Email to AOL bounces back


Starting earlier this week, emails that are sent from my organization (Committee of 100) to any AOL email address have been bouncing back, with the error message:
“Reason: SMTP transmission failure has occurred
Diagnostic code: smtp;554-: (ISP:B2) TRANSACTION FAILED”

We called AOL, but they claim that the problem lies in Dreamhost, our ISP. Does anyone know what this could be?

Thanks a lot
Committee of 100

Mail sent from Dreamhost domains on shared hosting plans use shared email servers also. The answer as to what is happening is actually embedded in the error message you received:

This is AOL’s way of saying that your emails are comming from an IP address that is sending too high a volume of mail to AOL. It sucks. AOL takes the posistion that this is a “valid” AOL response in an effort to control spam, but those arguments completely ignore the fact that just because you are using a shared mail server does not mean you are spamming, and ignore the fact that AOL is preventing their own users from receiving mail they asked to receive and want to receive. Don’t be confused on this point: it has nothing to do with the amount of mail you are sending, rather it has everything to do with the amount of mail the combined users of that shared mail server are sending to AOL.

There are numerous lengthy posts and discussions on this subject on this forum (just search for “AOL”) which can give you more perspective on this, if you are interested.

I advise that, at least until (and if) Dreamhost/Aol work this out (this comes up periodically, gets addressed, then arises again) you take the same approach as many ecommerce sites, highly interactive news/blogs, and other organizations now do:

Advise your members that, due to AOL’s mail handling policies, you can not guarantee that mail sent from your site to AOL members will be delivered by AOL, and advise they use an alternate email address when dealing with your site. Believe me, they are used to seeing that by now.

Irrespective of what AOL tells you about whose “problem” it is (Dreamhost’s, your ISP, etc.), that is just a matter of semantics. The “fact” of the matter is that AOL won’t deliver your mail because it gets “too much” mail from Dreamhost’s shared servers,therefore (apply AOL style logic here) it (all, or much, or most, or some, of it) must be spam.

Like I said, it is a miserable situation, but then again, many things surrounding AOL are miserable situations for their users and for those trying to treat them like full net citizens.


Well, here’s a great thing thats going to happen with AOL mail. NOT

This is a huge problem. I utilize this feature almost exclusively for quite a few users on one of my domains.

Would it not be a bit more prudent to validate the forward being setup before it is allowed to be used? Even the free email providers like yahoo, gmail ask you to verify that the address the mail is being forwarded to is validated before it can be setup as a forwarded address. I am seriously now considering cancelling the service now. Depending on how bad the impact is, we’ll see what happens.



Call up AOL if you have a problem. Dreamhost is only going along with what AOL has told them to do.

–Matttail - personal website

Would it not be a bit more prudent to validate the forward being setup before it is allowed to be used?

What do you mean by “validated” in this context? The issue isn’t that mail is being forwarded to AOL accounts without the AOL user’s permission, but that those AOL users are using AOL’s broken spam reporting system on the spam that reaches them via this fowarding.

The problem is that AOL’s automated system parses message headers and assumes that the last mail server to touch the message is the source. It often is, but not when that mail is being forwarded.

I have first-hand experience dealing with this and it’s not a new problem. This has been a known problem with AOL for at least three or four years. AOL’s “postmaster support” is worse than useless. It’s advertised as a technical resource for mail system administrators but from where I sit it looks like just another front-line call center whose reps don’t understand the issues involved.

It’s not a Dreamhost problem any more than it was an Earthlink problem when I worked there. It’s absolutely an AOL problem and anyone who has a problem with it should complain to them. Loudly. Repeatedly.

If you want useful replies, ask smart questions.

I fully understand what the issue is, but why should they impact the end users, and not fight the fight on behalf of the subscribers that are paying them for the service.

Anyways, just my opinion.

Thank you for the comments just the same.




I can imagine that it would take some extra work to straighten this out if you “utilize this feature almost exclusively for quite a few users” on one of your domains, but I really don’t see it as a decision Dreamhost has much choice in.

The problem is not so much the “verification” issue, as it is one of AOL users who receive the forwards from Dreamhost hosted addresses (cluelessly?) reporting mail forwarded to them from the Dreamhost servers to AOL as spam coupled with AOL’s ignorant/obstinate position of what has happened.

The AOL users receiving such “spam” are only receiving it because they had it forwarded to themselves form their Dreamhost hosted address. By subsequently reporting that mail as “spam” they are “slapping” Dreamhost for catering to their wishes. Rather than make unkind remarks about the foolishness of reporting such an email as spam, or the nature of AOL users in general, I’ll just say that “ghetto” residents often miss out on the benefits of living in the mainstream of society, and AOL is the ghetto of the internet (albeit, a very large one - at least for now, though they are losing customers at an astounding rate.)

