Fastmail Failed

I wanted to leave Google Apps behind, so I decided to give Fastmail a chance. Why, you might ask? Well, I can’t say I’m comfortable with Google these days, with them reading all my email and serving ads based on email content, as well as the overall notion that the company has their tentacles in every major online market. And then some.

Quitting Google Apps, or Google’s email services really, has been on my todo list for years. The problem is there seem to be very few true alternatives.

The Opera owned email service Fastmail came heavily recommended, so I thought that this might actually be worth a shot. I quit Google Apps cold turkey, pointing everything to a trial account at Fastmail, supplied my credit card information so that they could charge me at their leisure, and got started with the service.

There were issues. First there were the less than stellar user interface when turning to the plethora of settings. I can live with that, and besides the actual email inbox interface is a lot easier on the eyes than the monstrosity that is Gmail. Still too much though, but I’m an IMAP user so the web interface isn’t crucial.

Then there were the spam. It didn’t take long before I got to experience first hand how incredible Google’s spam filters are. Sure, it wasn’t much that snuck through to my Fastmail inbox, a lot less than when I used to roll my own hosted email server and everything. The fact that I had to sort through spam, a handful every day, was annoying, but not a dealbreaker. After all, I’m leaving the dubious Google behind, I have to be willing to pay the price of that, right?

Then suddenly I couldn’t send any emails. This is a crucial feature. Since I’m an Apple Mail user, via IMAP, I figured there were some issues with the settings, or perhaps just downtime. It happens, and Google has been known to have issues with IMAP too.

But no, I couldn’t send emails with the web interface either. How could that be?

I emailed Fastmail support, using another account. I always keep at least two email accounts with different providers for things like these. Support received my email on the evening of February 5th, it immediately got logged into their ticket system. The day after Fastmail got back to me, telling me they had an issue with my attachment, a screenshot of the less than descriptive error message I got when using their email interface. It happens, I supplied a new one within minutes.

Then suddenly I could send emails again. How about that. I told support just before lunch on February 6th, asking what had happened. I’m a heavy email user, so I asked them if it was “a matter of too many emails being sent, in which case please crank up that limit because this wasn’t even a busy day”.

Less than three hours later and I’m suddenly not able to send emails again. I report this in the same support thread, which is still open. “It does seem to be a limit on how much email I’m allowed to send”, I venture to guess, and give them additional information. I’m annoyed with Fastmail at this point, and less than happy with their support as well as their error messages. Sending emails is crucial after all, and when it doesn’t work the user should know why, not get some cryptic error code.

I hear nothing until the next morning, February 7th. You can imagine my frustration at this point, not being able to answer emails for a day does that to you. I run a business you know… Support finally concludes that I “seem to be hitting our daily limits”. They tell me that trial accounts have smaller limits. I had no idea there were limits on sending emails at all. If there are indeed limits on how much email you’re allowed to send, why not say that instead of a cryptic error code? I’m baffled at this point.

To summarize, I haven’t been able to use their service because I’ve hit a limit for sending email. It takes support two days to tell me this, despite me guessing that something like this is the problem. I’m less than pleased, but I haven’t given up on them entirely just yet.

This however, made me cancel my Fastmail account, not looking back:

Can you let me know exactly what type of emails are you sending? Could you please move a few of the sample ones into a “forwebmaster” folder in your account?

Yeah, like I’m going to do that. The mere notion that someone will go into my account and look at email, even when put in a dedicated folder, is even more creepy than Google’s automatic email reading bots.

Fastmail failed in winning me as a customer. I’m amazed they managed to do that, because I was prepared to accept a lesser service, the annoyance of spam, and give them the leeway they so obviously need, just so that I could leave Google behind. I can accept things going wrong, servers breaking down, and even limited trial accounts. In fact, had they just stated that there were a limit to the trial accounts right away, I would’ve just paid up to give the service a fair chance.

What I won’t accept is this kind of slow and uninitiated support. While I doubt Google is much better at this, I just won’t pay for a service where I can’t rely on support should something fail, and I will definitely not do so with something as crucial as email. For all their creepyness, at least Google works.

Most users are pretty understanding when things go wrong, but only if the communication is clear, and whatever support you have is snappy and helpful. Not knowing that there are limits to sending emails on trial account, not telling me about it when I’m hitting them, neither in the system nor in the support conversation, and then wanting to look at what sort of emails I’m sending, that’s a textbook failure to me.

Good riddance to Fastmail, and to every other crappy company who don’t understand that you need to do good shit across the board, otherwise you’ll end up with disgruntled users.

I’m back with Google Apps, and I’m not happy about that. It is the best option there is right now, but I’m not a happy user because I don’t want to be there. And while Google obviously won over Fastmail in this battle they didn’t even know they fought, they have already lost in the long run because sooner or later an alternative will come around that doesn’t suck. That will be good enough, and then I’m out of there, once again. For good, hopefully.

Thanks for reading. This post was published in March, 2013, and a lot of things have happened since then. You might want to read how Fastmail came through in the end.

Have you read <em>Haunted Futures</em> yet? cover

Have you read Haunted Futures yet?

I’ve got a story in the science fiction/near future anthology Haunted Futures, together with the likes of Warren Ellis and Tricia Sullivan. Check it out!