Esther Dyson makes a pitch for Goodmail (NYT) as a way to at least partially alleviate the spam and email fraud problem. The Goodmail approach: Charge for email as part of discouraging junk mail and using market forces to filter out unwanted mail.
First, in terms of “all that junk mail.” Services such as Yahoo! mail (it seems to work the best for me at filtering out junk email yet letting my good email through) seem to do quite well. Why? Because they can aggregate their knowledge of what’s good and bad. I don’t get enough junk mail in my GMail account to be able to tell how well it does. And Hotmail does a mediocre job; it seems to filter out the most mail that’s actually OK.
The thing to notice is that these services are doing a reasonably good job at filtering emails (and by the way providing fraud and virus protection.) Why? Because they can aggregate their knowledge of what’s good and bad. The postmen can see the pattern–because they handle the mail. I can only see the tail of it. Of course, I can always ignore email if I want to no matter what the postman or email client brings to me.
Where the problem is–just like with self-managed blogs or I predict any self-managed server–is that you become an island unto yourself struggling to keep up with the patterns. It’s possible. But unless you’re very big and have enough resources to handle the problems, you can’t leverage the knowledge that comes with volume. Outlook users that connect to their own mail servers see this weakness.
There’s another problem that Esther doesn’t think all the way through. Junk mail will not stop. And truth is, metered fees will migrate towards the consumer–not just the sender. Here’s a case and point. There are companies today that I’ve noticed are junk-email enthusiasts. Big banks. Ticketing companies. Use any of their services and your spam messages can double or triple. Problem is these are likely to be AOLs (or someone else’s) partners. They aren’t going to penalize them to the extent Esther thinks. The charges will migrate toward you the consumer–that after all “opted” into receiving this junk mail. Metering email on the sending end will inspire metering on the receiving end.
And actually the process has already begun, via bandwidth fees and controls.
The wireless carriers are metering oriented and as users become more mobile they will encounter more fees for receiving junk email. I don’t want to receive it–even the “opted in” kind. I don’t want to download even the headers to my SmartPhone and possibly the email bodies to my Tablet on EVDO which then does the filtering. I know I’ll need to watch my bandwidth even more in the future–unless someone is able to make wireless bandwidth plentiful and then the economics will change. Till then, I expect to pay for bandwidth on the consumer side. So I’m paying for email delivery. (Of course, I pay my ISPs for email service too–each month.) So these pay systems are talking about shifting the economics to discourage spam. It’s not going to scale. The “opted” in junk emails will continue. Why? Cause they are “legit.” They unfortunately are the ones that manage the most to get through junk email managers. We still have not purged ourselves of the junk fax problem. We’re not going to purge “legit” junk email–even with a paid system. Anyone checked their postal mailbox lately? It’s all junk (or bills). I rarely receive any personal mail anymore outside of a greeting card.
What about fraud? Newsflash: It’s going to continue. Let’s see today spammers take over someone else’s server and send out emails asking the receiver to “update their eBay account information.” They’ll even use stolen credit cards to buy things online. Anyone that’s had an online business knows they have to deal with stolen credit card purchases daily. I mean all the time. Hmmm. What’s going to prevent them from breaking into a system and leveraging someone’s pay-to-send mail account. Nothing. The owner of the email account is going to pay for it or have to talk their way out of paying for it. I imagine the fees will be refundable if you spot the spammer in time. Otherwise you have to pay for them. Point is, fraud isn’t going anywhere. Adding a layer of fees isn’t going to solve the problem.
Remember market forces are already moving toward a solution–hosted email servers that can leverage aggregated knowledge of what’s junk and fraud. What’s missing are extremely low-cost sharing of this information. Personally hosted blogs such as this one have a similar problem when it comes to comment spam.
Charging a fee per email isn’t going to solve the problem–although at first it may discourage more email across the board. Plus Esther’s idea of charging the sender more based on whether she wants it or not is a recipe for management disaster. I don’t want to take 10 seconds a month to manage my current email filters–and I’m going to be managing filters that have fees associated with them? No way. I imagine this part will never fly.
But back to the basic problem. Junk email. Here’s my prediction: Email is going to the way of snail mail. People will use opt-in messaging systems for their personal messages based off of Messaging apps. Standard email will be mainly used for business, bills, and junk mail–just like my snail mail is today. Fees or not, this trend is well underway. Further, hosted solutions that can leverage aggregated knowledge of what’s good and bad are going to be the answer. Personally managed email will be fine for business, but not for most people. Outlook’s days aren’t numbered, but it’s model is being challenged. There’s a service missing that we’d all like. But we don’t have the scale–nor the desire to pay for it–to make it worthwhile. The Yahoos and GMails do. For most of us migrating to one of these hosted email systems is a reasonable step. And I predict their filtering systems will continue to get better to the point that most won’t see a problem with it–outside of “legit” junk email which is never going away–free or paid for. Just check your mailbox outside of your house to see why.
Finally, will filtering cost money? Yes. As consumers, will we be paying for it? Yes. Do I want to pay for it in a metered fashion? No. Just include it as part of the baseline for all Internet usage. It’s part of what it takes to connect to the Internet in a reasonable fashion. It’s like paying for the local police. Or sewage. Or street sweepers.