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Janet Roberts

In the Ring with AOL
By Janet Roberts

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Hear that low thump-thump in the background? That's publisher Sandy S., banging her head against the wall in frustration after trying to work with America Online, which blocked her newsletter to all of her AOL subscribers.

Sandy has kept me in the loop about her ongoing long-distance relationship with AOL, which has been as frustrating as the email blocking.

Cut to the chase: AOL eventually unblocked her newsletter to all subscribers. Now, however, it is not delivering Sandy's replies to AOL readers' emails, which is an essential part of her newsletter program.

At this point, I have run out of advice for her. Perhaps someone who has won this battle with AOL might be able to offer a hand. Send your suggestions here.

What Sandy's experience shows is that you will have to elevate to telephone support or to a live-chat session on AOL to get any real solutions.

Both entail some expense if you are neither in the United States (AOL either doesn't offer toll-free service in other countries, or it never caught Sandy's reminders that she lives outside the U.S.) nor an AOL subscriber.

Even if you haven't faced this problem from AOL, you should take a minute or two to see what Sandy has done, what resources AOL does offer for publishers and what's ahead with the new AOL 9.0, which offers a new twist on filtering. (Hint: Think SpamAssassin.)

Round One: Blocked by AOLM

Sandy publishes the twice-weekly NameThatMovie newsletter from her home in Australia. It's a great little guessing-game newsletter, in which she gives the plots and some general background information about two films -- from classics to recent releases -- and asks readers to guess the films.

Winners earn points and a place in the Hall of Fame at Sandy's Web site. No prizes, no fees, just a pleasant diversion and a chance to test yourself against other NameThatMovie readers.

According to AOL, though, Sandy is a spammer, because it blocked her newsletter repeatedly to all her AOL subscribers over the last several weeks.

Most email publishers have seen the occasional Mailer-Daemon bounce message, warning that a particular subscriber's address rejected a mailing, or an address was unknown disabled. Having all addresses blocked, however, is a serious issue.

Round Two: Tech-Support Merry-Go-Round

Sandy began corresponding with an ever-changing round of tech- support people, who sent her genial but useless form letters that referred her to AOL bulk-email policy but didn't answer her problem. (Insult to injury: The letters used an outdated URL that returned a 404 page error.)

Tech support also referred Sandy to AOL's telephone support line and to its Live Chat line at AOL. The phone call is not toll-free from Australia, and Sandy is not an AOL customer.

Sandy replied to each email and eventually linked up with a representative who figured out the problem and was able to get the newsletter unblocked.

Round Three: Something Went Wrong

Although AOL now allows the newsletter through, it has begun blocking Sandy's individual email replies to her subscribers. It is an essential part of Sandy's program, because she lets each subscriber know if he or she guessed right and if she awarded any bonus points. Also, several readers have told her they can't get to her Web site through AOL's browser.

Her latest attempts to correct this problem have sent her back to the tech-support merry-go-round. One of her AOL faithful did try the live-chat option and got the same information Sandy received in her portfolio of form-letter responses.

She also has had her own ISP checked to make sure it's not on any major blacklists -- it isn't -- and she has run out of ideas.

Did we mention that AOL often bounced her replies to its tech- support address as "mailbox not found?"

AOL Resources

If you're not familiar with AOL's email practices, you'll find an explanation here.

Here's a troubleshooting guide.

Information for sending HTML email.

Legal information, policies and decisions.

Need to call the AOL Postmaster Help Desk? Here are two numbers, both U.S.-based:
(toll call) 1-703-265-4670
(toll free in the U.S.) 1-888-212-5537

Some readers have reported problems at those numbers, either in long wait times or inadequate help.

Ezine-Tips for September 30, 2003

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