Recent difficulties with WordPress.com and Mail Handling

this is a record of my unsuccessful attempts, over three weeks, to transfer my blog and email addresses at my domain tjm.org to paid hosting service, at WordPress.com. My interactions were all apparently with Phil Crumm, a WordPress.com “Happiness Engineer.”

I found the support from WordPress unsatisfactory, and not meeting what I consider standard good practices, for several reasons:

  1. No responses in online support forums
  2. Submitting an issue did not generate a trackable ticket number, link, or online viewable ticket.
  3. Replies from support did not include prior email, and support person did not quote or reply to specifics in my inquiry.
  4. Support person kept giving instructions which had already been shown invalid. He pointed to WordPress.com records as “verification” of DNS propagation, which is not evidential, and did not respond to my citing of external query results showing the record not propagated.
  5. I asked for a different support person to help me, but got only a further email from same person and no response to that request.
  6. Aside from support issues, I note that WordPress.com’s choice to require a 3rd-party email handler, with Google Apps being the indicated non-paid option, creates some serious problems. It means that crucial setup steps in making email addresses at your WordPress.com-hosted domain work *require* support from Google Apps, which is a free service with no dedicated support staff or service level agreement.

In particular, you can get caught, as I did, in a problem with Google Apps not verifying you as the authorized owner of the domain in question. As I learned from reading Google Apps forums, there are many users who have been caught in this situation for monthes, sometimes more than a year, unable to get it resolved with Google. This in particular made me decide that it was not worth the ongoing damage of trying to get this WordPress.com-based arrangement to work.

Note, I take an interest in these things in part because I myself have designed, administered, and operated support systems for technology companies, so have a sense of the issues and tools involved. I’m sympathetic to people on the other side of support inquiries, having been there, and I try to do what I can, e.g. following good practices for asking questions and describing issues. On the other hand, I believe there are well-established good practices in technical support which help both customers and providers solve problems efficiently and effectively, and large or mature companies who don’t follow them are performing below par.

————-
Here’s a summary of my interactions with WordPress.com. The full email thread is copied below.

1) I posted to WordPress support contact page, and to support forums on Oct 19, and got no reply.

2) On Oct 30 I again contacted support.
Later, I posted a problem notice to Twitter, which got a response.

3) On Oct 31 I emailed another detailed problem report. Here, for the 1st time, I noted that a CNAME record needed to added to WordPress.com-managed DNS records, and my efforts to do so in WordPress.com’s interface were apparently not succeeding.

4) Oct 31 I received an email reply. Support did not reply to my specific request regarding CNAME record, and said that MX records needed to be set up, which contradicted the process description I had cited from Google Apps documentation.

5) Nov 6: I emailed support again, noted that the advised steps had still not allowed me to set up Google Apps as needed. I again cited the Google Apps documentation, and its requirement of a CNAME record, and that I’d repeatedly tried to add it at WordPress.com over six days, but could not see any external evidence that the record was setting or propagating.

6) Nov 7: got reply from Phil Crumm. He again did not reply to or quote my explicit questions, and he directed me again to log in to Google Apps, which I had just reported I was unable to access.
I replied noting this, and asked if there was a different support person who could help.

7) Nov 7, 5:55 PM. Email from Phil Crumm to say that a CNAME record was set, and I could “verify” that by checking WordPress.com interface.

8) Nov 9, 11:33 PM I emailed, noting that there was still no external evidence of a CNAME record being set or propagated, well past the 48-hour propagation period. I included just-received email from Google Apps reporting that the domain could not be set up there because the required CNAME record could not be verified.

9) Nov 11. I have heard nothing from WordPress. After 3 weeks and 2 days of this effort to transfer domains, and a very costly disruption of my email communications and expenditure of my time, I am abandoning efforts to use WordPress.com for my blog and email.

10) Nov 11. I have transferred my site and email hosting to a different hosting company.

