Tips for Switching Internet Service Providers – Keeping Bookmarks, Address Books, and Saved Emails

This article is a follow-up to my last article, where I talked about choosing the right ISP (Internet Service Provider). I had planned to get this out sooner, but my schedule has conspired against me with far too many nights working until 2am.

So, if you’ve read my last article and decided you want to switch to a different type of ISP, from dialup to DSL for example, or you’re switching for other reasons, you might wonder how do you make the transition smoothly?

How do you let people know what your new address is, what happens to your bookmarks (also known as favorites), and your list of contacts in your email address book?

For most of these, there’s not a lot to worry about.

Let’s start with your bookmarks or favorites. To keep things simple, from now on I’ll just use the term bookmarks; just understand that if you’re more familiar with the term favorites, it means the same thing.

Bookmarks are, of course, pretty much what they sound like — a way to mark a web page so you can get back to it in the future. You can add or get back to bookmarks by going to the bookmarks menu in Mozilla Firefox or Apple’s Safari, or to the Favorites menu in Internet Explorer.

Most people, no matter what kind of Internet connection you have, have their bookmarks stored right on their computer, in the menu I just mentioned.

So it really doesn’t matter if you switch to a different ISP — they stay in the same place, so there’s nothing you really need to do.

If you use AOL, on the other hand, things are a little different. AOL has always used non-standard ways of doing things, and unfortunately the bookmarks are no different.

This is partially because instead of just using a regular web browser (like Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple’s Safari) AOL uses it’s own self-contained system.

But it’s also because they don’t give you a way to “export” the bookmarks to use elsewhere. These are a couple of the reasons I really don’t like AOL and always suggest people use something else.

While checking my facts before writing this article, I found that AOL does not appear to give you any way to easily move your bookmarks to another program.

The one way I can think of that doesn’t involve messing around with folders and files that the average computer user probably shouldn’t fool with is to copy and paste the web addresses into the new web browser, then bookmark it from there. Kind of tedious and time consuming, but better than nothing.

If you’re not familiar with copying and pasting, I have a detailed article on it on my website. You can click here to read the article on easy editing tips.

So what about keeping email addresses and any saved emails when you change ISPs?

Well, the answer here is pretty much the same. Changing ISPs doesn’t really have any effect on the information stored on your computer, including saved emails and address book information.

Once again, AOL lets you import (bring in) address book information from many sources, but gives you no way to export it (take it out).

The exception to all of this (except for the AOL part) is if you’re using “webmail” — where you are going to a web page to read your email instead of using Outlook, Thunderbird, or OS X Mail.

In this case, your email and address book are stored somewhere else. So if the webmail is something your ISP provides (like if you use Verizon just for example) then they’re the ones storing your info, not you.

One way to work around these issues where your email addresses are being “held hostage” is to copy and paste the email addresses into the new program you’re using out of AOL or your webmail page as the case may be.

Another option is to send an email to everybody in your address book, including your new email address, announcing what your new address is. If you do that, you’ll get a copy of the email, and in many email programs it is pretty simple to add addresses out of an email by simply right-clicking on the address (or control-click for Mac users) and then clicking add address from the menu that appears.

The problem with this is that a lot of people — myself included — consider this to be something of an invasion of privacy, since you’re sharing the email addresses of everybody you know with everybody else you know.

People do this all the time, actually, when they forward emails. This is really bad “netiquette” (Internet etiquette), which is why you should use the “BCC” (Blind Carbon Copy) option whenever sending out mass emails. It hides all of the recipients, keeping their privacy (and helping prevent the spread of viruses, worms, and spam!).

And for those “hostage” emails — the important ones can be forwarded to your new address. Not a perfect solution, but it does do the job.

Also, if you’re just switching from one web browser to another (Internet Explorer to Firefox or Safari for example), or switching from one email program to another (Outlook to Thunderbird on the Windows side, out Entourage to OS X Mail on the Mac side) these programs will usually ask you if you want to move over your old information automatically, including bookmarks, emails, and address books.