You need an email address to do just about anything on the Web, from sending messages to banking online to creating a Facebook account. In the early days of the Internet, the easiest way to get a personal email address was through your Internet service provider (ISP). For example, if your Internet was provided by AOL, your email address might have looked something like this:
Today, there are many different options when it comes to choosing an email service.
Webmail refers to any email service you can access through your web browser (think Internet Explorer or Google Chrome). Some of the most well-known webmail providers include Gmail, Outlook.com (formerly known as Hotmail), and Yahoo! Mail.
All of these services are free to use. Because you can access them through your web browser, you can check your email just about anywhere—at home, at work, or on the go!
Providing email service isn't a big priority for many ISPs; as a result, the technology they use isn't always up to date, which introduces some potential problems. For example:
One other thing to keep in mind: ISP email addresses have become much less common over the past several years. While there's nothing wrong with using an email address from your ISP, it may lead some to assume you're a bit old-fashioned.
Here are some of the advantages of free webmail over ISP email:
These webmail services have a lot of good features, but that doesn't mean they're perfect. To help offset the cost of their free service, all of the providers mentioned above will display advertising in your email inbox.
For some services, like Gmail, this means a computer will look for keywords in your email messages to show you relevant ads. This doesn't mean anyone is actually reading your private messages, but it does make some users uncomfortable.
In our opinion, the convenience of free webmail outweighs its disadvantages. Still, if you'd prefer to use a webmail service that doesn't show advertisements, we recommend one of the services below. However, note that these services are not free to use.
If you're ready to get started with a new email provider, simply visit its website and look for an option to sign up or create an account. If you'd like to see step-by-step instructions, you can review this lesson from our Gmail tutorial. The process will be relatively similar for other webmail services.
Ready to learn more about how email works and how to use webmail services like Gmail? Check out our Email 101 and Gmail tutorials!