Why I Recommend Fastmail

For almost a decade I’ve been using Fastmail as my email provider. Switching to Fastmail followed 15 years of various and sundry ways of hosting my own email, on various and sundry hosts I owned or controlled, some of which were located 10 feet below where I’m writing this in my near-200-year-old clay-floored basement (perhaps the least optimal place for a missing-critical data centre).

Eventually the weight, emotionally and technically, of self-hosting my email—managing spam, primarily, but also keeping my SMTP and IMAP servers up to date—got the best of me, and I went looking for something I could pay for that would relieve my of all that. At the time there were a lot of bloggerati recommending Fastmail, and so that’s where I ended up. I’ve never been unhappy I made the switch: Fastmail has “just worked” from the beginning, and it has continued to evolve its user interface, its functionality, and its support systems over the last 10 years. I wholeheartedly recommend it to people who come looking to me as an alternative to using “free” services—Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, or their Internet provider’s locked-in email systems.

Many years ago my friend Stephen went to a conference of librarians in Winnipeg. He flew on CP Air, which tells you how long ago it was. Something got bungled on his return flight, and he got bumped. But CP made the bumping so effortless and beneficial to him—the compensation he was offered was enormous for the time, enough to fly almost anywhere, for free, that CP flew—that his story about the trip, which could have been a negative one, was, instead, unreservedly positive. He told it many times over.

Last week, Fastmail had a rare outage that affected a small percentage of users. Fastmail itself wasn’t down, but it remained unreachable to parts of the Internet, including my own, and so I was left without email for a good chunk of a day. It was a pain in the ass, especially when I needed my email to receive things like TFA codes to login to websites. The experience didn’t sour me on Fastmail, but it did make a dent.

Today, though, Fastmail published an account of the outage. It’s well-written, clear, and technically detailed. And it’s honest.

Beyond being data mines for advertising (and, presumably, AI-model-training), “free” email services are also opaque technically. The reason I maintained my own servers for so long was because I wanted to understand (and control) something so vital to me; I wanted to have eyes-on the infrastructure. I don’t have the same degree of control with Fastmail, but when Fastmail publishes a diagram of its network, by way of explaining what went wrong, it gives me comfort that there are real people operating real networks and data centres, people that I can contact for support, and people that care that my email doesn’t go away, because I’m paying them to do that.

In documenting the outage, Fastmail did for me what CP Air did for my friend Stephen, turning a negative into a positive, and prompting me to laud rather than lament them. If you’re looking for a new home for your email, go there.


josh's picture
josh on July 9, 2023 - 15:44 Permalink

"Missing-critical" belongs on your list of greatest serendipitous typos.