——————-
Full Email thread
From: Tim McCormick
Date: Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 2:51 AM
Subject: msg to WordPress.com: how to fwd email to regular Gmail acct not Google Apps?
To: Tim McCormick

Submitted to support at: http://en.support.wordpress.com/contact/
Submitted to forums at: http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/custom-domain-how-to-fwd-email-to-regular-gmail-acct-not-google-app?replies=1#post-1045002

I’ve just configured my WordPress.com blog to appear at my personal domain, tjm.org.

I receive email at that domain, and I wish to forward this mail to my personal Gmail account, as I had been doing at my former web host, Dreamhost.

I’ve read documentation (http://en.support.wordpress.com/domains/add-email, etc) and forums, but all I can find is directions to set up Google Apps, but I don’t use GApps or wish to if possible.

Is it possible to redirect to Gmail, or if so why not and what else can I do to achieve the goal?

This seems like it would be a fairly common issue, sorry I couldn’t find anything specifically anwering it.
thanks, Tim.

—–
Tim McCormick
@tjmccormick | tjm.org | Palo Alto, CA

——————–
From: WordPress.com
Date: Tue, Oct 30, 2012 at 1:04 PM
Subject: [WordPress.com Support] URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: tmccormick@gmail.com

Your message is flying through cyberspace to us as you read this. We will get back to you as soon as we can.

——————-
From: Tim McCormick
Date: Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 6:00 AM
Subject: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: support@wordpress.com

following up on this Twitter exchange:

Tim McCormick @tmccormick
I’ve designed & run tech-support sys, am amazed by others’. @WordPressdotcom, submit urgent tickets, get no cc, #, way to check? @automattic
11:41 PM – 30 Oct 12

@WordPressVIP: @tmccormick Can you send an email to support@wordpress.com (mention your Twitter handle, too) & the team can track down your issue?
6:29 AM – 31 Oct 12

Below are the inquiry I submitted previously: #1 on email handling, and #2, a smaller item on updating my email address on file. Note, I have these text only because I copied drafts to a local file before sending. They were not cc-ed to me when submitted nor, as far as I can find, available at WordPress.com.

1) Issue 1:

Subject: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com

I began trying, 8 days ago, to transfer the hosting of my domain-name tjm.org from Dreamhost to WordPress.com, and cancelling my Dreamhost hosting plan. That means moving both the Web site and the handling of @tjm.org email addresses. I want mail to those addresses to be forwarded to my Gmail account, tmccormick@gmail.com, as has been happening for some years already.

At this point, the Web address is working correctly, but email handling is not. I am not receiving any email to my addresses at tjm.org — they are either disappearing or being returned to sender. At the bottom of this message I include a complete example returned mail with headers.

I *urgently* need help to figure out what’s happening and ASAP take steps to the email functioning correctly. I am losing crucial work and personal emails, without a way of knowing or of notifying the senders of an alternative address.

There appears to be a complex interdependency between the domain registrar (Dotster), WordPress.com, and Google Apps, and I have not been able to find/follow instructions to make it work.

Here is what I believe the next steps are, and their sequence. Please advise if this seems correct, and if so, what needs to be done.

#1: I need to set up Google Apps for the domain tjm.org.
Since I will not, after the Dreamhost account closes, have a separate paid hosting company, my option is to use free Google Apps. Therefore…

#1B: I need to add a specific CNAME record to the tjm.org registration, in order to verify to Google Apps that I adminster this domain. (this is because Google Apps says someone has previously tried to set up Apps for the domain, which must have been a mistake).
Here is Google’s documentation page for that: https://support.google.com/a/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=47283

The CNAME record needing to be added is as follows:
record name value: google8d37049e42c61064
point to: google.com

I’ve done this process several times on the DNS records for tjm.org at Dotster, waited 48+ hours, rechecked the test link at Google Apps setup page, but it’s never worked.

Over two days ago I also added a CNAME record to the DNS on my account at WordPress.com, just in case.

#2: Nameservers for tjm.org need to be set to point to WordPress.com:
ns1.wordpress.com
ns2.wordpress.com

EXAMPLE NON-DELIVERABLE EMAIL:
Sorry, we were unable to deliver your message to the following address.

