Scripting News for 3/17/2006

Phil Jones: “The entire history of computer science can be interpretted as one long war between pragmatic tool builders and idealistic format / process builders.” 

Mike Arrington notes that the NY Times is linking to the discussion on Scripting News from Esther’s op-ed piece. That’s pretty coooool! 

People who doubt that thoughtful discourse is possible in the blogosphere, need only look at the discussion here about Goodmail. In just a few hours we’ve heard why Goodmail is not the solution to the spam problem. That is, unless someone who believes in Goodmail can explain why it’s anything more but a new way for Goodmail, Inc and their partners (AOL and Yahoo) to make money. 

ComputerWorld: New Orleans’ Wi-Fi network now a lifeline

Mary Hodder: 400 skydivers in tandem

I’ve been emailing with David Berlind who is in the hospital recovering from back surgery yesterday, apparently it was successful and he’s getting better. Best wishes to David and his family.  

I missed this bit about a speech given by retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, warning of “dictatorship” in the United States. It was mentioned at the end of the first hour of the Diane Rehm show this morning.  

Dan MacTough: “The buzz-o-meter on OPML browsers is off the charts right now.” 

New header graphic. A railroad crossing in northwest Wisconsin, photographed on 8/29/04

Dave Johnson experiments with the Microsoft Feeds API, and finds they’ve made some unusual choices, which may not be good for interop. The solution of course is to parse the XML yourself, and it’s definitely not too late for the community to provide the equivalent of the Microsoft toolkit, if perhaps the community can discuss such a thing without flaming out.  

Looking for Mr Goodmail 

Esther Dyson has an op-ed in today’s NY Times about Goodmail. We discussed this in a roundtable at her conference earlier this week. Not quite an unconference, but some ideas were exchanged, in a relatively relaxed way. At one point I got the mike and asked if anyone could give an argument against Goodmail — no one did. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but what are they? BTW, I think Esther’s piece is right-on.

Daniel Dreymann, co-founder of Goodmail, checks in. “Most leading vendors have already signed up with Goodmail to make it a standard feature on their MTAs.”

I asked if they have filed for or received patents. Dreymann said: “We do have intellectual property here but we provide software libraries for implementing the sending side and libraries for the receiving side — all free of charge to interested MTA implementers.” Sounds like they do have patents. Okay, that’s a reason it might not work.

MTA is an acronym for Mail Transfer Agent.

26 responses to this post.

  1. I have several, for one: It makes it harder to install a mail server. Both for DIY and for Third World countries. As I said here, it is a rich man answer to the problem. Second, it will just help BigCo and hurt the little guys.

    Reply

  2. Alfredo,

    It doesn’t make mail servers more difficult to install. Most leading vendors have already signed up with Goodmail to make it a standard feature on their MTAs. If Goodmail is successful, *all* mail servers (including open source) will have the option to apply CertifiedEmail tokens built-in. If Goodmail is not successful, you don’t really care abou ease of use, do you?

    The cost per message is so low that unless you are a spammer (sending millions of unwanted messages) they will be negligible when compared to your other costs (e.g. the cost of installing and maintaining a web server).

    Daniel Dreymann, Goodmail

    Reply

  3. Thanks for checking in here Daniel.

    The next obvious question is, if I have support for Goodmail installed in my mail server, does that also give me support for competitive systems, or do each of them require special support?

    Another way of asking the question — is this practice based on open formats that anyone can implement?

    What patents, if any, has Goodmail been granted or applied for?

    Esther talks about competition in her op-ed piece in today’s Times, and I agree that it’s an essential component. Is that realistic? Will there be competition? Is there already competition?

    Reply

  4. Daniel, I live in Venezuela. I have a mail server at my house (and no it doesn’t have that support. It is open source, though, lets imagine that is coming (it is still added complexity)). I CAN’T by law pay bills in $ (or rather, I have a limited amount assigned by the government for specific purposes). How will I pay Goodmail to deliver my mail? It is a rich man answer. You don’t see the money problems because you don’t have them.

    Reply

  5. Wow. WordPress.com is screwy… It has the 16 of March repeated several times (with small variations) and says there are 3 comments here… This is number 5!

