An Australian entrepreneur has created what may be the first antispam service that lets its users charge for the privilege of sending them e-mail. The concept has been discussed in technology circles for the better part of a decade, but Sydney resident Bernard Palmer, 59, has decided to try to turn the concept into a business. "Spammers aren't going to be sending many spams to you if you charge them 50 cents," Palmer said. "A spam would cost them $2 million."
Palmer's service, which he plans to announce on Thursday, is called CashRamSpam.com. After people pay $36 with a credit card to sign up for a CashRamSpam account, users may set their contact fee to be anywhere from a few pennies to as high as they think anyone would be willing to pay.
Some antispam services try to use text or numerals embedded in graphic images to discern whether the sender is a human, while others rely on "whitelists" of approved correspondents, pattern-matching to flag suspect messages, or verification procedures. The process can be problematic: On Tuesday, a coalition began compiling reports of legitimate e-mail accidentally snared by spam traps.
At least in its current form, CashRamSpam is more of a "proof of concept" than it is a robust antispam solution. Anyone who wishes to contact a CashRamSpam customer must purchase an account themselves first, there is no provision to permit friends or colleagues, and the system does not permit legitimate mailing lists to which users voluntarily subscribe to bypass the payment process. CashRamSpam keeps 10 percent of a user's contact fee as its payment.
When someone tries to contact a CashRamSpam customer, a message is automatically returned saying: "We regret your message cannot be delivered using ordinary e-mail because the receiver has a CashRamSpam account...If you want to succeed in reaching this receiver please register at www.cashramspam.com and resend the message from there."
Brad Templeton, who wrote an influential essay around 1995 about charging for e-mail, says those shortcomings could doom the concept.
Templeton, who is also chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says he no longer supports the idea of charging for e-mail. "I think it's a bad idea in principle," Templeton said. "We're putting an artificial cost on communication, free expression. It would have a chilling effect on speech if it were widespread. It shouldn't cost you money to talk to someone for no other reason than to cost your money. You have a right to demand that people pay your money for your attention, but it's overall not a good idea."
Palmer says he's not worried by the criticism. "If you wanted to e-mail them one time, it's a lot of money," Palmer said about the cost to set up an account. "But if you're going to use the program for your main e-mail system, it's relatively cheap to start off with. You're getting the benefit of no spam. How many systems can say that? Can any system out there besides mine say they have no spam?"
A 1997 patent granted in the United States to Todd Sundsted covers some uses of filtering e-mail through "an attached electronic stamp." Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, recently published a paper titled, "Selling interrupt rights: A way to control unwanted e-mail and telephone calls."
Palmer also hopes to convince advertisers and marketers to contact his users--and pay for their attention. As a test, he's offering to pay CashRamSpam users to read a petition against drug wars.
San Bruno, Calif.-based IronPort Systems plans to unveil Tuesday its BondedSender program, aimed at giving legitimate bulk e-mail a seal of credibility.
Participating companies would be asked to post a cash bond with a neutral party against which recipients could charge a small fee if they were improperly targeted with e-mail. A few such recipients wouldn't make much difference to the bond, but thousands of charge-backs could make companies reconsider sending the next mailing.
"These are messages with money behind them, so you can feel confident that they are real mail," said Scott Weiss, CEO of IronPort. "There are a lot of companies that you have never heard of, which need something like this. The bond is the way for them to prove themselves credit worthy."
The benefit for bulk e-mail companies is more certain delivery. The program could make companies and home users more likely to allow bonded e-mail through their gateways.
In a way, it's the ultimate capitalist voting system, in which people vote with, in this case, the sender's pocket book.
E-mail gateways--the hardware that sits between a company and the Internet to route mail efficiently--would take care of tallying returned messages and sending charges along to be deducted from the bond.
IronPort plans to build accounting features into its flagship gateways and says it will offer plug-ins for the three open-source competitors: Sendmail, Qmail and Postfix.
Weiss suggested that any money forfeited from a bond be donated to a spam-prevention organization. "I think it is going to be like the Cold War: Once the efficacy of the method is proven, spammers won't put up a bond," he said.
The plan is the latest trying to solve the problem of unsolicited e-mail. Weiss hopes BondedSender will go a long way toward solving the problem for marketers of overzealous e-mail filters.
"False positives are the biggest problem with anti-spam filters," Weiss said. When a filter flags a legitimate e-mail message as spam, known as a false positive, people could miss important messages.
This sometimes happens when the message contains words that frequently appear in electronic mailings. In other cases, the Internet address from which the mail has originated is known to be used by spammers.
However, companies that send mass mailings are sometimes flagged by filter software as potential sources of spam, even if many of their recipients want to receive the mail. Weiss pointed to online third-party payment service PayPal as an example of a company that could get flagged by filtering software.
"The PayPals of the world are trying to send out legitimate messages, and they are being blocked," he said. "Customers are asking, 'Where is that receipt confirmation?'"
