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Hack 72. Create and Use Custom Addresses

Make up an unlimited number of arbitrary email addresses to use when signing up for something, making a purchase online, or tracking a conversation.

Those who've been exposed to the power of a little something called plus-addressing never look back, using it anywhere and everywhere they can. And, for something so useful, there's really not much to it.

Simply append a plus sign (+) and some meaningful string of letters or numbers (meaningful to you, that is) to the first part of your email address—the part before the "at" sign (@)—and you have a way of tagging a particular conversation, an address used to sign up for a service or buy something online, or create a throwaway address you have no intention of paying attention to again.

Say your email address is A plus-addressed version might be And you don't have to stop there; you can create subtags and sub-subtags such as and for even more granularity.

And the magic of it is that all plus-addressed email still arrives at the same email address: yours, sans the plus bit. At that point you can filter, sort, highlight, or trash email sent to that particular address as you see fit.

Plus-addressing means never having to say you only have one email address again.

And you'll be glad to know that Gmail supports plus-addressing, affording you some rather powerful email handling, routing, and filtering functionality.

Some of my favorite uses of plus-addressing are:

Tagging a conversation

Keep track of a particular email conversation—no matter how long it lasts—by copying yourself (i.e., putting yourself in the Cc: field) with a plus-address (e.g., or That way, so long as you're copied on any ongoing conversation, you'll know just where it all started (and, hopefully, eventually ended).

Inviting people to a party

This is just a variation on the previous theme of tagging a conversation. Invite people to a party and copy yourself with a plus-address (e.g., or to label and track RSVPs.

Signing up for services

Just about every online service has you provide an email address in order to sign up. If you never want to hear by mail from these people again (aside from the initial—and often required—confirmation email, that is), assign a plus-address to each service (e.g., or and, when you've had quite enough of their follow-up messages, announcements, and special offers, set up a filter ( to direct them right into the Trash.

Buying things online

Buying things online usually involves some amount of email traffic: purchase confirmation, shipping notification, tracking, and problems. By assigning a plus address to each vendor (e.g., or, you can group all of your online transactions with that vendor.

While there usually isn't anything you can do about vendors and service providers sharing your email address with others, at the very least, you can keep tabs on the offending party.

Subscribing to mailing lists

There comes a time in any subscriber's life when she wants to disambiguate email pouring in from various mailing lists from more important mail. Give every mailing list its own plus-address (e.g., or and you can label or siphon incoming mailing list posts into your Archive.

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