Moving From Verizon Webmail

Introduction

AOL and IncrediMail are a piece of cake to transfer to another email client (see previous posting) compared to Verizon Webmail. If you’re unfortunate enough to be using Webmail as your primary mechanism for contacts and email folders, don’t bother thinking about switching to another email provider, or even switching your Verizon Webmail to an email client. Verizon has designed a truly locked tight system.

Email folders and contacts cannot be exported. No third party software can migrate the data in the same way as ePreserver can migrate AOL contacts and folders. Gmail transfer wizards cannot touch the stuff. And because Verizon only offers POP3 email, the Webmail folders don’t show up in email clients like Outlook and Thunderbird in the same way that Gmail folders would.

How Come?

Why would Verizon design a locked tight web based mail system with absolutely no export capability? One can only speculate but the answer is most likely money.

Certainly one reason must be advertising revenue. Forcing people to see a stream of advertisements on the Webmail page might be so profitable that Verizon has made a corporate decision to keep people from switching even at the calculated risk that a small percentage of people will abandon their Webmail folders and contacts. Perhaps another money related reason is to dissuade people from switching to another ISP by making it impossible to transfer valuable emails and contacts. Making money is great but they appear to have crossed a line that no other email provider has crossed.

The Verizon Webmail page is actually well thought out, simple and efficient (once you get past a few login “bugs” which might be implemented for security reasons). I personally like it much better than the Gmail web page. So poor web design and programming incompetence are ruled out as possible reasons. People have been complaining about the lack of an export mechanism for years and Verizon has done nothing to fix it. From a technical standpoint, adding an export feature is “Programming 101”. If the Verizon web designers gave their most junior programmer the task of adding an export function, a week to program and test would be reasonable. I was a C/Unix programmer for 20+ years and have some idea of how easy it would be.

Self-Accolade

I might be the first person on Earth to have successfully transferred contacts and email folders from Verizon Webmail. But even if I’m not the first, allow me a moment of glory. Verizon has been outwitted. You’re about to be told how. Don’t get excited. It’s tedious and difficult and the average user cannot do it.

Statement of Mission

The Verizon webmail account being transferred belongs to a client. The account had 400 contacts and about 25 folders each containing about 10 emails. The client was tired of the buggy Verizon Webmail interface which could not be taught to remember passwords and also wanted an IMAP email that stays in sync across multiple devices (Verizon does not offer IMAP email). The client also wanted the option of using a real email client.

The goal was to transfer the folders and contacts to Gmail and Thunderbird. Thunderbird was to be the primary email client because it handles IMAP better than Outlook and handles contact management much better than Gmail. A Thunderbird add-on allows Thunderbird/Gmail contact syncing.

Additionally, Thunderbird has a classic and easy to understand interface that is much better than the Gmail web interface. The Gmail web interface is actually worse than the Verizon Webmail interface and suffers from unnecessary complications and design flaws, and is not the reason for the switch. Contact management in Gmail seems very object oriented and can be hard to understand (the optional old style is better). Lastly, Thunderbird allows the old Verizon email account to live right under the Gmail in the left panel making for easy access to both during the hopefully short transition period. There are things I don’t like about Thunderbird’s design out of the box, such as using new tabs to show emails instead of a new window but almost all the complaints can be easily customized away.

Contacts

The 400+ contacts were the hardest part. Webmail may not let you export contacts, but it does let you print them. So I first tried printing all the contacts to a file using the Windows generic text printer hoping to be able to edit it into a CSV file. The output was unreadable and not editable.

Then I selected all contacts, clicked on more actions, and chose print once again. And again two windows opened up, a scrollable list of all the contacts and on top of that a print dialog box. This time I closed out the print dialog box and was left with the scrollable window containing all the contacts. This window containing all contacts on one page must have been an oversight on the part of the Verizon lock-tight team but I took advantage of it to highlight all the entries and copy them. The team should have displayed a small number of contacts spread across many pages to prevent easy copy/paste.

I then pasted the buffer into a Notepad document and saved it as a text file which contained all contacts, albeit in an unusable format. It looked like the sample shown below.

webmail 1

The goal was to finesse this information into a CSV file which could then be imported into Gmail Contacts. Because extra (and unnecessary to the client) fields were present in some but not all contacts, the field layout of this file was unpredictable and did not lend itself to an automated solution (see note below). Realizing the futility of editing this mess with a normal windows editor, Linux/vi was used because of the powerful pattern match search and replace capabilities to edit the text file and finally a CSV file was created. When the task was finished, the file consisted of just the last name, first name and email address. Editing this file took more than three hours. Remember, there were 400+ lines of contacts and each one was checked for correctness.

