Why the Period In My Gmail Address Has Been Haunting Me for Years
This weekend I started using a new phone and spent an hour or so kicking the tires and logging into a dozen or so apps. Then, a mistake I made about five years ago came back to haunt me: the damn period in my Gmail address.
Gmail is what you call "dot blind." As far as Google is concerned, any dots in your email are invisible. This fun little feature lets you plaster periods all over your email address with no effect—they matter just as little as caps do. mY.cOOl.EmAiL@gmail.com = firstname.lastname@example.org. It's a great way to put dividers between words or names or initials. Or not. It doesn't matter; they are treated the same! Except once you leave the warm embrace of Gmail, things change.
For years, Gmail's dot blindness lulled me into using my period inconsistently, and really this is the mistake. Not the dot itself. Now, I am stuck with an obnoxious and nebulous problem: not every website where I use my email as a login is dot blind, which makes (a small portion of) life a living hell.
Password Requirements Are Awful and I Hate Them
At its simplest, this often means I have to remember two passwords—my actual password and a binary flag "did I use dots or not for this one?" Naturally, I frequently remember neither. I've got a suite of about half dozen passwords I use on the regular, depending on how much I care about a given account and whatever asinine requirements there are for minimum password complexity. So the dot question turns an arduous process of guessing max six login combinations into guessing max 12.
the dot question doubles the amount of login combinations i have to try
Some websites (bless them) will give you a shred of useful information about failed login attempts like "Password not recognized" or "Email not found." Many more just say "nope!" Ostensibly, this is a check against malicious guessers who might be feeling around in the dark for a valid account to try and crack. Good, I guess. But as a non-malicious guesser feeling around in the dark for a valid account to try and crack, it means twice as many things to try and no indication whether I've got either component right.
What's more is that no service I've seen has the courtesy to tell you whether or not it is dot blind on the login screen either, presumably for the same reason. Or perhaps because I'm one of maybe ten idiots on the planet with this problem. (If you are one of the other nine, please reach out so we can commiserate.) The result is that I need to run through all the likely passwords with both emails to rule everything out, even though in some cases it isn't actually necessary, but I won't know if it was or not!
Sometimes when I finally give up and request a new password, the dots complicate this as well. "Forgot your password?" dialogs require your email after all, and sometimes these don't tell you whether your email is recognized either—just that you'll receive an email if the address is valid. That means if an email doesn't arrive, I'm in for at least 30 seconds of email refreshing and spam-filter checking before I go back and try again with/without the dots.
it's my own stupid fault
I'll admit this isn't a huge or insurmountable problem. A minute or two of trial and error is usually enough to solve it. But it is an infuriating problem. There's the nagging vagueness—Is my email the problem? Or the password? Does this service even care about the dots? Not to mention that logging into services with passwords is annoying enough, the extra complication just makes it all the more arduous. But perhaps worst of all, it's my own stupid fault.
Yes, I'm trying to mitigate the trouble. Password managers let me save whatever pairing works and have access to it anywhere. Going forward, I will just always use the dots (or never use them? I already forget). But after years of signing up for things dots and not, willy nilly, the damage has already been done. This is going to continue to haunt me for years. Please, don't make the same mistake.