Is Email Broken?

Joi Ito’s Web: Email is officially broken :

I pronounce email officially broken. If 17 percent of legit email is being blocked by spam filters, it’s not officially working.

A conclusion drawn from a single study is bad enough, but a single study done by email marketers? Surely there must be some bias in the research, and therefore the conclusions. We already know that users’ definitions of “opt-in” are often very different from marketers’ versions (The fact that I give someone my e-mail address on a registration screen does not mean I want them to declare every spammer under the sun a “carefully screened partner or affiliate”…)

Based on my logs, a rough estimate is that refuses 1-2% of inbound email. We keep track of the source of blocked e-mail, and send a nightly report to users; The number of complaints I’ve received can still be counted on one hand. The rest is all unsolicited bulk e-mail. The front line filters are very conservative, so I also run SpamBayes on my personal mailbox; it catches about another 10% (again, with a single-digit number of false positives since I installed it a year ago) . That too is all unsolicited (No really, I like the current size of my penis, thank you).

I don’t care what excuses people give. The people who made smtp should have thought more about host authentication and the people who made IPv4 should have made longer IP addresses. My guess is that there were people who were voicing concerns who had more vision.

Hey, the technology was invented in the dark ages when compared to today’s world. Nobody expected personal computers, never mind cheap personal computers, never mind laptops and palmtops. SMTP even predates domain names, for goodness’ sake. SMTP was invented in an environment where the community was small enough that bad manners could be policed, never mind security. Now we have hundreds of millions of people on the ‘net; I think e-mail is holding up remarkably well, personally.

The problem here is not email or technology; it’s a bunch of people who think that SPAM is a viable business (and sadly, enough people click that it is). We solved the junk fax problem with legislation, and we’re still working on telemarketers. We’ll get around to e-mail eventually. In the meantime, e-mail marketers will just have to put up with the fact that some bad apples have spoiled the barrel for them. Normal, person-to-person e-mail is working just fine…

posted at 6:54 pm on Thursday, August 21, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on Is Email Broken?

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