Note: I probably could write a C program to parse through the messy file shown above, or the active window listing all the contacts.

The finished product looked just like the (much smaller) sample shown below.

webmail 2

Then this file was imported into Thunderbird and not Gmail because Thunderbird allows greater field control with a CSV file that is lacking a top line with field names. Additionally, Thunderbird was slated to be used anyway as the email client.

The field layout was chosen using the Thunderbird import wizard and the contacts were imported into Thunderbird. It worked fine. I then exported the contacts from Thunderbird into a CSV file, which Gmail gladly accepted because it had name fields in the first line. The Thunderbird generated CSV file looked like this (much smaller) sample.

webmail 3

Notice the standard field names in line one.

Gmail now contained all the Verizon Webmail contacts.

Note: A non-technical solution to exporting contacts from Verizon Webmail exists. A babysitter can be hired to read the printout of the contacts and retype those contacts into Gmail. Another solution is that an email could possibly be sent from Verizon to Gmail that contains all the contacts in a blind CC. However, there are too many problems (missing info and being flagged as spam) to consider this as a solution.

Webmail Folders

The Webmail folders are next. They’re not as technically daunting as contacts but there’s only one way I’ve figured out to move them to either an email client or another email provider (in this case Gmail). Here is the step by step process. Both Webmail and Thunderbird need to be running at the same time. A quality email client other than Thunderbird can also be used.

Using Thunderbird, set up both your POP3 Verizon email account and the Gmail account. Only the Inbox should appear in the Verizon account. The Webmail folders will not appear. If they did, this section wouldn’t need to be written.

Make a list of all the folder names in the Verizon Webmail account. Create every folder name in the new Gmail account using Thunderbird. They will all be empty at this point.

Note: It is not possible in Gmail to create sub-folders through the web page interface but it can be easily done using Thunderbird. After being created, they do show up in the Gmail web page interface and are functional.

In Webmail, clear the inbox so nothing is in there. Create a folder to temporarily hold the inbox contents if necessary.

For each Verizon Webmail folder do the following:

  • Make that folder active, highlight (select) all emails, click on “More Actions”, choose “Move to Folder”, and choose the inbox.
  • All emails in that folder should then be moved to the Webmail Inbox. Because the Inbox was cleared, those emails should be the only emails in the Inbox.
  • In Thunderbird, click on the Verizon Inbox. Then click on “Get Mail”. The Inbox in Thunderbird should now show the contents of the folder chosen in step 1.
  • In Thunderbird, find the corresponding folder (create it now if you didn’t earlier) in the Gmail account.
  • In Thunderbird, drag and drop the emails from the Verizon Inbox to the Gmail destination folder. Drag and drop makes them disappear from the Verizon Inbox. If you want to keep them in the Inbox so you can move them back to the Verizon Webmail folder, highlight all of them and do a copy/paste. Then move them back to the Webmail folder using the Webmail interface so you can move on to the next folder transfer.

Addendum: This process also works if you are keeping your POP3 Verizon email account (with all the attendant POP3 sync issues across devices) and simply moving to an email client. Just leave Gmail out of the equation and set up your folders in the Verizon account in Thunderbird.

Conclusion

A nifty little add-on was added to Thunderbird to allow syncing of contacts between Gmail and Thunderbird at Thunderbird startup. I tested this and it worked like a charm. Now the client can use Thunderbird as the primary email client and use the Gmail web interface and an Ipad when necessary. All contacts will be synced no matter on which device they were created, and of course the Gmail IMAP email account and all subfolders will appear identically across all devices.

Note: Gmail has a spam filter that cannot be tuned and is very aggressive. Lots of test mails wound up in the spam bin. I finally turned off the spam filter by creating a rule that any email greater than 1 byte in length would not be sent to spam. For an email account that is used for family and friends, and not business, this will not have a serious effect.

Verizon Webmail is now just a bad memory.

If someone out there has a better way to do this, let me know. To conclude this post, I have some free advice. If you are thinking about using Verizon Webmail to manage your email and contacts, don’t do it until they offer a decent export option for email folders and contacts.

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One Response to Moving From Verizon Webmail

  1. jkstretch says:

    The contacts may be a little easier this way –

    Select all contacts in Verizon
    Print to a PDF file
    Open the PDF file
    Select All
    Copy
    Paste into an Excel Spreadsheet

    Its not perfect but it will save a lot of one by one typing 🙂

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