Hack 72. Create and Use Custom Addresses
Make up an unlimited number of arbitrary email
addresses to use when signing up for something, making a purchase
online, or tracking a conversation.
Those who've been exposed to the power of a little
never look back, using it anywhere and everywhere they can. And, for
something so useful, there's really not much to it.
Simply append a plus sign (+) and some meaningful
string of letters or numbers (meaningful to you, that is) to the
first part of your email address—the part before the
(@)—and you have a way of tagging a
particular conversation, an address used to sign up for a service or
buy something online, or create a throwaway address you have no
intention of paying attention to again.
Say your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. A
plus-addressed version might be
email@example.com. And you
don't have to stop there; you can create subtags and
sub-subtags such as
firstname.lastname@example.org for even more
And the magic of it is that all plus-addressed email still arrives at
the same email address: yours, sans the plus bit. At that point you
can filter, sort, highlight, or trash email sent to that particular
address as you see fit.
Plus-addressing means never having to say you only have one email
And you'll be glad to know that Gmail supports
plus-addressing, affording you some rather powerful email handling,
routing, and filtering functionality.
Some of my favorite uses of plus-addressing are:
- Tagging a conversation
Keep track of a particular email conversation—no matter how
long it lasts—by copying yourself (i.e., putting yourself in
the Cc: field) with a plus-address (e.g.,
email@example.com). That way, so
long as you're copied on any ongoing conversation,
you'll know just where it all started (and,
hopefully, eventually ended).
- Inviting people to a party
This is just a variation on the previous theme of tagging a
conversation. Invite people to a party and copy yourself with a
firstname.lastname@example.org) to label
and track RSVPs.
- Signing up for services
Just about every online service has you provide an email address in
order to sign up. If you never want to hear by mail from these people
again (aside from the initial—and often
required—confirmation email, that is), assign a plus-address to
each service (e.g.,
when you've had quite enough of their follow-up
messages, announcements, and special offers, set up a filter
to direct them right into the Trash.
- Buying things online
Buying things online usually involves some amount of email traffic:
purchase confirmation, shipping notification, tracking, and problems.
By assigning a plus address to each vendor (e.g.,
email@example.com), you can
group all of your online transactions with that vendor.
While there usually isn't anything you can do about
vendors and service providers sharing your email address with others,
at the very least, you can keep tabs on the offending party.
- Subscribing to mailing lists
There comes a time in any subscriber's life when she
wants to disambiguate email pouring in from various mailing lists
from more important mail. Give every mailing list its own
you can label or siphon incoming mailing list posts into your