How do you handle unknown state of lost email?

I started to write this blog post a couple of weeks ago, but forgot to push "publish" - here it is now

Bad day and a half for the web. Both Skype and DreamHost (and more importantly DreamHost's DNS) were down last night and today until just now awhile ago. The effect was that any of my sites appeared down and were unreachable, and again more importantly, no email sent to me would have gotten through. (and here I was amazed that by 11AM I didn't have a single email!)

So if you sent me an email this morning - I may not have received it. They're slowly trickling in - but if you don't get a response from me, the maybe try resending it, or bonking me on skype/im/twitter/jaiku/plazes/facebook/et al.

This morning, I tried to login into Basecamp - and I use OpenID, which is rerouted from a .highearthorbit.com URL. So obviously that didn't work. You can instead request a temporary account - but that can't get through since the DNS doesn't work. So - another single point of failure in my system.

Broader problem of single points of failure


While this was a single incident, that probably won't result in (much) lost information, it does point to a broader problem. I have a single email server, and a single service for DNS. If either of these goes down, then I have an unknown state of email - and more than likely anyone sending me email will get either: a bounce-back that the mail was undeliverable, or worse, nothing - and they'll be left thinking I just didn't respond or bother reading their email.

No one uses "email receipts" anymore - and in general I don't like them. I don't want to share when I've opened your email, because then you get another email that I've read it, flooding your inbox.

However, I would be able to like to verify that a message was successfully received in some way - either just to the server, or to the client application. I don't care if it's been opened or not, I just want to know it got to wherever it needed to go.

I'm thinking I need a http://andrew_status.net, or even a more useful http://andrew.turner.mystatus.net - maybe even tied to my OpenID. There would also be a mystatus3 and mystatus4 hosted on other networks and infrastructures with paralleled information.

On it I would want to, at minimal, post any problems that affect my general communication: Andrew's Email isn't working (1 day), or Andrew sick, or On Vacation. No more of this auto-reply to emails that you're on vacation.

I live digitally - almost all my contacts are online, and more importantly the ones online can't verify my actual status. I can't "tell" them my email is out. I don't have an office or assistant to answer calls or emails with "Andrew's Sick, he'll be back in on Thursday". Instead I need a MyStatus.com, it's like a HeartBeat for PeopleApps.

About this article

written on
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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.