What's the simplest email service?
August 24, 2009 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Email-filter: I have promised to help my aunt set up an email account. She is totally computer illiterate. Doesn't own a computer, probably doen't know how to turn one on, but wants to email her granddaughter who just started college. Help me pick the best email service for her!

I personally use Gmail, because I like all the features and tools and extras. But I'm trying to see this through her eyes: would these same features be overwhelming or confusing?

She'll be accessing the internet at the public library, so there should be a librarian nearby to assist, if she runs into trouble.

What email service is the simplest, most intuitive, and most beginner-friendly? Also, she'll probably go a good while between logging in -- I want to make sure her account won't be disabled if she goes a month w/o checking it.

posted by SuperErin to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
GMail should be fine. You also get the benefit that other people are likely to know how GMail works, so they will be able to assist her at the library.
posted by odinsdream at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2009

Gmail has the best spam filters, which are absolutely necessary, and the conversations should be helpful for her as well.
posted by kathrineg at 11:01 AM on August 24, 2009

If they're going to be providing most of the support, why not ask the folks at the public library which free-email service they encourage people to sign up for?
posted by box at 11:04 AM on August 24, 2009

You could also get her a presto machine if you feel like she won't stick to the e-mailing back part of the equation, or if she gets frustrated trying to learn. My grandma has one and it's awesome! She takes all of her e-mail print outs and puts them in a binder like a scrap book, it's cute.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 11:13 AM on August 24, 2009

I think yahoo is easiest to learn. I taught my mother using it. Though, I have since converted her to gmail. Plus, you can teach her about yahoo cribbage and she can beat me up on it!
posted by Draccy at 11:17 AM on August 24, 2009

I think gmail is great - but it's VERY confusing as it differs based upon their tabing structure. Although I like gmail bettery - I would agree that Yahoo is much easier to use based upon use within the Inbox. (I teach a class at a local Junior College to Adult and Senior student (non-credit) and this is the email system I use).
posted by lutzla23 at 11:19 AM on August 24, 2009

Alternative to the Presto machine is Celery, which I believe will work with any fax machine. (Of course, then you need to get her a fax machine... but may be cheaper in the long run, and you can use it for other stuff.)

Otherwise, I vote for Gmail or Yahoo Mail (Classic view). I consider myself extremely computer savvy but sometimes get confused by Gmail, but I think that's just because it's structured so differently from all other e-mail programs I've used. If she has no computer experience to begin with, she won't have anything to compare it to, so that shouldn't be an issue. I agree that the conversations in Gmail would probably be nice for her. Both are popular enough that a librarian or fellow library patron would be able to help her out. However, both will expire after a period of inactivity (Yahoo is 3 months, not sure how long it is for Gmail). Maybe if you know her password you could log in periodically to keep her accounts active if she's not checking often enough..?
posted by LolaGeek at 11:27 AM on August 24, 2009

I think Gmail for the conversation format and for it's easy address bar features. She can use everyone's full name instead of worrying about remembering confangled email addresses
posted by Think_Long at 11:30 AM on August 24, 2009

You may have to look into "email appliances" in order to ease her into the sphere of pc's

In my experience, there's such a jump for the non-pc folks to leap to email, that something which is dedicated to email usage may just whet their appetite for more...

W/ my mom (age 70 now)... I had to first buy her an "Audrey" - look em up... they're pretty cool java based appliances... she loved it. It was a really really dumbed down terminal that did some rudamentary searches, web stuff... and email! It was simple enough that she decided to try a mac next... brother in law got tired of providing support for the MAC eventually and transitioned her to a PC (his office switched to PC... so it was easier - he's still stuck as PC Support person)... but that was 10 years ago that all this started... dunno what's out there now for the dedicated email clients with limited functionality? I know there's a mobile device or two that seem nice for this?

good luck.
posted by Jiff_and_theChoosyMuthers at 11:30 AM on August 24, 2009

PawPawMail ?
posted by frescaanddietcoke at 11:32 AM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Echoing GMAIL! As pointed out, its anti-spam abilities make it much preferable to yahoo email, in my experience supporting use of both systems. Yahoo trad interface is a little easier to start using, but gets so bogged down in spam.
posted by anadem at 11:41 AM on August 24, 2009

What about Facebook? It has built in messaging. I don't know if that would be more confusing or less confusing for her, but since it has some walled garden aspects, I suspect it may be a little easier. Plus, she doesn't have to figure out attachments to see photos and the like, and she can catch up on her grand kids even if they don't think to write her expressly.
posted by willnot at 11:45 AM on August 24, 2009

I like Gmail. The presto is an interesting alternative, and probably the one with the lowest learning curve. Another idea would be to get her a dedicated e-mail gadget like the Peek.
posted by adamrice at 11:56 AM on August 24, 2009

My grandparents have a Mail Station - a dedicated email appliance that they use to keep in touch with their kids and grandkids. I'm not even sure if you can buy them new anymore, they've had it for years and it just works.
posted by COD at 11:56 AM on August 24, 2009

I second box-- ask the local librarians which service folks like your aunt find easiest to use. And I also agree with the LolaGeek's Yahoo classic view suggestion. GMail's format is confusing even for the moderately savvy user.