:
Mail server for “tjm.org” unreachable for too long

— Below this line is a copy of the message.

Received: from [98.138.226.176] by nm4.bullet.mail.ne1.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 25 Oct 2012 05:51:06 -0000
Received: from [98.138.88.239] by tm11.bullet.mail.ne1.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 25 Oct 2012 05:51:06 -0000
Received: from [127.0.0.1] by omp1039.mail.ne1.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 25 Oct 2012 05:51:06 -0000
X-Yahoo-Newman-Property: ymail-3
X-Yahoo-Newman-Id: 476355.87361.bm@omp1039.mail.ne1.yahoo.com
Received: (qmail 43194 invoked by uid 60001); 25 Oct 2012 05:51:05 -0000
DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed; d=yahoo.com; s=s1024; t=1351144265; bh=GswqjWIxaUWB/BtHKVD8KSeQGfN/o+D3Sr+HIOLCVkM=; h=X-YMail-OSG:Received:X-Rocket-MIMEInfo:X-Mailer:Message-ID:Date:From:Reply-To:Subject:To:MIME-Version:Content-Type; b=2yu3sE/tGr2kDeTP31bFjYI5ZrZfpDGBXAu3Q7dPGmPnWBOLK1u/SDIkB0ELL8XMMQ/JCxq55XU7k8UHaVsZfrhVQunH+wIKhmwXCJKKM/UHLhdxjb2akgT/MPF9gHURoXGMgS0rLk2v534+/x1JD/TlL/8aHCgUqLHm9zIE1vo=
DomainKey-Signature:a=rsa-sha1; q=dns; c=nofws;
s=s1024; d=yahoo.com;
h=X-YMail-OSG:Received:X-Rocket-MIMEInfo:X-Mailer:Message-ID:Date:From:Reply-To:Subject:To:MIME-Version:Content-Type;
b=AYLb9NaAzfOiruw89FBUV3bYEc0yB6EVX5Ir/RBQRlECqyL0FSwr6loVSrlUYIHyneDJ4Hhn96pS71ghpa8MaW2eTpJqJ8HG/yQNvnJuO+XUxM6WEX32VaDOa2M/AQqffn5M2yciS4e9a4J1Zk/JCdsmnET/kgjiBbq1NxTmVsk=;
X-YMail-OSG: szVEuS4VM1kpIaiX_fgXZ0hEVp0he_5NT0JRYkOMgC0dwI8
ebfyEqiRYzPCSN1gicdi91A82tH3wCAo_PhWe6IG8UvFseEYVMEnGI7SD5uN
yfQHsGqlDvSkXtM8xzLC3bFD7kVdlaiDZVBWn43X7VqJwCVartM9hpcUct76
RVxg6.UTo4P0Ir3OQkTKqzFIAE9BtqnGjSxThLsXBKnOrTuKyUctqCrgrCnb
MlQOq.WgFt3qIkDFIcm8xgi0jQbmF6GZ0lnDFEg3o.D9CpgW1gi.IR_NfjoT
lfP.9NKr.uJT4O86Usboy0DomwWAjr0YdAidYUuaxUj3kdpux6q5qI9knoZC
Ni5y06t_iaAKLuOEE4FPIvdfaqSFsClyX7zvB5aS7i9xltoyhFqRKuowXwLF
70DOdLB0eYb5RYpFtGFtMgxCjJDqXr0ex72Vq0968CYMOhYIId99GuY3xpzS
I_KGRfsk4Tnp6.HrEMFMBrRamdYsqy_zGoy.zEW.dYg–
Received: from [96.24.74.34] by web110301.mail.gq1.yahoo.com via HTTP; Wed, 24 Oct 2012 22:51:04 PDT
X-Rocket-MIMEInfo: 001.001,dGVzdCBtc2cgdG8gdGltQHRqbS5vcmcgZnJvbSBZYWhvbyBXZWRzIDEwLzI0IDEwOjUwcG0KATABAQEB
X-Mailer: YahooMailWebService/0.8.123.460
Message-ID:
Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2012 22:51:04 -0700 (PDT)
From: Tim McCormick
Reply-To: Tim McCormick
Subject: test msg to tim@tjm.org from Yahoo Weds 10/24 10:50pm
To: Tim McCormick
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii

