Mailinator is a wonderful little service that helps protect your privacy, reduce the amount of spam you get, and minimize the number of useless user names and passwords you have to remember. Sounds great? It is.

But what does it actually do? Well, the concept behind it is so simple that it’ can actually be a little tricky to explain. Fundamentally, mailinator is just a big ol’ web-based email system. The difference is that you don’t have to sign up for its service, and you don’t use a password to log in:

  • No signups mean that I don’t have to register with mailinator to start using “”. I can just give this address to anyone–and that includes annoying web sites that want you to register before reading their content, and any subsequent email they send to that address will be delivered to the mailinator mailbox.
  • No passwords means that all I have to do to access the mailbox for “” is go to the mailinator web site, and type in the name “martin” in the login box. I will then be shown a list of all the email that has recently been sent to that address. Go try it.

The final part of its simplicity is that the service is disposable. Mail doesn’t linger in the mailinator mailboxes. I think they keep it around for ten hours or so and then flush it automatically; it gets flushed sooner if the mailbox sees heavy traffic. There’s no way for you to save your mail, and no way for you to forward it. It’s there, and then it’s gone. If you don’t check it quickly enough, it’s gone. If you have no interest in checking it ever again (perhaps because you wanted a quick, throwaway address to give to a site you knew was going to spam you), you don’t ever have to go back there, and nothing will touch your personal mailbox.

Simple scenario:

  1. Go to the LA Times web site
  2. Try to read a story.
  3. Find out that you need to register to read the story
  4. Learn that “Registration is FREE and offers great benefits.” Uh huh. Heard that one before, spam, spam, spam.
  5. Register for a new account, providing a false name, useless street address, and a email address.
  6. Find out that they have just sent you a confirmation email, with an “activation link”.
  7. Check the mailinator mailbox for the spurious email address you supplied
  8. Click the activation link.
  9. Read the article you wanted
  10. Forget about ever having registered. Forget the password, forget the username. Don’t worry about getting junk mail, or singing christmas cards, or telemarketers calling at 3am. It’ll won’t happen.

Cool, huh?

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