It would be nice if you could just pull out a directory and look up the e-mail address of anyone you wanted to contact. Unfortunately, a bit more resourcefulness is required. Here's an assortment of strategies to try when you can't seem to run down an e-mail address you need.
Technology is great... when it works. It seems, though, that the more advanced our technology grows, the more complex the simple tasks become. Finding someone's e-mail address is a perfect example -- there's no huge yellow book full of e-mail addresses. The system at large is huge, and individual choices are still too elusive. Hunting down a current e-mail address is a challenge, but it isn't impossible.
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#1: Look in your own e-mail folders
This tip seems obvious, but if you haven't corresponded with someone in a long time, you might not remember that his or her e-mail address is sitting in one of your folders. To find an e-mail address in one of your own mail client folders:
- Use your client's search feature. You might start with your Inbox and personal folders that have some relationship to that person, such as a project or customer folder. Don't forget your Delete, Sent, and Trash folders. (Outlook 2007 now makes it easy to perform a comprehensive search.)
- If a name search doesn't turn up anything, run a search on the person's domain, if you know it.
- Make sure you tell the search feature to check header fields and the full text of all messages.
- Search for only the first name, the last name, or even a nickname.
- Search for a subject or keyword that this person (or you) might have used.
#2: Be an anarchist -- call them
At the risk of sounding flip, a quick call can solve your problem, as long as the person wants you to have the e-mail address. You don't even have to talk to the person directly. The receptionist who answers the phone will probably have a list of e-mail addresses for employees. If, on the other hand, you're trying to find a long lost lover or friend, that's probably not going to work (unless, of course, you know where they work... and if you know where they work, chances are they're not lost).
#3: Check a business card
Most people include an e-mail address on their business cards, so make a quick pass through the ones you have. You don't have to look for the specific person; pull out a card from anyone at the same company or organization. Just knowing the domain can help you (see #1 and #8).
#4: Search user groups and newsgroups
Just about everyone who's online takes advantage of a newsgroup or user group. Sometimes, you can find a message, including a person's e-mail address, using an Internet search engine, such as groups.google.com. If the person has posted on any UseNet group, Google will return a link to the post, which might lead to a full e-mail address. (UseNet is a network of worldwide Internet discussion systems, or user groups and forums.)
#5: Use an Internet search engine
Google is now a verb! Simply Google the person and see what turns up. Now, the problem with this solution is that you might get nothing -- or you might get dozens of hits, especially if the name is common or shared with a public personality. Use this method early in your search, but check only the first few links. Reviewing dozens of links takes too much time. If the other methods fail, you can always return to a search engine.
A general search will generate more hits than a filtered search, such as searching newsgroups (see #4). Google is just one search engine among many, so don't limit yourself; try others. A meta search engine is often a better choice because they rely on many search technologies, not just one.
#6: Search for an address
An Internet search engine, such as Google, can find more than names. If a name doesn't turn up anything, search on something else, like the person's street address or employer. The more unique the search, the more likely you are to find something useful.
If you know the person's domain, you can guess at the name component. This is especially easy if the domain is a business or organization because most companies and organizations use consistent rules for creating e-mail addresses. Find the right rules and you might get lucky. When there's no discernable pattern, just keep guessing. There are a number of common patterns:
If you don't know the domain, use an Internet search engine to search for the company or organization's name. Doing so might turn up a domain name. If there's a Web page, but no contact information, try the Web site's domain name. If there's a contact name, but not the one you're looking for, check existing e-mail contacts for a consistent pattern. If you find a pattern and you know the contact's full name, apply the pattern, send a message, and hope for the best. Or simply send a message to the listed contact and ask for the person's correct e-mail address.
#8: Find a new e-mail address
E-mail addresses change all the time. A person can go through several in just a few years. A few online services can help if the e-mail address you have no longer works:
But don't get the wrong idea about these services. There's no huge network running spiders to glean addresses. People must register their old and new addresses with these services. When it works, it works great. But mostly, this type of service is a long shot.
#9: Try an online directory
It would be nice if the Internet had a phone book or even a 411 service. Unfortunately, e-mail addresses, by nature, are elusive, at best. There are a number of online directory services to try:
These directories aren't generally too reliable. A quick search on them returned only one business-related e-mail address for myself. Many online directories charge for their services, so be careful.
#10: Search online networking sites
A number of people enjoy social networks, both for business and pleasure. Most will make you register to search their membership, but generally, registering is free. If the person you're looking for belongs to one of these networks, you can contact them via the service's online contact feature:
#11: Take a long shot
When all else fails, try soc.net-people. This newsgroup allows you to ask for help locating someone you believe has an e-mail address. To use this service, post a message asking for help. Describe the person to the best of your abilities, including as much relevant information for positively identifying them as possible. Be sure to include your e-mail address so members with information can contact you. It's a long shot, for sure, but it can't hurt to try.
Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.