Ask Al: Bad things happening?

Perry writes, "I keep coming back to re-read your comments about AOL being the good guys. I must admit, that when our ISP is on their blacklist, bad things happen."

Well, unless AOL has suddenly implemented a new policy of picking up a bus full of day laborers from the parking lot in front of the Home Depot, driving them over to your home, and beating you with zucchini while you sleep fitfully on a carpet remnant in your unheated basement, I don't really believe that bad things are happening to you.

Truth be told, most responsible ISPs block mail based solely on a statistically-driven reputational computation. Meaning, your IP address sends unwanted or problematic mail, then its ability to transmit mail to that ISP is revoked. Usually not permanently, either. But keep in mind here, that this is driven by the mail being sent. It's reactive to the mail coming in. If AOL shut all of this off, stopped blocking mail from IP addresses that send bad mail, their entire mail system would probably collapse within twenty-four hours.

Also, keep in mind that when AOL blocks mail from your IP address, you're only blocked at AOL. They don't publish a blacklist. They don't make you get blocked at Yahoo or Hotmail. I wonder if perhaps your concern stems from noticing that when one ISP blocks you, other ISPs are likely to follow. If that's the case, there's no collusion; not even any coordination. Just multiple smart folks using their multiple sets of eyes to denote that you're emitting mail that their users don't want. AOL isn't causing other people to block your mail; AOL is the canary in the coal mine warning you that if you keep it up, you're likely to cause other ISPs to block you, just like AOL is doing.

Also, let's lose the hyperbole and misunderstanding about relationships and friendships. I get sick of reading about how "AOL must hate us" or "if only Yahoo knew we weren't bad guys." The ISPs don't think you're bad guys. It's not a question of making friends with them. Seriously, they don't hate you, they don't want to hate you, they don't have time to hate you. Keep in mind that you are one data point in a million. The solution isn't to buddy up to them. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the solution is to just stop emitting the unwanted mail.


  1. Oddly, I was just talking about this last night with Laura. I think a hard block at AOL is like a Spamhaus listing: if either of those is the first problem you've noticed, that implies two things: 1) you have a lot more problems than just that, and 2) you haven't been paying attention.

  2. that's not zucchini.

  3. What makes me curious is the phrasing of the question. "When our ISP is ..." If the person asking the question is using the services of an ISP whose primary mail servers are being blocked at AOL or any other major ISP, they should encourage said ISP to contact their peers and let them know about their existence.

    In any case, what Al says regarding companies sending bulkmail through their own IPs or through those of an totally accurate. If your mail stream is good, your IP reputation will be good and you will have no problems. If you have a problem that isn't due to the quality of your mailing lists, if you have a corporate IP that got hacked and is now fixed, or a shared hosting server that's having issues, open a support request. We are always glad to have a look and help if we can.

  4. This guy turned into a chat buddy in email after his email to me, and as the story dribbled out, it became clear that he's an admin or owner of some second tier ISP who doesn't know how to keep his outbounds clean and isn't part of a broader community of nations.



Comments policy: Al is always right. Kidding, mostly. Be polite, please and thank you.