You get what you pay for, so if you sign up for free e-mail service on sites like Yahoo and Hotmail, or start up a mailing list on a free list server like Yahoo Groups, you have to expect that they'll get their revenue by sticking ads in your messages. Unfortunately, it's the recipients of the messages who have to put up with this annoyance, not you.
Individuals sometimes try to slip advertising into their signature block, which usually draws criticism from those on the receiving end if the ads go beyond one-liner promos for a Web site. However, a much more organized form of attached ads is done by the "big guys" like Yahoo. If you use free accounts on their servers, they will generally stick an ad at the bottom of every message you send, sometimes for their own services ("Do You Yahoo?") and sometimes for outside sponsors. The ad gets appended by their server, usually at the bottom beneath any signature block you may be using. (I believe some of the free mail services tried sticking ads at the top of messages, but people found that too annoying, causing them to back off a little.) If you read mail online through the provider's Web interface, there will probably also be ads on the screen, and these days they've started to mutate from the old-fashioned, easily ignorable ad banners to big, intrusive, animated things. Sometimes there's even a full-screen ad you've got to click past before you see your message. But don't complain; just like the annoying commercials on TV or radio, they're paying for your free service.
Your recipients, however, never signed up for your mail service; perhaps they're getting their mail in e-mailboxes that they paid for. They still have to put up with ads in messages from you, and messages from anybody within mailing lists hosted by an ad-supported server.
Minimizing the Annoyance
The best way to make attached ads less annoying for your recipients is to send only plain text e-mail, not HTML mail. There are already some good reasons to avoid HTML mail in most cases, but if you're using a mail server that attaches ads, plain text is particularly sensible, because it means that the server can only attach a plain text ad. If your message is in HTML format, the server can attach a fancy graphical ad, perhaps with annoying animation. In plain text format, all they can do is put in a few lines of easily-ignorable text.
If you subscribe to mailing lists on Yahoo Groups, be sure to turn off the "feature" to convert all inbound messages into HTML form, even if they were originally plain text. This serves no purpose other than letting Yahoo give you fancier ads. In Yahoo Groups, the best mode to subscribe to a list is digest mode, where you get messages in batches put together as one message; they don't seem to add any ads to that format, surprisingly.
In a mailing list, even if you've set things up to minimize your direct exposure to ads, you may still get subjected to some of them if other participants don't trim their quotes when replying; it's unfortunately commonplace to quote back everything, including the ads at the bottom (see the section on quoting). If HTML-form ads get converted to plain text by a mail program, the quoted material can be a horrible mess, with the various images and hyperlinks turned into tangled code like this:
The only surefire way to get away from attached ads in e-mail is to refrain from using free mail services, and get your friends to do the same. If you want a permanent e-mail address that's independent of the ISP you happen to be using now (a good idea so that it doesn't have to change every time you change providers), you might get your own domain name; these days, there's the .name domain that's particularly intended for personal Web and e-mail use; check it out.
However, I still use Yahoo Groups a lot, both to create groups myself and to subscribe to others; it offers too useful a service, for free, to pass it up. So I have to put up with a few ads there. (I signed up for it so long ago, however, that I was apparently spared the degree of highly nosy questions they now ask new signups to answer, the better to target marketing at you; this is a frequent complaint these days that's given as a reason why some people refuse to sign up with that service. Without signing up, you can still subscribe to a Yahoo Group by e-mail, but you don't have access to the Web interface to read archives and to modify configuration options regarding your subscriptions.)
Given that most of the stuff in most people's e-mailboxes these days is outright spam, the presence of minor advertising at the bottom of normal messages seems like a fairly minor problem in comparison, anyway.
Next: Along with signatures and ads, disclaimers sometimes get tacked onto the bottom of messages, often at the insistence of corporate attorneys. Is there any sense to this?
This page was first created 01 Jun 2003, and was last modified 17 Mar 2004.