If your aunt becomes a frequent e-mailer you can switch her over to the new Yahoo interface, which enables users to use all sorts of stationery.
posted by vincele at 12:00 PM on August 24, 2009

Gmail is most popular at my library. It's a little bit simpler than Yahoo's new interface (which actively baffles many an email newbie).
A lot of libraries have free computer classes. I'd recommend signing her up for something like that. Library staff don't always have time to hold your hand all the way through the email process, especially in these days of budget cuts, layoffs, and record numbers of people using the library.
posted by willpie at 12:00 PM on August 24, 2009

I think that willnot's suggestion re Facebook is a great idea.

I would also second the Mivo MailStation. My mom has had one for a number of years now, and it is still working. She can use it while sitting in her favorite easy chair. Several attempts to upgrade her from the Mivo to Gmail have been unsuccessful. No web access with Mivo -- dedicated to email only, which also limits attachments, pictures etc. -- but for email it definitely works (referring here to an old model -- newer model may be more advanced in terms of Web access, etc).
posted by littlecatfeet at 12:14 PM on August 24, 2009

The Peek mobile email handheld is pretty cool. It's got a nice little keyboard, service is $15-20 a month running off T-mobile's network and you can pick the devices up from $10-20 at places like Target. It's not going to be fast enough for a Blackberry fiend, but handles email and JPGs just fine.

posted by clango at 12:17 PM on August 24, 2009

I am a complete geek, but would recommend a Peek for anyone! I have one, my wife has one, and I hate leaving home without it (We are not cell phone people, so the Peek does exactly what I want - email!)

The only thing I'd caution is that someone with a computer might be needed to set up the Peek, as I recall having to go online to activate the device (though maybe there's a phone number for the computer deficient).
posted by newfers at 1:23 PM on August 24, 2009

I don't think the facebook suggestion is that bad if the granddaughter uses it. However, I'm guessing someone entering college will be experiencing certain things the might not want to, or should share them with grandma. Of course, she could control what grandma saw, but she might not know how or have the desire to do so. Also, facebook might be overkill.

I love gmail and it's what I use, but I think those calling it simple are completely off their rocker. I think it's tough for those answering to understand and put themselves in the shoes of someone with NO computer experience. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure grandma is a smart cookie, and could figure out gmail. But if you go that route make sure help is readily available. She'll no doubt need it.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 2:25 PM on August 24, 2009

I love gmail and it's what I use, but I think those calling it simple are completely off their rocker.

yep. I just tried to set up an account for my disabled mother and it was definitely not simple. It's full of tabs and options, and sometimes tries to be cute, and is sometimes buggy. Good on the spam filter, but otherwise, not great.

Also, it isn't that intuitive sometimes. For instance, if you have a conversation by email the oldest part of the conversation might show up on top. If someone forwards her something and she replies and the person replies again, it will still say it is from the original writer in the mailbox. Stuff like that.

Unfortunately I don't have a good answer to this question, came in hoping to find out the secret "easy for people who just want email / video chat but can't handle gmail and the internet" thing I don't know about.
posted by mdn at 3:36 PM on August 24, 2009

so there should be a librarian nearby to assist, if she runs into trouble.

Depending where you live this may or may not be the case. I sign up people for My First Email accounts in public libraries all the time and have been doing it for a deceade. I suggest either

- gmail [mostly text based ads, pretty standard interface] or
- whatever you use and can help her with over the phone

There is no Simple Web Mail at this point. When you sign her up for an account, make sure you write down for her

- her email address [help her pick one she can remember]
- her login [i.e. just the username]
- her password

If you can, go with her to set up the account and get it set up slightly nicely for her including

- an easy to read theme
- turn off web clips and snippets [I find that people find them confusing]
- put some addresses into her contacts list
- show her how to read, save, delete and "file" a message
- show her how to read and send an attachment

If you still have her password and she's okay with this, you can even do tech support by logging in with her [while on the phone or something] and showing her how to do things like filter her messages, send mailing list mail to a "folder" tell the difference between reply and reply-to-all and follow a link in her email.

Gmail has a bunch of clicky nonsense and ajax-y stuff but it doesn't have a shitton of graphical confusing advertisements and when you log in you see your inbox [does not happen with Yahoo] which I think is useful for people. Good luck, feel free to ask me if you have more questions.
posted by jessamyn at 4:12 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Did this with my dad and gmail last year; he loved it, found it much simpler than his previous attempts with outlook, yahoo etc.
posted by smoke at 6:12 PM on August 24, 2009

frescaanddietcoke didn't describe it, so I'm afraid it's going to get lost in the shuffle, but pawpawmail is exactly, exactly what you're looking for. It's webmail designed for seniors, so it is very, very simple. And it allows somebody else (that would be you, OP!) to be a "manager" --- to set up the user's address book and to filter incoming mail if you wish. It also takes any incoming photos and puts them into very easy-to-view photo albums.

What's the catch? It's not free. There's a monthly fee. But it may be worth it for some folks...
posted by wyzewoman at 6:58 PM on August 24, 2009

Hi, any room in the rowboat for me?

Question about peek - do we need a specific account for email or can I simply point an octogenarian's email account (currently AOL) at this device or pickup the email from AOL using this device? Looking at the $20 Peek Classic.

Our problem is no easy connectivity (old hardware, don't want to spend hundreds on a new machine and AOL dial-up service) so Peek Classic might do?

Much thanks!
posted by tilde at 9:22 PM on August 24, 2009

Never mind. AOL is doubleplus good with them - I just had to navigate some (arrrrgh!) Flash-based "information" pages.
posted by tilde at 9:24 PM on August 24, 2009

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