"Oops", Formerly, ‘Found in My Inbox. An odd GMail "feature"’

Wow. Somewhere this post took a very, very wrong turn – behold the power of “digg”. I’m really wishing I could fast forward to April 1 and just drop an “April Fools” on everyone.

I’ll admit I was wrong in this case. The other user’s account was very, very similar to the account but not exact. It didn’t drop the e but there’s a repeated character that very easily gets ignored by your brain when you read the email address (for the sake of Ryan #2 I won’t out the exact address). I made the same mistake many of his contacts did when I went back and re-read our prior conversation about this mix-up and still didn’t catch the subtle difference.

After reading through the comments and then going back and looking very very closely I realized my mistake. I still think Gmail not recognizing the “.” is a silly feature – but they don’t have the issue that I mis-interpreted to be there. Sorry to Google.

I guess I “dug” myself a deep hole now. From what I can gather the only way to fill it in is to report the link as bad/lame – if visiting dig’s could also do that it would be great – no point in pushing this any further than it has already gone.

Original post below – I’ll admit I’m wrong, not hide it. I’ll leave the comments open for a bit.

– Ryan

Original (Incorrect) Post:

I use “feature” in the loosest sense of the word.

In the big (ridiculous) GMail rush of ’04 I lucked into an invite through Blogger.com pretty early on and thought “What the heck?” and registered ryan.coleman@. I never really used it as I’m very much a “Push to Me” kind of guy when it comes to info – out of sight, out of mind.

So, a few months went by where I didn’t check the account. I logged in and to my surprise found 100 or so emails in my inbox. Odd, since I hadn’t really given the email out except to a couple of people. Odder still, it wasn’t Spam – my inbox was full of someone else’s email.


Having been a former “Media Arts” student I can’t say there wasn’t a certain enjoyment to seeing the other Ryan’s life playing out as he worked his way into the film industry – I did feel bad because there was some fairly sensitive stuff coming through the pipe (scripts etc.). I fired him off an email at his correct address (ryancoleman@) to let him know, and replied to some of the more important looking emails to let them know they got the wrong Ryan and to try his correct address.

I just wrote it off as someone accidentally giving out the wrong address and tried to help get it sorted out. Finished. Right?

I wish.

I logged in today after several months and again I’ve got an inbox full of his email again. Needless to say I figured something else was up other than simply giving someone the wrong email address (especially since you’d have to add the “.” to mine so it’s not like people were omitting it from his or something). I looked a little closer at who people were actually trying to email and sure enough they were sending messages to ryancoleman@, not ryan.coleman@ – so clearly there’s a bug of some sort.

Determined to now get to the bottom of this (and thus spending far too much time dealing with a free email account I don’t use) I dug into the Google Help knowledge base where I found this gem:

Why am I receiving someone else’s email?
You aren’t really. If you receive a message that is addressed to a variation of your email address, it might seem like you are getting someone else’s mail, but we promise you aren’t.

Gmail doesn’t recognize dots (.) as characters within usernames, so you can add and remove them, creating many email address variations.

For example, messages sent to GoogleAmy@gmail.com and Google.Amy@gmail.com are delivered to the same inbox.

For your protection, you can’t log in to your account using a variation of your address – you’ll need to enter the exact username you used to create your account. If you entered dots as part of your username when you signed up for Gmail, please enter them each time you log in to your account.

If you believe that a message was accidentally sent to you, you may want to contact the sender to inform him or her of an incorrect address.

Source: GMail “Help”

Sorry, come again? This is a “feature”???

I find it amusing that the system is picky about what email address you use to log in but it doesn’t care where the mail ends up (I tried ryancoleman@ with my password and it thankfully didn’t work) but doesn’t care about where it sends the email to.

What boggles the mind even more is why Google even let two of us register variants of the same email address when they knew full well that mail sent to either account would go to both.

PIA factor aside this was actually a major security issue – had people realised this early on they could have easily gone and deliberately registered mirror accounts and been privy to all their email. Thankfully that loophole seems to be closed as I tried creating variants of my account with “.” in a different spot, and also new uniquely named accounts with a “.” and trying to create a mirror with no “.” – all with no luck.