test msg to tim@tjm.org from Yahoo Weds 10/24 10:50pm

——–
2) I tried to update my email address in my WordPress account at

http://wordpress.com/#!/settings/

This is because, as noted on another support ticket, email handling on my domain tjm.org has been broken since I began trying to transfer my site/blog to WordPress.com 11 days ago.

I enter my Gmail address tmccormick@gmail.com
I get error message: “That e-mail address is already being used.”
How can I fix that?

—-
Tim McCormick
@tmccormick / http://tjm.org / Palo Alto, CA

——————–
From: Phil – WordPress.com
Date: Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 7:23 PM
Subject: [#1361736]: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: tmccormick@gmail.com

Hey Tim,

Your domain, tjm.org, is currently mapped to WordPress.com’s nameservers.

It appears that you haven’t setup the appropriate MX records for your domain, so that your email is properly directed.

This guide explains how to add Google Apps email support to your WordPress.com-mapped domain:

http://en.support.wordpress.com/domains/add-email/#setting-up-email

To start, you’ll want to go to Store -> Domains -> Edit DNS for your domain:

https://tmccormick.wordpress.com/wp-admin/paid-upgrades.php?page=domains&action=dnsedit&domain=tjm.org

And then click “Verification Code” under “Google Apps”.

We provide an automatic tool that makes verification through Google Apps much easier. Try following the instructions above–it should get Google Apps configured in just a few minutes. After that, it may take up to 48 hours for the DNS changes to start propagating and for your email to start working.

If you run into any trouble following the directions above, please let me know.

Best,
Phil
Happiness Engineer | WordPress.com

——————–
From: Tim McCormick
Date: Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Subject: Re: [#1361736]: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: help@wordpress.com

I am still trying without success to get Google Apps set up so it can begin handling the mail for my personal domain tjm.org.

> To start, you’ll want to go to Store -> Domains -> Edit DNS for your
> domain:
> https://tmccormick.wordpress.com/wp-admin/paid-upgrades.php?page=domains&action=dnsedit&domain=tjm.org

> And then click “Verification Code” under “Google Apps”.
>
> We provide an automatic tool that makes verification through Google Apps
> much easier. Try following the instructions above–it should get Google Apps
> configured in just a few minutes. After that, it may take up to 48 hours for the
> DNS changes to start propagating and for your email to start working.

This doesn’t seem to align with what I’m seeing. I cannot get a Google Apps verification until I get Google Apps set up. In order to do this, I am told by them I must verify ownership of the domain, and since whatever email address someone associated with the domain before (erroneously, apparently) isn’t going to me, I have to do this verification by adding a CNAME record to the domain.

Following instructions, I have repeatedly added a new CNAME record in WordPress with values specified by Google Apps to enter:

G> Use the following unique code for the record’s name value, and point it to

> google.com. We’ll check this code to verify that you own the domain:

> google8d37049e42c61064
I added such a record (as far as I could tell) about six days ago, and again over 48 hours ago, at:

https://tmccormick.wordpress.com/wp-admin/paid-upgrades.php?page=domains&action=dnsedit&domain=tjm.org

Google says to test whether record is propagated by seeing if
http://google8d37049e42c61064.tjm.org redirects to google.com.

It never has done so yet.
I’ve also tried another 3rd party tool to query for CNAME records on this domain:

http://www.hscripts.com/tools/HDNT/dns-record.php

It consistently returns: no CNAME records found.

I can’t see get any evidence yet that a CNAME record is being set on or propagated by WordPress.com for this domain. Therefore, I still can’t set up Google Apps, and WordPress.com won’t itself do mail handling.