For these users I suggest you set them up a Gmail account, and set the forwards to go to those addresses. While not as desireable as actually setting up a real Dreamhost mailbox, given the nature of AOL’ers in general, it would probably be easier than trying to take on the support burden of teaching them about the use of IMAP/POP3 clients, or dealing with their failure to properly manage their Dreamhost webmail (I have one client that uses Dreamhost webmail exclusively, and just cannot understand that he shouldn’t save every email he has ever received in his inbox, has every email he has ever sent in his “sent folder”, and can’t seem to get the hang of “purging” his “trash”)

I have lots of GMAIL invites left (are they still in “Beta” and requiring invites?) if you need some in order to set them up.

While I am genuinely sorry for the aggravation this change is likely to cause you, I believe it is the only choice Dreamhost had available to them, since AOL and AOL’ers each behave the way they do.


DH has been fighting with AOL for a long time now.

I’m not sure why anyone supports AOL, anyway… they’ve given out confidential user information, they’ve illegally charged past users, they’ve failed to cancel accounts that they claimed were cancelled, they make cancelling an account an extremely painful process, they’ve disrespected their users, they’ve always provided a sub-par Internet experience, etc. etc. They have been taken to court so many times over unethical and illegal activities…

Check out Gordaen’s Knowledge, the blog, and the MR2 page.

I see your concern, and I would like to “fight on behalf of the subscribers” as much as the next guy, but “who” would you suggest we take the fight to? AOL subscribers are the only ones affected by this change (except, I suppose, we web-types that do business with them :wink: , as we have to deal with the mess to a greater or lesser degree), and the “fight” has to be between them and AOL.

The sad part is that, if recent news reports are to be believed, AOL has already abandoned the “ISP subscription” business model; I can’t imagine AOL subscribers complaints will have any impact on their decision making process.

For the record, AOL subscribers did get the service they were paying for when they paid Dreamhost (Dreamhost forwarded their mail as requested); they DID NOT get the service they were paying for from AOL (who refuses to deliver to them mail they have asked to receive). Other than educating these users as to what has happened and why, I don’t see any other way for Dreamhost to be their advocate, as they have tried repeatedly to address this with AOL and continue to be met with typically ignorant and arrogant AOL responses.


Oh joy. And now DH is beginning to email users about every email address that’s set to forward to AOL. Rather than being smart about it and sending one email with a list of all the addresses per panel user, they’re sending an email for each address to the panel user.

I’ve received five so far, and I know many more will come in. What’s sad is the bottom of the emails reads:
P.S. Our apologies if you got lots of these emails!

If they were honestly regretful of what they’re doing, they would have done it a better way. They’re basically just saying “we know we’re lazy in how we’re doing this, and we don’t want you to bother us by pointing out what a poor job we’re doing at this.”

That does seem pretty inefficient. I’m lucky in that I have only a few (I been vigorously lobbying any remaing AOL using client’s to move to a “real” ISP this past year, and have almost all of them moved out of the “AOL Ghetto”).

While your suggested way of doing it would be ideal, I think that, as inefficient as it is, this way is better than just relying on a “general announcement” email (which would be the most efficient) as users are likely to “overlook” and addresses or two.


Maybe I’m not understanding you correctly. My suggestion was one email per panel user that listed out all the effected email addresses for that panel user. I’m not saying just one general email.

I mainly just have a pile of aliases I used many years ago to redirect to a bunch of AOL users. I don’t even care about the accounts anymore, so disabling them is fine for me. I just don’t like this pile of emails that’s coming in.

What makes this more sad is DH admits that a big part of this issue is the number of emails they send out from only a few IPs. So what do they do? They send out a boat load of emails from those same IPs (guessing.) Seems like they’re just compounding the problem right now.

I was agreeing that your suggestion would be “ideal”, and only commenting that I thought the way they were doing it is better than nothing, and possibly better than one “general announcement” (a “third way” they could have done it). Your suggestion was best :slight_smile:

I’m in the same boat for the “pile of aliases”. One thought though, If I read the announcement correctly on, they won’t just be “disabling” the aliases - in addition they would establish new Dreamhost mailboxes for any such remaining forwards, and forward the mail there “so nothing will be lost”.

I read this to mean we will still have to deal with it on some level - kill the alias in advance of the 29th, or, if we don’t, kill/manage/etc. the resultant new email accounts that will get “automagically” set up.

I suspect they don’t see “compounding the problem” as being critical, as they have already “thrown in the towel” in dealing with this issue at AOL.

What’s interesting/sad to me is that, given the “recursive” nature of the alias/forwarding thing, panel users who have their primary contact at an AOL address might not get these emails anyway (kinda a snake eating it’s tail" type of thing); hopefully the IP’s being used by Dreamhost to send these mails won’t be “blocked”.