I’m going to email their support department and see what I hear back – thankfully I’ve never made major use of my gmail account so if I have to give it up it’s not the end of the world – I was there first but he’s actually making use of it. But really, at this stage post-gmail frenzy, I’d be lucky to get ryancolemanYYZ9283984292@gmail.com.

So if you’ve got an original gmail account, be aware – someone else could be getting your mail too.

ETA: Woah – that blew up a little bigger than expected. I’m still waiting to hear back from Google to see what, if anything is going on here. I’ll post if I get a response.

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  • Anonymous

    that is crazy. i just successfully reproduced what you are reporting.

  • No Privacy

    that is strange

  • sucks2beyou

    Maybe you should ask them for a refund, Trev.

  • Anonymous

    Have you verified that ryancoleman@ is in fact an email address? I.e. have you received a response back from him? Because I don’t think you’re correctly interpreting what’s happening.

    Google’s “ignoring” of the period is in fact a feature. If you tell someone that you’re email address is “ryan dot coleman@”, and they forget the period, you still get the email. In fact, you would get email sent to “r.y.a.n.c.o.l.e.m.a.n.@”, which makes it pretty useful for posting your email on blogs without fear of getting spammed (because most email harvesters won’t recognize email addresses with multiple periods, and will probably interpret the address to be “n.@”.

    Anyways, there should not be any other email address “ryancoleman@”. Emails sent to “ryancoleman@” should go to you. So you sending an email to “ryancoleman@” is just sending yourself an email.

  • lvc

    Tryed it, confirmed it. INCREDIBLE !!!

  • Philipp

    How can you know there is a Gmail user who registered as “ryancoleman@gmail.com”? You may know that people tried to send emails to that address — which landed in your inbox, which is indeed an older Gmail feature — but how can you be sure those people didn’t simply got the email wrong? (E.g. maybe it was ryancoleman@yahoo.com.) I’m not saying I doubt this is a bug, I just would like to know if the other Ryan Coleman ever responded to you — e.g. by phone, if email is buggy — so that you have proof.

  • Anonymous

    “Found in Translation” follows one person’s travels through the weird and wonderful world of translation, localization & globalization as he co-launches a new company and learns just how much he doesn’t know about the rest of the world.

    Add “reading comprehension” to that list.

  • Matt

    This happens to me also, and I act as clearing-house to a couple of other matt’s. So far (I think) we have all excepted it with good humour and blamed it on the senders. I had no clue it was down to Google. Good grief!

  • Anonymous

    I knew about this and find it very useful. if I sign up with a suspect website I can give a address such as myname.sitename@gmail.com.

    If I get spam to that address I know where it came from!
    michael

  • kwanbis

    exactly, this is a know feature. i don’t think you could register

    jhon.doe@gmail.com

    if there is already a johndoe@gmail.com

    try it.

  • Matt

    Hey Matt, you are late in getting me some of my email… could you check and forward it on?

  • Anonymous

    I have a similar style gmail account, first.last@gmail.com
    But when I send an email to firstlast@gmail.com. I don’t see it in my inbox! Not much of a feature when someone else is reading your email.

  • Jason

    I just tested this for my inbox , nothing happened….

    hmmmmmm.

  • geeky

    i wonder if this is related to the gmail problems i had lately…

    i was recieving someone else’s email, like you. i was convinced they had me confused with someone else. i finally got in touch with the sender and got to the bottom of the problem (i think). my email is firstname.lastname@, and they were trying to send email to lastname.firstname@. i didn’t save any of the emails, so i can’t confirm which address they were emailing. i have since stopped recieving the emails, so i guess whatever caused it has been resolved.

  • Ryan

    As I mentioned in my edited post I’m waiting to hear back from Google.

    Honestly I hope I’m wrong – and will cop to it if I am.

    Jeez word moves fast on these Internets.

