Like most people scrabbling to make a living, I wear many hats. I have a computer-consultant hat, a part-time teacher's hat, and several hats I wear when disguised as a writer. Heck, I even have a personal-life hat. And I have an e-mail address to go with each piece of headgear.
All of these addresses aren't just techie bling. Owning a wide variety of e-mail addresses is a handy trick to have up your sleeve. If you want someone you meet to remember you as, say, a serious scholar of UFOs, you can give that person the e-mail address scholar@KecksburgUFOCentral.com. If you suspect that a future client may not share your interest in fringe matters, choose another address for that purpose -- say, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you're trolling for dates, say you're email@example.com.
How do you get such a great variety of addresses? And how do you name them whatever you want? You have to control your own domain names. That way, if you change jobs, change Internet service providers, or move to Bora-Bora, you won't need to send out change-of-e-mail notifications. The downside, however, is that you'll have to do some up-front work to set up the domains and the e-mail addresses.
Luckily, it's surprisingly easy and affordable to assemble a collection of e-mail addresses. First, you'll need to lay down a bit of money for your own domain. Then, you can either set up a real POP e-mailbox at your domain (firstname.lastname@example.org), or you can have a forwarding address that redirects e-mail sent to that address to any existing e-mail address--your Yahoo Mail account, for example. Either approach works, but the redirection approach works a lot more easily -- if, that is, your domain registrar offers e-mail forwarding.
Take DirectNIC and GoDaddy as two examples. When you register a domain with either of these registrars, they provide a little form on their domain management pages in which you enter a new address at your domain and enter a destination for mail to that address. Click the OK button, and in a twinkling, any mail to the new address will be redirected to the mailbox you specified, whether it's your free Web-mail address or even your address at work. That's e-mail forwarding in a nutshell.
But if you'd like to get technical, here's the lowdown: Whenever you send out an e-mail, it goes to an SMTP server. This server looks at the address on the message, then checks the domain record (everything after the @ sign in the address) in the domain registry. The registry is the definitive database of domain records, and it lives on many servers across the Internet. One of the records in the registry is each domain's mail exchange (or MX) record, which shows the SMTP server where to send mail. In the case of e-mail forwarding, the destination mail server in the MX record redirects incoming mail to the address you've set up. This extra step can cause delays with mail that's been redirected, but e-mail forwarding usually works well, and it's very easy to set up.
The alternative approach -- useful if your domain registrar doesn't offer forwarding -- is to create a new POP mailbox, which costs a little extra at most domain registrars. DirectNIC and GoDaddy, for example, charge US$10 for the first new POP address, and they offer various discounts for multiple boxes. Setting up a new address in these cases is almost as easy as setting up a forwarding address, but you need to go through the extra step of setting up your e-mail software to check each new mailbox.
The best trick I discovered for managing my various online personas is to redirect all mail sent to any address at any of my domains. I simply set up a redirect using the asterisk or star, the universal wildcard. If *@myfavoritedomain.com gets redirected to my real address, then I'll get all the messages. True, this does open the door to spammers who send messages to addresses such as sales@, webmaster@, and other you-guess-'em addresses, but a decent spam filter will fix this.
My favourite part about setting up universal forwarding is that I can give out any mail address at my domain, depending on the impression I'm trying to give. If I'm trying to impress, I can call myself email@example.com. On the other hand, I might want to avoid a hail of e-mail resumes. In that case, I'm firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you're a real tinkerer, you can set up filters in your software to send messages to special folders depending on the entry in the To field. But then you'll be a candidate for a new e-mail address: email@example.com.
Disclaimer: The e-mail addresses in this column are fictional. Any similarity between them and any real address, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.