How To Change the World, Part II

by , Feb 9, 2005, 1:45 PM
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Last week you got a double dose of the Email Insider due to an error on my part. By mistake, I sent my editors a 2003 article on Rich Media. Interestingly, I received a lot of mail about how insightful I was even though the article was two years old. I'm either ahead of my time, or the same issues never go away, so I could start recycling articles from 2000 and see if anyone notices. My guess is, they won't.

The problem is that for a new industry, we've always been entrenched in drinking our own Kool-Aid and once an idea is introduced, trying to dislodge it as "accepted fact" is difficult, if not impossible. We are still living under the hangover of the boom era when much of the code defining our industry was created.

Banner sizes were decided arbitrarily, but because billions of dollars were spent creating ad servers and Web pages to accommodate what was probably not a very good idea in the first place, it is the standard. The reason train tracks are the width they are is because that was the width of the Roman chariots a thousand years before. The first idea, not the best idea, is usually the albatross we carry forever.

Take e-mail for instance, or better, the battle for e-mail control, i.e. spam control. There have been a number of solutions for the spam problem, but the most widely used one is the worst: blacklists. They were, of course, the first solution. But with blacklists, we not only have a bad model, we have a dangerous model. Blacklists punish the innocent with the guilty. The only problem is that the bad guys move on and the good guys are stuck with their legitimate e-mails blocked.

As we outlined last week, AOL, by blocking e-mails that contain certain links prevented me from sending one of my part time employees a business related e-mail. People have been blocked because they are near a potential spammer's IP address. People have been blocked because someone decides that their computer could be used as a relay station.

All of these solutions are based on someone else deciding what mail you should be getting. As I mentioned last week, Gmail has decided that all of my newsletters from a particular source are spam and places them all in my spam folder. There is no way for me to correct their mistake. Blacklists don't work.

We also had the 'call and response' technology, which I've never been a fan of especially for corporate accounts, which leaves us with what I think is the best solution available today: the community.

This is a methodology that forms the basis of technologies such as Cloudmark. Here's how it works: people install the technology, which has a toolbar. When a piece of "spam" comes in, you click a button that says "Block Spam."

Once that spam is blocked (it doesn't delete the e-mail, but moves it to the spam folder for later review if needed) it "blocks" it for the entire community of people who also have the software. Spam can be unblocked as well and domains can be white-listed.

Individuals within the community are rated as well, much like eBay, and the weight your e-mail blocking efforts have on the community is decided by your rating; rate too many legitimate e-mails spam and you get a poorer rating and your contribution to the community is decreased. There is nothing like getting up in the morning and watching a hundred e-mails disappear from your in-box.

For the current state of technology, I can think of no better way to handle spam. No individual has undue power over my e-mail and the community has done a better job of policing itself than any blacklist I've seen. Unfortunately, if history is any judge, we'll be living with the chariot ruts of the blacklist for some time to come.

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