Thursday, December 6, 2012
Here's something that's been challenging lately: Various system issues at AOL.
Occasionally AOL will block a bunch of mail with an error message saying something like "554 mtain-xxx.r1000.mx.aol.com ESMTP not accepting connections." That message isn't very insightful, and it hasn't always been easy to translate this to an actual, understandable reason for those messages to be rejected.
From talking to AOL and from what we've observed, it sounds like the bounce message AOL intends to return (most of the time) is something akin to "blocked for spam," but even then, there are different levels of nuance underneath a blanket statement like that. "Temporarily deferred due to complaints" is a much different issue than "Blocked because you have a very poor sending reputation." But even then it's not always clear that there truly is a reputation issue.
On our end, we've updated our bounce categorization logic. This type of bounce was previously being recorded as a "hard bounce," due to the 554 numeric SMTP reply. Instead, we're now categorizing these as "technical" bounces, to more align with the actual response text being returned. That way, it's less likely that an address bouncing with this error message will be immediately invalidated by our system. We've made AOL aware of the issue and have discussed it with them, but I don't have any information on when this particular issue might be addressed.
Add to that, the AOL postmaster ticketing submission system is having an issue where it incorrectly states that we (the ESP) are not the owners of the IP address(es) being submitted for review/remediation, so the submission fails. We've made AOL aware of the issue, they're aware that it is a problem, but they haven't mentioned to us any sort of ETA regarding resolution. In the mean time, we've been working with AOL team members to help manually investigate and advise on specific IP addresses as needed.
Through our active participation in industry groups and forums (such as MAAWG), we're able to connect with various good folks at AOL to discuss issues like these. That's a good thing, though it doesn't necessarily mean that we can guarantee a specific resolution at a specific time. But rest assured we'll continue to do what we can.