti-spam proxy service worked. It'd be great to see what other people do - sharing these kind of details would help everybody involved.

Re:Can I disable the spam filtering? (1)

Chelloveck (14643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29634929)

There's stuff that we block before we even know who it's addressed to. At one point (I haven't checked recently) we had over 1 MILLLION IP addresses that were being blocked from even connecting to our MX servers (for a 24 hour rolling block none less) because of their behavior.

MAILFAIL. I've had problems with other mail providers who do this kind of thing. Somebody sends me a message, but I never receive it because their host fell into the bad behavior block. They never get a bounce, and get pissed at me for not answering their email. Or worse, I miss an opportunity, like "Hey, I'm going to be in town next week, let's get together".

I understand why service providers do this sort of filtering. It's easy, practically free in terms of server resources, and cuts down on a huge volume of unwanted mail. The legitimate mail that also gets filtered out is statistically insignificant.

Of course, what's statistically insignificant on the large scale may be extremely significant on the small scale, such as to the sender and recipient. As the recipient I'm paying for reliable mail delivery. I'm not going to pay a provider which systematically drops a portion of my mail.

Re:Can I disable the spam filtering? (3, Informative)

howardjeremy (241291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29633913)

Fastmail.fm apply a series of SMTP and content-level filters that cannot be disabled.

FastMail.FM has fewer global filters than any email provider I can think of. However, all large email providers need some - the first time a service gets hit by an SMTP-based DDOS they discover this!

Imagine you have a botnet of 100,000 computers all trying to open SMTP connections to your server and blast through email at the same time - that's not something you want to allow. So, we have a database of IPs which have attempted to DOS us in the last few hours, and block them at an IP level. That's why there's no ability to allow users to turn off this global filtering - since it happens at IP level, we don't even know which address they're attacking.

Because most IPs are dynamic, we expire them from the blocklist very quickly (unless they keep reappearing again and again), so that innocent bystanders don't get impacted.

Re:Can I disable the spam filtering? (1)

anon mouse-cow-aard (443646) | more than 4 years ago | (#29634209)

You sir, are clue impaired. Between 90 and 97% of email on the internet is spam. [wikipedia.org] We are using roaring penguin CANIT pro (basically commercially supported MIMEdefang) as a corporate spam filter. We have the ability to turn off all filtering for clients that ask for it. I love that. There used to be lots people who claimed such things, and we are able to oblige them. They always change their mind within a single day. They clamour to get the filtering back as soon as possible, and then thank me profusely for the effective filters we have in place. Could not ask for better marketing... And I don't have to argue with the naive users, excuse me... upper management. win-win. The costs is that I have to accept the connections and the email, and drop it using filtering rules later. Since blacklists do around 60-80% of the blocking, that is a huge cpu load, but given the benefit of only a handful of executives experience of actual internet traffic, even if it doubles the number of servers, it easily pays for itself.

fastmail is also a Friend Of Open Source[non-TM] (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29633905)

Disclaimer: I am an extremely satisfied enhanced-account fastmail.fm customer for many years.

One thing that people often don't pay attention to is that fastmail.fm does a lot of Open Source work. One of the fastmail.fm crew, Bron Gondwana, has made extremely important contributions to the world's best, most scalable libre-software mail spool, Cyrus IMAP. He has commit rights upstream, and he has been a very active contributor and member of the community for a few years, now. fastmail.fm is a Cyrus IMAP shop, but they help other Cyrus IMAP users all the time in Cyrus the mailing lists, they have given us details about how to set up highly scalable and redundant multi-million-user setups many times now... And it is not rare to see Bron on the LKML (Linux Kernel ML) engaging the kernel developers to fix a kernel bug or two.

This is no publicity stunt, these guys are it: the email shop anyone who likes to tout around about the importance of FLOSS should vote for with their wallets. About the only thing that could make fastmail.fm even better, would be servers in a non-openly-hostile-to-privacy, non-corporate state: the servers are in the USA.

Re:fastmail is also a Friend Of Open Source[non-TM (1)

howardjeremy (241291) | more than 4 years ago | (#29634247)

One thing that people often don't pay attention to is that fastmail.fm does a lot of Open Source work. One of the fastmail.fm crew, Bron Gondwana, has made extremely important contributions to the world's best, most scalable libre-software mail spool, Cyrus IMAP. He has commit rights upstream, and he has been a very active contributor and member of the community for a few years, now. fastmail.fm is a Cyrus IMAP shop, but they help other Cyrus IMAP users all the time in Cyrus the mailing lists, they have given us details about how to set up highly scalable and redundant multi-million-user setups many times now... And it is not rare to see Bron on the LKML (Linux Kernel ML) engaging the kernel developers to fix a kernel bug or two.

This is no publicity stunt, these guys are it: the email shop anyone who likes to tout around about the importance of FLOSS should vote for with their wallets.

Many thanks for these kind words - and thanks too for pointing out Bron's great work.

We're at a point now where every single piece of software we use, bar one, is open source. (The one exception is the RAID-monitoring tool that IBM requires for monitoring their RAID hardware.) Everything else, from programming languages, to operating systems, to system monitoring, email servers, web servers, anti-virus, anti-spam, and so on and so on, is all open source.

The reason we use open source for everything is that we can (and do) hack at the source to add features and fix bugs, we get direct access to the actual developers when we need help, we never have to rely on a third party to fix problems, and we get all the security benefits too.

For those who are interested, we have some more details on FastMail.FM's software (and hardware) infrastructure [fastmail.fm] on our site.

    Jeremy Howard
    FastMail.FM

alternatively (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29634397)

free email at lavabit.com ftw

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