So, pretty much my email on this domain has been wiped out for two weeks, addresses which I’ve been using for over 15 years, and I’m not even sure yet if WordPress.com understands the situation (so far, no one there seems to know about the Google Apps CNAME record verification process, for example). It’s going to take a long time to try and clean up this damage, if it’s possible at all; e.g. by now a lot of senders will probably have recorded my addresses as undeliverable, which includes my contact email addresses for dozens of merchants and services I use.


Tim McCormick
@tmccormick / http://tjm.org / Palo Alto, CA

——————–
From: Tim McCormick
Date: Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 2:50 AM
Subject: Re: [#1361736]: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: help@wordpress.com

now my test link to Google Apps
http://google8d37049e42c61064.tjm.org redirects to google.com.

I clicked to the next step and get message: “Password reset process initiated”

I then received an email (copied below) with a confirm link (obfuscated in below).

Following this link yields a page on Google with this message:
“This domain is not yet setup. You have tried to access a domain that has no administrator account.”

There is no further instruction, and no apparent means of customer support. I suspect that there is no official support, given that this is a free Google App, and knowing their typical practices.

Any ideas how to proceed from here?

Have you ever dealt with this circumstance before?

—-
Tim McCormick
@tmccormick / http://tjm.org / Palo Alto, CA

——————-
From:
Date: Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 1:50 AM
Subject: Google Password Assistance
To: tmccormick@gmail.com

Hello,

We’ve received an administrator password reset request for tjm.org.
To initiate the process, please click the following link:
<https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/tjm.org/ResetAdminPassword?c=XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX&hl=en>

If clicking the link above does not work, copy and paste the URL in
a new browser window instead. The URL will expire in 24 hours for security
reasons.

Please disregard this message if you did not make a password reset request.
If you continue to experience difficulties accessing your account, visit the
Help Center at http://www.google.com/support/a .

This is an automatically generated message. Replies are not monitored or
answered.

Sincerely,
The Google Apps Team

——————–
From: Phil – WordPress.com
Date: Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 9:39 AM
Subject: [#1361736]: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: tmccormick@gmail.com

> Following this link yields a page on Google with this message:
> “This domain is not yet setup. You have tried to access a domain that has
> no administrator account.”
>
> There is no further instruction, and no apparent means of customer support.
> I suspect that there is no official support, given that this is a free
> Google App, and knowing their typical practices.

Hey there,

The root of these problems seems to be that your domain doesn’t have the proper
MX records for Google Apps associated with it at this time.

I’ve gone ahead and added Google’s MX records to your domain name for you.
Your verification code is now in place, which means that you should be able to
finish the account creation process through Google.

Please try to login to Google Apps and finish setting up your account here:

https://google.com/a/tjm.org

If you run into any more trouble with the process, you should ask Google Apps’
Product Forum for assistance here:

http://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/apps

Best,
Phil
Happiness Engineer | WordPress.com

——————-
From: Tim McCormick
Date: Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: [#1361736]: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: help@wordpress.com

> Please try to login to Google Apps and finish setting up your
> account here: https://google.com/a/tjm.org

I just told you, I cannot login to that, I tried it and get this message:

> “This domain is not yet setup. You have tried to access a domain that has
> no administrator account.”

I’m not confident that you understand or can address the problem, as you are e.g. not responding to the key question of if/when you’ve added CNAME record to the domain. My 3rd-party tests (e.g. http://www.hscripts.com/tools/HDNT/dns-record.php) tell me no: can you replicate, point me to a different result, or explain why this is not relevant, when I have specifically cited it and pointed to the Google Apps’s documentation asking for it?

And no, I would rather not depend on volunteer Google support forums to address this problem, when I am paying WordPress.com for service.

Is there somebody else who can help with this?

—-
Tim McCormick
@tmccormick / http://tjm.org / Palo Alto, CA

——————–
From: Phil – WordPress.com
Date: Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 5:55 PM
Subject: [#1361736]: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: tmccormick@gmail.com

> I’m not confident that you understand or can address the problem, as you
> are e.g. not responding to the key question of if/when you’ve added CNAME
> record to the domain. My 3rd-party tests (e.g.
> http://www.hscripts.com/tools/HDNT/dns-record.php) tell me no: can you
> replicate, point me to a different result, or explain why this is not
> relevant, when I have specifically cited it and pointed to the Google
> Apps’s documentation asking for it?

