February 07, 2006
Certified email

A few days ago, Kevin wrote about AOL and Yahoo's implementation of a program to certify and enhance delivery of email from specified senders, with financial institutions being the prime example.

"CertifiedEmail will cost a fraction of a cent to send, which will be generously offset by an order of magnitude ROI in the form of assured delivery, improved open rates, and enhanced click-through rates," Richard Gingras, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Goodmail Systems, told ClickZ News.

Until that ROI is proven, however, it is likely that the service will be used more for transactional messages -- like billing statements or transaction receipts -- than for marketing messages. The company has not yet set a price point, but will base it on the number of messages sent. For certain transactional message senders, the value is clear, according to Gingras.

"Ninety-five percent of e-mail users fear identity theft, and nearly 30 percent categorically refuse to open messages from financial institutions," he said. "Goodmail CertifiedEmail will be distinctly labeled both in the inbox list view and when the message is opened so the user can quickly recognize that the message is certified and thus authentic and safe to open."

Kevin wondered if this is another front in the network neutrality wars. John, who has a (legitimate!) background in bulk email, applauds the initiative here and here. Among other things, he says, this should be a huge boon for ISPs:

AOL gets a lot of spam because it's AOL. It's an enormous domain with millions of email addresses, so naturally spammers are going to send all kinds of crap to it. There are lots of ways for spammers to get AOL addresses, from monitoring their chat rooms to trying random letter combinations and so on, and they work fairly well. So AOL blocks a huge amount of stuff that's obviously crap (based on the IP address it's coming from, message characteristics, how often that server is sending them mail, and so on).

The filtering rules change all the time, and they're not perfect; some things that you want to get never make it to you because they look too much like spam. And of course other things get through. What I find interesting about the Goodmail deal is that AOL is basically outsourcing something they do already: monitoring the kinds of email they get and figuring out what's spam and what's not.

Their idea, I suspect, is that since legitimate marketing email - stuff that you ask to get, like emails from Amazon and newsletters from places you shop and all that - is making money for the people sending it, there's no reason for AOL to spend money sorting it all out. You want to send stuff that looks like spam, but isn't? Pay Goodmail, and we'll accept that it's legit. Don't pay, and take your chances with everybody else.

Instead of AOL having to deal with companies complaining that their valid email is getting blocked, Goodmail picks up some of that task - and AOL winds up getting paid for it. It's a smart move for them.

I'm not sure that does anything to quell the slippery-slope fears, but it certainly does make sense for AOL and Yahoo to unload part of this onerous function onto someone else. Dwight isn't convinced, in any event.

I'll say this: I don't think we're going to make headway on the spam problem with current technology and paradigms. Technology Review magazine's recent cover story was entitled The Internet Is Broken, and while I'm not sure I'd go that far (nor that I'd necessarily endorse their proposed solutions), I think it's clear that a new mechanism for email delivery has to be adopted. Some form of sender verification, which is essentially what Goodmail is, is certainly one way to do that. Is it the best way? I don't know, but let's try it and see if someone else can come up with something better. I don't see that we have much choice.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 07, 2006 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack

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Posted by: Chad Khan on February 7, 2006 1:05 PM

I wonder if Chad Khan saw the irony of putting comment spam on a post about email spam (see comment above).

The point I was making (albeit in a roundabout way) is that spam is a natural result of the way email is priced, and the least intrusive way to fix it is to price things according to value. What's the value of having your message certified by someone AOL trusts? Every company that sends mass emailings will have to figure that one out & decide what to pay.

Posted by: John on February 7, 2006 1:50 PM

I'm torn. This could be implemented well or it might not.

I could live with it if:
A: There were thresholds in size to make it possible for small sites not to have to pay
B: There was a way for a user to approve a sender to him/herself to not be delayed.
C: There was a way for charges to be applied only to commercial email.

If not, I suppose My email will be slow or have urls stripped out of it to the few of my friends who haven't abandoned AOL for a better provider or Yahoo for Gmail.

Worse case, I'll give people who I game with via email accounts on my own mail server. Yes, the worse case is a re-balkanization of the Internet. Yay.

Posted by: Michael on February 7, 2006 2:44 PM

I really think the spam problem will slow and eventually go away once spf (sender policy framework) records become the standard. Also companies are taking open source software and enhancing it with more spam blocking features. Our spam firewall drops 83% righ away and users have their own spam scoring so they can adjust the strenght of the filter.

Posted by: I Hate Spam on February 8, 2006 5:31 PM

Goodmail Systems isn't about certifying mail that we want to recieve, Its about certifying mailers who pay a fee. As I see it its about liscensing spammers to get priority services. Sure the "get a bigger member" spam might not get through. but banking, casinos and other email marketing is still spam. and is just as distasteful. There is a solution avoid, Yahoo! and AOL. They both look at email as a part of their own marketing program. Google provides good filter algorythims, but using a good email program that you set your own filter parameters is still the best way to beat spam.

Posted by: Liberty on February 11, 2006 9:03 AM

I want to hear from people from all over the world. I have CP and im homebound and would love to hear from anybody.

Posted by: Greg on July 9, 2006 2:19 PM