Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Many Lives

I had one of the first Google mail (gmail) accounts. When Google bought blogger it offered them to us early adopters when it was still an invitation only beta. For reasons that are now obscure, when I set up the account I used john.bell@gmail.com as the address. Now, there are a lot of people on the planet named John Bell and a number of them have signed up for gmail accounts over the years. For reasons best known to Google, they have a unique way of handling e-mail addresses that closely resemble one another. I quote from Google help:

Sometimes you may receive a message sent to an address that looks like yours but has a different number or arrangement of periods. While we know it might be unnerving if you think someone else's mail is being routed to your account, don't worry: both of these addresses are yours.

Gmail doesn't recognize dots as characters within usernames, you can add or remove the dots from a Gmail address without changing the actual destination address; they'll all go to your inbox, and only yours. In short:
o homerjsimpson@gmail.com = hom.er.j.sim.ps.on@gmail.com
o homerjsimpson@gmail.com = HOMERJSIMPSON@gmail.com
o homerjsimpson@gmail.com = Homer.J.Simpson@gmail.com

All these addresses belong to the same person. You can see this if you try to sign in with your username, but adding or removing a dot from it. You'll still go to your account.

If you get mail that seems to be intended for someone else, it's likely that the sender entered the wrong address, just like if you've ever dialed a wrong phone number for someone. In these cases, we suggest contacting the original sender or website when possible to alert them to the mistake.

One last thing: Google Apps does recognize dots. If you'd like to have a dot in your username, please ask your domain administrator to add your preferred username as a nickname.

The upshot is that I get a whole lot of misdirected mail for other John Bells. It's like I have alternate lives. So far I have had glimpses into the world of the John Bell in the New York/New Jersey area, had package notifications for the California John Bell, been notified about the John Bell in London's indoor golf opportunities, gotten ministry updates for the Mormon John Bell and received e-mail ads from pubs intended for the John Bell in the north of England. I'm not sure if it's he or the London John Bell who vacations in Spain. Whichever one, I'm envious. I'm curious about the African John Bell, who also seems involved in some kind of church ministry. The latest addition is a Canadian John Bell who just got a cell phone. There seem to be a lot of me out there, and I am not even counting the "John Bell" who hacked my account last fall and e-mailed half the people in my sent mail folder with a plea to send money because he was trapped in Madrid and had lost his wallet. I briefly thought it was a legitimate but misdirected cry for help from one of the English John Bells, but it appears to have been just a common crook. My friends were suspicious, broke or both, so no money was forthcoming and eventually I convinced Google that I was indeed me and regained control of my online life.