  • Anonymous

    This happens to me too. I registered first.last@gmail in June 04. About 4 months later I started getting tons of email for someone else. I noticed it was addressed to firstlast@gmail. I too found the gmail help note re: the “.” and thought there must’ve been some early bugginess. I tried emailing firstlast@gmail and I didn’t receive it in my inbox, but also received no reply. I began replying to every wrong email asking that the person contact their friend for the correct address. That’s gotten things down to only a small trickle, but maybe firstlast just decided to use a different address now…? I kept meaning to contact Google, but never got around to it.

  • David Reitter

    sounds to me like there is no ryancoleman at all. i’ve known this feature for quite some time, it’s useful and definitely not a bug.

    i guess the other ryan gave out a wrong e-mail address, or people are just sending stuff to @gmail instead of @hotmail or whatever.

  • Jack Doyle

    I am doyle.jack. I just sent an email to doylejack and it came directly to me. Seems to work like it’s supposed to as far as I can tell.

  • Anonymous

    hm. that’s funny. i “own” my.name@gmail.com (insert my name into my.name). i sent an email from my.name@gmail.com to myname@gmail.com. still haven’t received it. as the blog says, you can’t login to my.name with myname, but i checked to see if myname was available. it’s not. i wonder if that’s a gmail “security feature” or if it’s another account in use.

  • Matt Harris

    This is actually a feature – not a bug!

    You have rights to firstlast@gmail.com, first.last@gmail.com, f.irstlast@gmail.com or any other combination.

    View my post about it here: http://www.focusontheclouds.com/home/articles/78/not-receiving-other-peoples-gmail

  • Anonymous

    A lot of you are misunderstanding this… Yes, we know it’s a feature, but early subscribers ran into some sort of bug related to this feature, which allowed gmail to assign accounts to both first.last@gmail and firstlast@gmail.

    My address is first.last@gmail, but I get a lot of email for someone else addressed to firstlast@gmail. While it’s possible that there is no one signed up as firstlast@gmail and it’s just people making mistakes, that’s extremely unlikely… I’ve gotten personal mail to this address from at least 30 different people, and based on content, you can tell it’s for the same person. Also, when I send email to firstlast, it doesn’t come to me. With so many other people reporting this problem, it doesn’t seem like a fluke. I’d be curious to hear what Google has to say.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t read thru all the entries, but the solution seems obvious to me … don’t use a name that others use … use a “nickname”.

  • Matt Harris

    That’s what I believed at first as well, because the nature of the messages was always personal – here are pictures of my baby, here are notes from the meeting, here are details on our cruise, etc… Often I was cc’d with just one or two other people in an e-mail which seemed to be amoung friends.

    But after some investigation – particularly reading the Google Help and the fact that everyone one of my inquisitions to first.last@gmail.com went to me, it became obvious that is was not a bug, but in fact a feature.

  • Anonymous

    To those of you experimenting with this, try emailing to your Gmail address from a DIFFERENT email account (your work email, Hotmail, whatever). You’ll receive all combinations of your Gmail address, as expected.

  • en3r0

    I really really hope someones not geting my e-mails!

    great bug find, I hope google fixes this ‘feature’.

  • Anonymous

    I have exactly the same issue, like you I always put it down to someone mistyping the email address because the emails I got were definately genuine emails meant for someone else not just general spam.

    Glad I don’t use the account much.

  • Anonymous

    I like how you go so far as to post Google’s reply to this “problem” and then instantly write it off. I don’t see how they could have worded it any more clearly, YOU ARE NOT GETTING SOMEONE ELSE’S MAIL.

  • Anonymous

    Folks, if you aren’t getting e-mail sent to yourself, check the All Mail folder. Google doesn’t record two copies of each mail sent to yourself.

