Finding Someone's Email AddressCopyright 1999 Kaitlin Duck Sherwood
You might also like A Beginner's Guide to Effective Email.
Understanding Email AddressesTo be able to start looking for someone's address, you need to understand how email addresses are composed. In general, email addresses have two parts: your email name (also called user name or email ID) and your email domain, separated by an @: emailName@emailDomain.
Domains are unique identifiers for the organization that manages the email accounts. They are covered more extensively in Domain Names. Some examples are
- whitehouse.gov - the United States White House
- ibm.com - International Business Machines, Incorporated
- aol.com - America On-Line internet access provider
- arc.nasa.gov - the Ames Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Association
The email specifications clearly state that email IDs are allowed to be case sensitive. (Thanks to Phil Smith III for correcting me on this!) However, in practice email IDs are case insensitive also. I've never seen an Internet Service Provider of any sort that distinguished between upper- and lower-case letters in the email ID.
Finding Email Addresses
Many people are disappointed that there is not a master list of all the email addresses in the world. There isn't one for much the same reason that there isn't a book that has the work telephone number for every person in the world. To make such a master email directory complete, every organization that provides email service for its members would have to submit all additions or removals to a master list. Not only would this be a headache for every email service, but some international body would have to be created to administer it.
Who would pay for maintaining the master list? Who would make sure that the master list wasn't abused? Many people would feel that such a list would be an inappropriate use of private information. They would go whatever lengths that they could to keep their email address out of the database. Therefore, you will have to resort to one of the following methods to find your correspondent's address.
If you have email from a correspondent, finding his or her address is trivial. There should be a line somewhere that starts with From: and has an email address after it. All of the following are legal From: lines for a woman named Mabel Garcia who has the email address firstname.lastname@example.org:
From: Mabel Garcia <email@example.com> From: "Mabel Garcia" <firstname.lastname@example.org> From: email@example.com From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mabel Garcia)
If there are angle brackets (<>), ignore them. They frame the email address but are not part of it. Anything in parentheses (( )) is purely advisory, not part of the email address. The From: line may also have a "real name."
The next best way to find people's email addresses is to ask them. If they refuse to tell you, you shouldn't send them email. That could be considered stalking, which is illegal in some places. If you can't ask them for some reason, there are some other things you can try.
There are some directories of email addresses, but they are limited. They find email addresses in a number of ways, but most of them watch Usenet newsgroups and by snooping around Web pages. (Individuals can also volunteer their email addresses to the directories if they want to be found.) If your correspondent posts to newsgroups or has a web page, these directories will probably find him or her.
Here are some Web directories that you can use to look for an address:Search Aids section of Yahoo.
You might also be able to find them with two kinds of online phonebooks called Ph and LDAP. Ph and LDAP are tools commonly used by large organizations to keep their internal phonebooks on-line. (Ph was around before the Web; LDAP is more recent. Both can be accessed through the Web.) Universities particularly like using Ph or LDAP, since they have large, changing, and publicly-available phonebooks. The eMailman site has lists of the public Ph and LDAP and directories.
Another way to look for someone's email address is to search for their name on the Web. For example, if you are looking for your aunt Mabel Garcia, you could search the Web for "Mabel Garcia". The pages that have her name on it might have an email address for her. Or, they might tell you what organization she is affiliated with, which will help in guessing her address. Be careful, however. It might be a different person with the same name.Here are a few search engines that you can try:
If you can't find the person, try variants of the name. For example, if you can't find "Robert Garcia", try "Bob Garcia", "Bobby Garcia", "Rob Garcia", and "Robby Garcia".
You can also try guessing at an email address. The worst that can happen is that you'll reach someone else who might get very confused (and/or not answer). Another possibility is that the mail will bounce, i.e. be returned to you. Neither outcome will be particularly painful for you, so guessing is worth trying. This section will show how to guess corporate and academic accounts.
Corporate Email Accounts
Many companies have their email receiving system set up so that if it doesn't recognize an email address, it hunts around until it finds an address that is close. If your correspondent is likely to get his or her email through work, first figure out what the domain name is by making a few guesses and searching for a Web page with that domain name. (For more information on understanding domain names, see Domain Names.)
Even if your message doesn't reach Aunt Mabel, you may get an automated response with more information. The response might tell you what Aunt Mabel's address is, or it might explain how to figure it out.
- last (family) name
- first (given) name plus last initial
- first initial plus last name
- last name plus first initial
It is rare to have any characters other than letters and numbers in an email ID, although periods ( . ), underscores ( _ ), and hyphens ( - ) show up occasionally. It is extremely rare in English-speaking countries to have any other characters in the email ID.
The bigger and more high-tech a company is, the more likely that it will have implemented the firstname.lastname or firstname_lastname scheme for looking up email addresses. Bigger companies are more likely to require that all email addresses follow one of the above schemes. However, the bigger a company, the more likely that extra characters may be inserted in order to make the address unique. Suppose that when Aunt Mabel joined Thrombles Corp., there was already a Maureen Garcia whose email address was
If Aunt Mabel is a student, teacher, or staff member at a university, you may be in luck. Most universities have some sort of email directory. For example, see the University of Illinois' online phone book.
To find the phone book, find the university's web site and then hunt around a little bit. Usually, universities list their directories or phone books on their top page.
If you can't find their directory, you can guess at the email ID, using the same kinds of rules as above. For example, if Mabel is a professor at the (imaginary) University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, her address might be one of the following:
If your aunt has a very distinctive nickname that she uses all the time, try that. If, for example, your aunt has always been called "Marbles", try using that as her email ID. Aunt Mabel might have the address
If all else fails, you could try to get Aunt Mabel to come to you. Publish a Web page that has the title, "Desperately Seeking Mabel Garcia" and that says, "I'm looking for my aunt. Her name is Mabel Garcia. If you are she, or know where she is, please send me email." Then, if she ever goes ego-surfing -- looking for her own name on the Web -- she'll see your message.
This tactic may work, but are three potential problems to be aware of. The first is that you have no idea how long it will take her to look for her name. She might never go ego-surfing. Second, she might not respond. Maybe she just doesn't like you. Third, this will get your email address out on the Web, and you will probably start getting spam - unsolicited commercial email.
SummaryTo find a friend's email address, you can
- Find your friend's address in a message that they sent you
- Ask your friend for their address
- Look in a directory
- Search the Web
- Lay ego-surfing bait
Copyright 1999 by Kaitlin Duck Sherwood