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How Today's Webmail Stacks Up

If you've been tethered to Gmail for the last few years, you're missing out. Do a Hotmail email address search for your old screen name, and get ready to pull that Yahoo! account information out of your archives. Many of today's least appreciated free email services have undergone some exciting changes. What's the best web-based email account you can have today? Look over this list and decide for yourself.

What's Great: The Reinvention of Search
What's Not: Limited Storage Space

Sure you can drag and drop email into separate folders, but Google's labeling system has changed search for the better. It's easy to tag an email with multiple labels, create subcategories and set up filters. You can also use your Gmail address to enhance your web search experiences. Login to Google with your Gmail address and create and save custom search engines (http://www.google.com/cse). Now you can limit your searches to the sites that you select.

Although Google offers some serious advantages, it doesn't offer a lot of free storage space. Each account comes with a little over 7 GB of free space, which sounds like a lot until you start using it up. Yahoo! and AOL, on the other hand, offer unlimited storage space--for free.

What's Great: Graymail Maintenance
What's Not: Past Demons

When you see a subject line related to implants, you know you've got spam. Graymail, which includes newsletters, deal alerts, and mailing list correspondence, is much more difficult to get rid of. Sometimes you want it; sometimes you don't. Hotmail manages graymail with one click of a button. Sweep makes it easy to delete all of the messages from one sender. Sweep also identifies graymail--including newsletters and mailing list posts--and can automatically direct them to folders, let them expire, or allow you to easily unsubscribe.

Hotmail has had more than a facelift in the past few years; Microsoft has changed Hotmail for the better. Unfortunately, people are still plagued by the memories of Hotmail's past demons. Remember the slow and spammy service of the past? It's gone. Unfortunately, not everybody knows it.

Comcast / Comcast Xfinity Email
What's Great: Customer Service
What's Not: Lack of Portability

Is your email bouncing? Are you missing messages? If you're using a Comcast email address, you know that technical support is just a phone call away. Meanwhile, your friends using free email services are frantically searching through inaccurate forum posts for the one bit of information that might possibly help them out.

The downside of Comcast is that your email address isn't portable. If you move out of Comcast's service area or want to change service providers, you lose your email address--and any emails that are sent to that address after you drop your service. If you don't want to force your friends into a fruitless email search for your new contact information, it is always best to give them an address that they can rely on.

AOL Mail
What's Great: AIM Improvements
What's Not: Cool Factor

AOL's instant messaging program, AIM, is one of the longest running chat clients around. That means that many of your friends already have AIM accounts and are ready to chat with you. Simply log into AIM with your AOL, Gmail or Yahoo! email address and chat by text or over video. If you've moved on to other chat clients, it is time to revisit this old standby. The new AV by AIM program makes video chat a breeze, and AOL plays nicely with your iPhone. You can even use your AOL screen name (the first part of your AOL email address) to log into iTunes.

Still, when it comes to email, AOL is plagued by its inability to keep up with the competition, and an AOL email address is often ridiculed by today's early adopters. Keep your AOL email address--and the AIM account that goes with it--but if you want to follow the crowd, grab a Gmail address to go along with it. Of course, if you enjoy being a square peg, proudly wearing your AOL email address on your forehead will definitely send your snarky hipster friends a message.

Yahoo! Mail
What's Great: Easy Access to Your Favorite Apps
What's Not: Spam Blocking

If you haven't used Yahoo! Mail in the few years, you're missing out. Yahoo! has completely rebuilt its interface. The sleek, clean tabbed system makes it easy to integrate your email with other Yahoo! services, like Flikr and Evite. If you've ever had to do an email address search to gather friends' email addresses before emailing an invitation, you'll love the integration. Now you can send an Evite directly from your Yahoo! email account. You can even add events to your integrated Yahoo! calendar from within the application. Here's an added bonus: Yahoo has become increasingly easy to sign into. Use your Yahoo! email address or sign in with your Google screen name or Facebook login information.

The downside to Yahoo! Mail? A clean interface doesn't necessarily make it easy to maintain a clean inbox. According to PC Magazine, Yahoo!'s ability to filter both IM and email spam lags behind other email services.


Online references:

Yahoo! Mail (2011)

Gizmodo: It's Official: This is the New AIM

Hotmail adds features, hopes to add users

Comparison of WebMail providers

Webmail Directory