A domain dies

BitDepth#991 for June 02, 2015

Over the next four weeks, thousands of TSTT email users face the lockdown of their mail accounts as the service drifts inexorably to its final light. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Over the next four weeks, thousands of TSTT email users face the lockdown of their mail accounts as the service drifts inexorably to its final light. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

It isn’t every day that an entire email domain simply goes away, but that’s set to happen on June 30 when TSTT retires the @tstt.net.tt service it’s offered to its Internet customers for almost two decades.

When TSTT entered the ISP business, it did so on the heels of Opus Networx and Interserv, and a free email address was, back then, something of a selling point.

By 2007, when Google introduced its Google Apps Partner Edition (http://ow.ly/NFwFd), an email address had already become a seller’s commodity and one that Internet businesses saw as a way to seize and hold the attention and loyalty of customers.

People were getting used to using email for free, giving attention to web ads and surrendering a bit of privacy in exchange for an efficient, no-cost communications solution.

Today, the landscape is even more challenging for anyone hoping to make money from email services. Not only is the protocol generally regarded as something one gets for free, a new generation of young people rarely use it at all.

I can’t recall a time over the last five years when someone under 30 asked me for my email address as a way to contact me on the Internet.

All the email I get from that set is sent through mandated corporate channels along with dubiously legal disclaimers dutifully appended to their signatures.

I suspect for someone turning 21 this year, email must look like faxes did to the first generation to take to the web, a loony anachronism that one accepted with good humour and zipped lips.

On Friday, the company issued a press release announcing the imminent end of their email services.

From that perspective, the decision to retire their ISP mail service after Google announced the end of its free email support service for ISPs makes perfect sense.

Of course, so did the switch to Google for support services, in 2007.

In a post to Google’s blog on May 18, 2007, Product Manager Hunter Middleton promised in the avuncular style the company affected then, “You can quit spending your resources and time on applications like webmail – and leave the work to our busy bees at the Googleplex.”

Well, the Googleplex has moved on, and so too must TSTT.

At this point TSTT is probably managing a few thousand customers using the domain, some of whom may only rely on it intermittently.

Vinood Radge Coomar, EVP of Residential Services & Delivery for TSTT, declined to respond to a query about the exact number of persons affected by the shutdown of the company’s e-mail.

He did note, however, that, “Of the total number of email accounts provided, less than 18% are active so the majority of customers will not be affected by the discontinuation of the service.”

The problem it’s going to face over the next 28 days is that these are the customers who won’t understand a word of its extensive FAQs and will call for greater than normal handholding, quite possibly in person, before they can be happy customers again.

I know some of these people, and this is going to be a problem.

It’s curious that the company hasn’t chosen to continue offering the service.

It’s not as if it’s particularly difficult to do, nor for a small customer base, particularly expensive. The @wow.net email service lurched along for more than a decade after that ISP went out of business and anyone with a Mac can buy the server edition of the Mac OS (US$20), get a fixed IP address (not cheap, admittedly) and roll their own.

According to Mr Radge Coomar, of the cloud based services that ride the company’s networks, Google’s are the most popular.

“Three years ago TSTT also became a reseller of Google Apps for Business services as this type of value added service for collaboration and document sharing is not an area in which TSTT can compete effectively against such large operators,” he explained.

But hardware and software may not be all that TSTT has to consider here.

Over the next year, it will be parting company with a powerful business partner who isn’t leaving the business, just switching sides to become their rivals.

If TSTT doesn’t get lucky with courting a sugar daddy with deep pockets, it’s going to have to get used to living much leaner and worrying about email it doesn’t earn money from might be starting to look a lot like something it should be doing without.