Chapell & Associates

Monday, May 22, 2006

Activists challenge AOL's e-mail fees

Reuters - May 20, 2006
Four years ago, a small e-mail campaign saved a struggling coffee shop in Portland, Ore. Today proprietor Becky Bilyeu is among the thousands of people fighting to preserve the free flow of electronic mail. Bilyeu contacted the political advocacy group earlier this spring when she heard that Time Warner's AOL, the largest U.S. Internet service provider, planned to start charging for guaranteed delivery of certain types of bulk e-mail. The fee--a small fraction of a cent per e-mail--took effect two weeks ago. AOL says it will help stop spam, or junk messages, from clogging their customers' inboxes. But many say e-mail should move freely so that people can build and maintain large communities over the Web. Nearly 500 organizations, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to the Gun Owners of America, have joined together to create a coalition called

The Chapell View
This is very much like the Net Neutrality debate. For one thing, each side's argument is imperfect... but it's also similar because the Goodmail debate asks essentially the same question as the Net Neutrality debate -- does the ISP have the right to discriminate between Internet Traffic?

(Btw, I find it interesting that Yahoo's answer to this question as it pertains to Net Neutrality is "NO", while their answer to the same question regarding Goodmail would appear to be "YES!" more on this another day...)

As a privacy guy, I understand the benefits of creating an ecosystem where emailers need to consider the costs prior to hitting the send button. Most bulk emailers (even the 'reputable' brands) would rather just hit the send button rather than put together a comprehensive permissions management program. For one thing, it's MUCH easier. So in theory, charging emailers might make some of them think twice before hitting SEND - and that's probably not a bad thing.

And I'm pleased that Goodmail has decided to release their standards, although I'd encourage them to provide additional transparency regarding how their reputation scores are calculated. (I'd also like for them to demonstrate that they are actually certifying to those standards -- but that is a challenge faced by just about any business certification program.)

One thing that hasn't received a tremendous amount of press is this -- Goodmail fundamentally will change the relationship between large email sender and ISP. Under the current ecosystem, the large email sendards are beholden to the ISPs. After all, the large email senders won't make any money if their messages don't get through. And theISPss are fairly agnostic - their only master is their subscribers, and if you tick off enough of their subscribers, your messages get blocked.

However, Goodmail fundamentally changes that ecosystem. Once theISPss start deriving revenue from the delivery of emails, they become beholden to the large email senders. Does that mean that AOL and Yahoo! might give the benefit of the doubt to a large email sender that is paying them lots of money? I hope not, but it's certainly a fair question...

On the other hand....

I don't entirely embrace the argument that says "email should move freely so that people can build and maintain large communities over the Web. " I like that argument - again, in theory. It's nice to think about harnessing the power of the Internet to 'do good' in this world. But for every online community that's built upon making the world a better place (or providing Swedish doglovers a place to talk about pet products, or whatever) there are FORTY other groups who insist that their right of free speech includes the right to bug the hell out of me by polluting my inbox with stuff I don't want. Perhaps I'm throwing the baby out with the bathwater here, but I increasingly am left with the sense that the baby has been drowned a long time ago...
posted by Alan on Monday, May 22, 2006 | |

Does this privacy stuff really work?

Last week, I was invited to present to a group of email marketers in NYC. The luncheon was sponsored by the email marketing division of a large list and data company. It was positioned as a 'value ad' - so the parent company could demonstrate their commitment to privacy. I won't tell you the name of the sponsor, nor will I tell you any of the names of the attendee companies - but I will tell you that we're talking about prominent, top tier brands. I was joined by two other privacy professionals, whom I've known for some time. Also, most of the attendees (being emailers) were from the online divisions of their respective companies.

Anyway, I thought I'd share some of the audience' sentiments:

  • The ROI of Privacy was 'nice', but is anyone really doing any of this? - The luncheon attendees were very attentive, and asked some good questions, but the overriding theme of the afternoon was - "I like this in concept, but nobody is really executing this type of program!" This is admittedly a fair point. While there certainly are organizations that are able to affirmatively demonstrate the ROI of their privacy programs (HP being a good example), those organizations are probably not entirely willing to give away the secret sauce to competitors.

  • Great idea, so where's the turnkey solution? - While the attendees were interested in the concept of a ROI focused privacy program, they are generally looking for something they can simply implement. Few (if any) have the stomach (or the time) to take the necessary steps to build this type of program. One of the reason that the Spammer title fits most email marketers is because it's much easier to just hit the SEND button more often than it is to invest the time and capital to develop a real privacy and permissions program. Many attendees complained about fighting for headcount. (Recognizing that this is a challenge for just about all departments, I think it's particularly problematic for online divisions of companies - who've historically positioned their industry as cheaper, better, faster, leaner, Etc... The online ad space in particular is going through all kinds of growing pains as they attempt to find funding to build out infrastructure around governance.... but I digress.) My point here, is that there just isn't anything resembling a turnkey solution yet. Companies need to, for the most part anyway, build their own program from scratch. So until there's several demonstrable examples of robust (ROI driven) privacy and permissions programs, I think most organizations will sit on the sideline and continue to tap on the SEND button.

  • Great idea! I think my email/data provider should be offering that as a value ad service - I think this is a great idea. When I look out at Axciom, Experian, InfoUSA and other large data companies, I see an increasingly commoditized business. The first one of these companies that is able to demonstrate that they have the capacity to help build out an effective privacy and permissions program will have a HUGE advantages over the rest of the field. (In case any of them want to hire me to help build one of these programs, I'm all ears....)
posted by Alan on Monday, May 22, 2006 | |

Friday, May 19, 2006

Musician Moby raises voice for Net neutrality

CNET - May 18, 2006 Net neutrality believers have officially ordained a celebrity poster child. Musician-turned-cafe-proprieter Moby turned up on Capitol Hill on Thursday to urge passage of a proposal by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey that would write Net neutrality principles into law. Sporting his signature dark-rimmed glasses, with his head clean-shaven as usual, the artist said that a world without legally binding Net neutrality principles would mean that today's "egalitarian" Internet would be privatized by large telecommunications companies.

The Chapell View
I'll admit that I'm still not sure what to make of the Net Neutrality debate. One the one hand, it's difficult to be sympathetic to the ISPs. After all, it's not like this whole concept has snuck up on them. Colleagues of mine at Jupiter were talking about using the Internet to deliver phone and video almost ten years ago.

On the other hand, if technology and innovation are impacting the ISP's ability to make a profit (or to at least recoup their investment), then perhaps its reasonable to expect that those same ISPs will seek new ways to recoup their investments.

More on this later...
posted by Alan on Friday, May 19, 2006 | |

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