Hi Tim,

I can confirm that the CNAME record has been added to your domain name. You can verify this for yourself by viewing the current records associated with your domain here on WordPress.com:

https://tmccormick.wordpress.com/wp-admin/paid-upgrades.php?page=domains&action=dnsedit&domain=tjm.org

It can take up to 48 hours for CNAME records and other domain changes to take effect. I re-added the CNAME record to your domain earlier this morning when I added the MX records–it may take up to another 36 hours for the CNAME record to appear via the third party tool you are using, or to become evident when using your browser directly.

I can confirm that the CNAME record that Google has requested for verification purposes is in place (that it has evidently not fully propagated), and that MX records that Google Apps requires are properly set.

Best,
Phil
Happiness Engineer | WordPress.com

——————–
From: Tim McCormick <tmccormick@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Subject: Re: [#1361736]: URGENT problems with email handling for domain transferred to WordPress.com
To: help@wordpress.com

As I’ve asked before, if “Phil” is an actual person who’s handled this so far, *please* transfer the ticket someone else. I don’t think “Phil” is getting or fixing this.

On Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 5:55 PM, Phil – WordPress.com <help@wordpress.com> wrote:
>
> Hi Tim,
> I can confirm that the CNAME record has been added to your domain name
.
another two days and some have passed, and I have just received mail from Google Apps (included below) saying they cannot give me access to the tjm.org account because “we couldn’t verify the HTML/CNAME changes you made to domain tjm.org.”

Additionally, I have queried for CNAME records from multiple other tools, and find *NO* CNAME records on the domain.

You can see that in this recent output from a “host” request:

————————————
[storm]$ date
Fri Nov 9 23:17:45 PST 2012
[storm]$
[storm]$ host -a tjm.org
Trying “tjm.org”
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 37992
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 16, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;tjm.org. IN ANY

;; ANSWER SECTION:
tjm.org. 86400 IN SOA ns1.wordpress.com. hostmaster.wordpress.com. 2005071858 14400 7200 604800 300
tjm.org. 300 IN A 76.74.254.123
tjm.org. 300 IN A 72.233.2.58
tjm.org. 300 IN A 74.200.244.59
tjm.org. 300 IN A 72.233.69.6
tjm.org. 300 IN A 76.74.254.120
tjm.org. 86400 IN NS ns1.wordpress.com.
tjm.org. 86400 IN NS ns2.wordpress.com.
tjm.org. 86400 IN NS ns3.wordpress.com.
tjm.org. 3600 IN TXT “v=spf1 include:aspmx.googlemail.com ~all”
tjm.org. 3600 IN MX 1 ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.com.
tjm.org. 3600 IN MX 5 ALT1.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.com.
tjm.org. 3600 IN MX 5 ALT2.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.com.
tjm.org. 3600 IN MX 10 ASPMX3.GOOGLEMAIL.com.
tjm.org. 3600 IN MX 10 ASPMX2.GOOGLEMAIL.com.
tjm.org. 300 IN A 74.200.243.251

Received 418 bytes from 66.33.216.208#53 in 112 ms
[storm]$

——————————–

It seems that something is going wrong with how you handle DNS records: I have now repeatedly and carefully tried to add CNAME records over the last ten days in your online interface, and your support tells me you have added them for me. Yet Google Apps and all other external tools are reporting no record. In response to my questions, you just pointed me to your own interface, which obviously doesn’t verify records being publicly set and propagated.

It’s now approaching three weeks since I attempted to switch blog + email to WordPress.com, and it has turned into a costly and time-consuming mess. At this point I do not have confidence at this point in WordPress.com’s technical or support operations, and am looking at alternative providers.


Tim McCormick
@tmccormick | tjm.org | Palo Alto, CA, USA