Created: 06 Aug 1998 ::: Last updated: 02 May 2007
Applies to: Win95 Win98 WinMe Win 2000/NT WinXP WinVista MacOS
By Andy Walker
Question: I'm looking for a friend's e-mail address. He's not answering at the one I have, and I'm not getting a message back saying that the message failed to deliver, either. Is there some place I can look to find him in case he's changed his address, or to verify that the one I have is correct? —DHW
Answer: While e-mail is the most commonly used tool on the Internet, it's surprisingly frustrating to use when you run into a problem like yours. This is because there's no huge e-mail directory anywhere on the Internet. The network is too vast and changes too quickly for such a thing to exist with any degree of reliability.
There is a directory standard. It’s called X.500. It allows Internet e-mail providers to list all their members in a format that all other services can read. Whether that will ever turn into an immense e-mail White Pages remains to be seen. So you're stuck with doing a bit of detective work.
First, here are some basic things to check about their address to be certain that you haven't mistyped it. All Internet e-mail addresses follow these rules:
- There are no spaces in them.
- There are no special characters or punctuation other than periods (.) and the @ sign.
- There are always two parts to them divided by an "@" sign.
Take email@example.com, which is the address you'd use to send me questions.
The part before the @ sign is the name or alias of the person. It is usually some form of their name, or their position at the company where they work. In the case of personal e-mail addresses, it can be their nickname or any word they've selected to identify themselves.
After the @ sign is their domain name. That's usually made up of two pieces of information, but can be even three or four, separated by periods (also called just "dots" when they're in an e-mail address).
The rule of thumb is two parts, though. For example, cyberwalker.com is made up of two parts—the first part is the name of the organization, and the second is a top-level domain name, which describes the type of organization. If you saw cyberwalker.net, ".net" refers to a network. But more commonly, you'll see .com which means company or commercial, or in Canada, .ca, which means a Canadian top level domain. Other countries have their own two-letter top-level domain designator.
Once you've determined that the address has no typos, the next step can go in any number of directions.
Let us say your friend's e-mail account is firstname.lastname@example.org. Is xyz.com Bob's workplace? If it is, you could try surfing to http://www.xyz.com to see if the company has a web page. If they do, it may contain a directory that lists employees. If there's no e-mail list, try to find an administrative e-mail address and send them an e-mail asking if they could try to find Bob's address for you. Use discretion, however, since Bob's workplace may frown on any personal use of company e-mail, and might also have a policy of not divulging that information in the first place.
If this fails, or if you believe email@example.com is a personal e-mail address obtained for home use from an Internet Service Provider, you could try the same trick, although webmasters at these services see so much mail that they may not have time to help you out.
An e-mail directory service should be your next step.
I always start with Four11 at http://www.four11.com. There's a form at this e-mail directory where you can type in the person's first and last name and domain if you know it. For Bob, the domain name would be xyz.com . Of course, that won't be a definitive search. Try looking me up on Four11.com . There are dozens of Andy Walkers out there. You could try Four11's advanced search feature. It helps refine the search by adding more search parameters.
The next place I like to check is BigFoot.com. It uses the same basic search principles as Four11. They also have an advanced search feature and a Search FAQ, useful for answers to frequent questions. Also, check out their Search Tips section for tips on how to effectively search the BigFoot directory.
Some people sign up for free e-mail services such as Microsoft's Hotmail or Yahoo's free e-mail service under "People Search" at http://www.yahoo.com. Both services offer e-mail directories of their users. Of course, if someone has told a service not to list their address, you won't find it. These are good places to look since people will often register secondary e-mail addresses for personal use. These places are also useful to look up old school chums or lost relatives, if you're so inclined.
And then there are search engines. While search engines like Lycos and Excite are good places to find Web pages, they also have areas to search for people. Try Lycos' People Find feature and Excite's e-mail lookup at http://www.excite.com/Reference/e-mail.html.
Of course, if all this fails, you could always call your friend on the phone, assuming you have their phone number. But what fun would that be?