How E-mail Works

By: Marshall Brain & Tim Crosby

Free and Paid E-mail Services

Services such as Google and Yahoo! provide free e-mail accounts for subscribers.
Services such as Google and Yahoo! provide free e-mail accounts for subscribers.
Image courtesy of Google

Whether it's for work or keeping in touch with family and friends, people rely on the Internet to send and receive e-mail messages. According to a March 2007 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 91 percent of U.S. Internet users have gone online to send or read e-mail. The same source reports that 56 percent of e-mail users send or read e-mail as part of a typical day [source: Email Marketing Reports].

An October 2007 study by the market research firm, The Radicati Group, reported that 183 billion e-mails were sent daily in 2006. With numbers like that, it's no surprise that there's a large variety of e-mail service providers to choose from. Choices include providers like Gmail or Yahoo! who provide free e-mail service or providers who charge a fee like America Online, Apple or NetZero.


Gmail and Yahoo! make money from advertisers who pay them to expose e-mail account holders to their messages. It's also easy to find reviews of various free e-mail services. Here are few descriptions of free e-mail services:

  • Gmail -- Gmail is Google's free e-mail service. It offers online storage that's practically unlimited. It also provides sorting methods that allows users to quickly organize and sift their inbox efficiently for important messages. As a free service, Gmail exposes users to contextual advertisements, which are based on keywords found in the user's e-mail messages. It's versatile in handling many different attachment types and scans for spam, worms and virus.
  • Yahoo! mail -- Perhaps one of the most popular free services, Yahoo! offers unlimited online storage as well as text messaging and RSS news feeds. Using more than a dozen filters, Yahoo! files incoming e-mails and automatically sends junk e-mails to a spam folder and allows you to add e-mails to that folder. It features easy-to-use drag and drop organization tools.
  • MSN Windows Hotmail -- Another well-used free service, Hotmail is supported by Microsoft technology and features 5 GB of online storage space. A versatile desktop design allows users to customize the color and layout of their mail manager. It also offers users the choice of working a classic, familiar format and switching to an updated look with added features when they choose. Microsoft security features coupled with familiar drag-and-drop organization tools add further comfort-of-use for many e-mail users.

E-mail providers who charge a fee may offer additional services such as increased storage space. Sample providers include Juno, EarthLink and

For example, it's easier to get personalized e-mail addresses -- perhaps incorporating your actual name, for instance - using a paid service. Paid e-mail services often allow users to keep their same e-mail address even if they change their ISP and screen users from advertisers. They often are easier to reach on support issues and special features such as custom spam filters, additional e-mail accounts and mobile access.

Most ISP Internet providers can also serve as an e-mail provider for no additional charge. Other paid e-mail services specialize in small business accounts and can assist businesses in purchasing and maintaining a domain name.

On the next page, we'll offer some etiquette tips for when you write and send e-mail messages.