Jul 17, 2003
SUMMARY: Good news -- yesterday 12 leaders on the front-lines of the email wars got together in a room to hash things out. For the first time, marketers, email broadcasters, filter
companies and ISPs sat down as compatriots. Then immediately afterwards they called MarketingSherpa to tell us how things worked
out. Not to sound hypey but, we think they may have a solution to spam problems.
By Anne Holland
Wow -- in an eight-hour closed-door Summit yesterday, the Email Management Roundtable may have come up with a solution to much that ails the email world. If it works out, false positives, filter headaches, and spam overload may be a thing of the past sooner than you think.
The funny thing is -- the solution is incredibly low tech.
It doesn't require any software. It's not something a VC can fund. In fact, it's less complicated than any proposal I've ever heard to end email woes. (And I've heard a whole bunch of them.)
It's called communication.
As in sit-down-and-talk-to-each-other.
Turns out the biggest problem in fighting the war against spam has been the giant battle lines drawn between all the
participants. For the most part, marketers, email broadcast firms, ISPs, and filter program firms rarely spoke to each other. We all heard that people on the "other side" thought of us as bad guys, and we focused on how to get around them.
It turned into an iron curtain-style cold war.
So, yesterday was one of the first times in history when power brokers from all sides got together in one room for a private meeting. Neither press, nor politicians, were invited.
Attendees included execs from:
-Rapp Digital Innovyx (representing marketers)
-Habeas (who get mail past filters)
-Word to the Wise (who track down junk mailers)
-Yesmail, SilverPop and CheetahMail (broadcast vendors)
-MailFilter and SpamAssassin (filter firms)
… and four anonymous folks (read, "probably important ISPs")
And guess what happened?
It only took 15 minutes to define permission simply as mail the user wants to get, and to set the goal of the meeting to "How can we get users mail they want, and stop the rest?"
Everyone was in vehement accord. And most were deeply surprised that everyone in the room agreed with them.
"It was really eye opening for some people in the room to hear an ISP rep say, 'You know, we really don't want to block you.' Before, for the sending community, we'd been told everyone at ISPs were out to eat your firstborn," one attendee told me.
Before long the meeting dissolved into the previously
unimaginable -- laughter.
(In fact, when I interviewed a group of eight of the attendees afterward, they burst out laughing again, and again, and again. I'm not *that* witty. They just were so happy and relieved at how well the meeting had gone, and how the stress of the past year had suddenly dissolved.)
"The one comment people keep making over and over is, 'Wow we have more in common than I ever thought.' We have all commented that we've made more real progress here today then we've seen over the past year," said Roundtable Chair Anne P. Mitchell of Habeas.
So what's their solution specifically?
Everyone agreed that they would share direct phone numbers and private email addresses so they could communicate better. Yup, it's basically that simple.
Plus, the folks representing the sending community promised they would make their clients "transparent" to the ISPs and filters if a mailer was doing something that a large number of email recipients didn't like. No more shielding the bad guys.
On the other side, ISPs and filters promised they would try to find ways to only block on a client-level -- so if one marketer screwed up and did a bad mailing, everyone else sharing the same broadcast servers wouldn't be caught in the blacklist too.
"We don't want to block your entire range of IP addresses," an ISP assured the mailers in the room, "not if we don't have to. We want the good mail to get through just as much as you do."
ISPs and filters also promised to tell broadcasters when there was a problem with a mailing, based on feedback and trends from the end recipients.
This is a huge step forward. Before mailers often only knew if mail was being filtered because open rates were suspiciously low. Bounce reports and blacklists told some of the story - but not nearly all of it.
Creating a feedback loop - even as informal as an ISP exec
picking up the phone and telling a major broadcaster their latest send sucked - is a massive step forward. Especially since the broadcasters involved all promised to educate and ultimately dump clients who weren't getting permission religion.
What's next --
The same group is getting together in a month to map out more plans. They are not inviting any additional members to join at this time, because if you have too many people in a meeting, very little gets done.
And that's the point of this group - to get stuff done already!
However, individual members definitely seem to view themselves as representatives for their branch of the email industry - instead of just as company reps. All are willing to carry messages from and disseminate information to fellow-industry leaders. So, if you know someone involved - or a friend of a friend - contact them.
(Plus keep reading MarketingSherpa for updates.)
"We're making a feedback loop," one participant explained, "and when feedback occurs, problems are dealt with rather than everyone taking up arms and going to battle over it."
I don't know about you, but I can spot hype and this isn't it.
This feels like something real, and possibly permanent. The email battles won't be gone overnight, but we have a tentative peace accord.
This is a very good thing.