  • Dustin Askins

    I just tested it to…
    1. Say I already have testemail@gmail.com
    2. I send an e-mail with a subject line of “test1” to testemail@gmail.com
    3. I send an e-mail with a subject line of “test2” to test.email@gmail.com
    Result: I receive both when logged into my testemail@gmail.com account

    To follow up:
    1. I tried to register test.email@gmail.com since I originally registered testemail@gmail.com
    Result: I could not register test.email@gmail.com

    Another test:
    1. I tried to logon to test.email@gmail.com using the same password I use for testemail@gmail.com
    Result: The sign-in tells me that the username and password don’t match and asks if I meant to sign in as testemail@gmail.com

    So…
    1. I receive all the e-mails sent to testemail@gmail.com and all the e-mails sent to test.email@gmail.com
    2. I am unable to register a new address as testemail@gmail.com
    3. I am unable to logon to test.email@gmail.com using my testemail@gmail.com password

    I also tested this vice-versa, where I originally registered something like test.googlemail@gmail.com instead of starting with something without a period.

    It all matches up with what Google’s knowledge base shows. So I’m led to believe that someone is flat-out typing in the wrong e-mail address for this guy. I bet he doesn’t spell his name with an ‘e’ in “Coleman” or something. Or like someone said above, they’re trying the wrong domain. Who knows? May this Ryan Coleman guy owns http://www.jeemail.com and is trying to have people e-mail him there.

    Sorry to chime in saying something others have already said above, but I thought Id just confirm it all.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting. I also registered with a firstname.lastname@gmail.com alias. I tried several experiments. First, I tried registering a new gmail account as firstnamelastname. This failed (thankfully). Then, I tried sending myself (from gmail) an email to firstnamelastname. After several minutes, I still haven’t received it. Hmmm. So, I tried sending an email to firstnamelastname from a different email account (not gmail based) and this did show up in my inbox. The other variants (extra “.”s in the name) also showed up as long as they were sent from some other client. So that may explain why forwarding the messages from within gmail essentially ended up in /dev/null. Are you sure the other account really exists? I would bet it doesn’t, and the other ryancoleman is giving out a bad email address.

  • Anonymous

    For all the people trying to send themselves an email in gmail and not receiving it, for some reason it only works if the email is sent from a different account.

  • Matt Cross

    I can confirm this. I registered ‘matt.cross@gmail.com’ early on, and it seems that there is also a ‘mattcross@gmail.com’, whose email I sometimes get, and who is clearly a different person.

    Hrm, a lot of people named Matt have this problem…

    I wonder if some early registrations were grandfathered such that the dot and non-dot variations of the name were both allowed to be registered, but you can’t register variations like that any more…

  • Ryan

    Post updated, I was wrong.

  • Anonymous

    the power of digg… glad you posted this correction and left your original post.

    wondering if anyone ever actually had this problem, or if they just misinterpreted it like you did.

  • Anonymous

    Gmail ignoring the dots is not a silly feature at all. This misadventure proves that similar addersses are quite error prone. If Gmail allowed joe.smith and joesmith as separate addresses, the problem of misaddressed mail would be so much worse.

  • Philipp

    Very good move to openly clarify like this! Keep it up.

  • Chris

    The reason you don’t receive email in your Inbox that you send to yourself is Gmail’s “mailing list” feature.

    http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6588&topic=1564

    Personally, I’d prefer to get the message in my Inbox, as some of the email lists I’m on can be flaky (blasted Yahoo! groups), and I’d like to know whether the relay took a minute or an hour.

  • Jonesy

    Ryan, did you ever get anywhere with this, I have been plagued by this problem for a long while (get all the emails from another user in the states and expect they get mine too).

    I was an early GMail user and registered xxx.yyyy@gmail.com.

    I am now considering legal action against Google as this is a clear violation of UK data protection laws and in fact Google’s own privacy policy.

    Did you have any actual real people to contact as opposed to the ridiculously useless GMail Help page endless loop?

  • http://ryancoleman.ca ryancoleman

    In the end the user causing the consfusion for my address had an extra c in his – so he was ryanCcoleman@ but he left out the extra c all the time (or his contacts do). I used to email back everyone and let them know it was the wrong person but I’ve mostly given up unless it looks really important. It’s only a few emails, once in a while now.