Other companies high on the list of possible supporters include legitimate pornography sites. In many cases, any e-mail from a porn site is filtered out, even if it's a confirmation of payment, Weiss said.
However, the idea is still germinating, and the company hasn't cemented a pricing plan.
"We are tuning it through our beta period, but we want (the price) to be as low as possible without breaking the economic model," Weiss said.
Friday, January 26, 2001
During the next two years, large Internet portals, Internet service providers and Web mail providers will begin charging online marketers for the large volume of e-mail being sent across the Web, according to a report from Jupiter Research.
In 2005, advertisers will send 268 billion e-mail messages, 22 times the number of messages sent last year, Jupiter Research said. ISPs and e-mail service providers will see nearly 5.6 billion e-mail messages cross their networks for each 1 million subscribers.
"As they restrict access to a user's primary inbox and monetize the delivery of promotional e-mail, advertisers looking to reach consumers online must prepare to pay a premium," said Christopher Todd, an analyst at Jupiter Research.
He also said that as e-mail marketing increases, the business of sending promotional e-mails will likely evolve into a "tier-based" system, with marketers paying more for premium services.
For example, first-tier e-mail would be sent to targeted users' primary inboxes at the time of day when they are most likely to be online. Second-tier messages would be delivered with enhanced fonts and icons to make them stand out from other messages. Standard text messages would be considered third-tier messages and would be sent by standard delivery methods.
Jupiter Research advised marketers to begin factoring the costs of promotional e-mail delivery into their upcoming budgets. The firm also suggested that they consider establishing partnerships with major e-mail providers.
Jupiter Research Press Release
Mary Claire Delaney
Jupiter Media Metrix
NEW YORK, January 24, 2001 - Promotional e-mail delivery will emerge over the next two years as a new revenue stream for large portals, ISPs and Web-mail providers as they exert greater control over e-mail passed between marketers and consumers, according to a new report released today by Jupiter Research, the worldwide authority on Internet commerce. As e-mail marketing proliferates, Jupiter projects that ISPs and e-mail service providers will have approximately 5.6 billion e-mail messages cross their networks for each one million subscribers by 2005. Additionally, Jupiter predicts that advertisers will send 268 billion e-mail messages in 2005 - 22 times the number of promotional marketing e-mails sent in 2000.
"Internet e-mail service providers control a crucial chokepoint between marketers and the millions of consumers they want to reach. As they restrict access to a user's primary inbox and monetize the delivery of promotional e-mail, advertisers looking to reach consumers online must prepare to pay a premium," said Christopher Todd, analyst at Jupiter Research. "Although shortsighted marketers will view this as extortion, savvy marketers will recognize it as an opportunity to distance their messages from existing inbox clutter. Large portals, ISPs and other organizations that have a sizable e-mail subscriber base will see it as a significant opportunity to generate additional revenue."
Expect Delivery Tiers to Emerge for Marketing-Related E-mail
Jupiter believes that the current free delivery of promotional e-mail will evolve into a tier-based scenario that forces marketers to refine and focus their e-mail strategies:
Advice for Marketers Looking to Reach Mass Online Audiences
For direct access to the user's primary inbox, Jupiter advises marketers to take the following steps:
About Jupiter Research
Jupiter Research, a Jupiter Media Metrix company (Nasdaq: JMXI), is the worldwide authority on Internet commerce, providing strategic analysis and insight to give businesses a competitive advantage in the complex and rapidly changing Internet economy. Jupiter Research provides its business-to-business and business-to-consumer clients with comprehensive views of industry trends, accurate forecasts and today's best practices, all backed by proprietary and industry standard data. Jupiter Research services cover broad business issues and industry and region-specific topics, providing written analysis, supportive data and access to expert analysts. Visit us at www.jup.com for more information.
About Jupiter Media Metrix
Jupiter Media Metrix is the global leader in market intelligence for the new economy. The company delivers innovative and comprehensive Internet measurement, analysis, intelligence and events to provide businesses with unmatched global resources for understanding and profiting from the Internet. Jupiter Media Metrix brings together world-class, innovative and market-leading products, services, research methodologies and people. Jupiter Media Metrix brands include Media Metrix, AdRelevance, Jupiter Research and Jupiter Events. The Company is headquartered in New York City and operates worldwide, across the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe (as Jupiter MMXI Europe), and the Middle East. Visit us at www.jmm.com for more information.
This press release contains statements of a forward-looking nature relating to future events or future financial results of Jupiter Media Metrix. Investors are cautioned that such statements are only predictions and that actual events or results may differ materially. In evaluating such statements, investors should specifically consider various factors, which could cause actual events or results to differ materially from those indicated from such forward-looking statements, including the matters set forth in Jupiter Media Metrix reports and documents filed from time to time with the Securities and Exchange Commission.