    Reply

  6. Goodmail is the inventor of the technology and the first to implement. At this stage there are no competitive systems offering a similar service. Our agreements with AOL and Yahoo! are not exclusive. In fact, the system has been designed to allow multiple certification authorities. We do have intellectual property here but we provide software libraries for implementing the sending side and libraries for the receiving side – all free of charge to interested MTA implementers. The current IETF standardization efforts (of which we are very supportive) are focused on email authentication (validating that a message is indeed from a given domain) and not on certification (validating the sending entity, tracking individual messages and monitoring the good behavior of senders). As we gain traction, we will keep opening the platform to increase adoption; open source is one of the most attractive options. We are still in a pre-launch phase, AOL members have yet to receive their first CertifiedEmail message and yet we are already accused by some of being a monopoly🙂

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  7. Okay, I guess you do have patents here, but don’t want to say so. If so, that is a fly in the ointment, and a reason I won’t promote this solution. It’s a way to make you rich, with limits that you impose. Shortly we’re going to hear how you have a right to make money. Until we know what patents you have filed, this market isn’t likely to develop.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Kay, Tempe AZ on March 17, 2006 at 7:40 am

    Actually, I thought I WAS paying for email — that’s what I pay AOL for, not just access to the Internet, but for personal email. Why should I pay twice for the same thing? As for advertising — they should all have an .adv to indicate that it is such.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Craig Laurer on March 17, 2006 at 7:44 am

    I have a HUGE problem with this idea: It simply won’t be effective. It already costs money to send snail mail and it costs money to make long-distance phone calls, and that does not prevent my mailbox from filling up with junk mail nor has it prevented (despite so-called don’t-call lists) unwanted phone calls. People are fond of spouting off about the percentage of email that is spam, but I’d say about 90% of my snail mail is spam to me. I’d even say about 50% of the phone calls I get at home are spam.

    In addition, I am disturbed by the growing trend for junk mail to attempt to masquerade as legitimate mail. The envelopes are dressed up to appear official (sometimes looking similar to a FedEx or other overnight service’s; lately during tax season, making junk mail look like a W2 form seems to be popular) and the forms inside are worded to give the impression that returning them is required. On the Internet, it’s called phishing. Somehow with traditional mail, this kind of fraud is acceptable. Why?

    Esther Dyson may not have a stake in Goodmail, but she certainly isn’t your average user for whom the $30 a month for DSL is a non-trivial expedenditure. And finally, she says, “What shocks me most about the opposition to Goodmail is that people who claim to believe in the free and open Internet, with its welcome attitude to innovation, want to shut down an idea.” This is a totally bogus statement suited for Fox news, not the NYT Op-Ed page. Just because I “believe in a free and open Internet”, I am certainly not bound to embrace every stupid idea that comes along. This one is without merit and should be “shut down.”

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  10. I am very, very skeptical about the good will and functioning of corporations, especially big ones like AOL, MS, etc. I cannot imagine that we will not see a future where non-Goodmail is pushed through extensive spam filters that, surprise surprise, make it all but impossible to send uncertified email.

    At that point, two things will happen. First, anyone will have to pay for certification to have any real chance of getting their message through. Second, the government will insist that Goodmail cooperate to make sure that all email is from truly known (to Homeland Security) people in order to insure that terrorists are not using email for nefarious purposes. Anti-war and other opposing groups will, of course, only be harassed in their free time.

    I actually don’t have a problem with charging for email as a way to reduce spam, except it won’t work. Physical mail costs a lot and I get gigantic amounts of crap every day.

    Personally, I think the competitive marketplace should work to make personal filtering more effective. I use the standard filter Apple’s Mail.app combined with a couple of my own rules (eg, has to have my name somewhere in the header or be on my whitelist) and it catches all but one or two of the fifty spam messages that arrive every hour.

    So, Dave, the argument against it is that it puts large corporations in control of determining whose email gets through. They, it appears, will have an economic incentive to ensure that no unpaid email gets through. It will provide more organizations that the government can tap to invade our privacy and assert control.

    tqii

    ps, To say that we will have a competitive environment where people that want looser controls than the newly empowered AOL asserts is to ignore the reality that people cannot figure out anything about these technologies.

    Reply

  11. Ester’s article only comes across as “spot on” if you know nothing about the subject on which she bloviating, or are a person that believes “making money any way I can” is some sort of right. From the get go, this has sounded, and still sounds, like a way to skim some cream off the unfortunate unintelligible mass of people that still pay AOL for anything.

    She gives away her bias from the get go, with her “most email will cost money” and “it costs money to guarrantee quality and safety”. It’s not just a rich man’s answer, it a rather unintellectual rich man’s answer. There’s no “gee whiz” in this solution, just another rather poor attempt to create a false sense of security through “promises, promises” among various vendors. The question is, as a user, can I sue Goodmail when they fail to deliver my mail?

    By all means, go forth and attempt to carve a “secure” email channel out of the email ameoba. If it drives people away from using AOL and IE, and learning how to stay off of spammers lists themselves, I’m all for it. In fact, I think every piece of hardware that your messages pass through should charge Goodmail its own use tax just for the priviledge of making sure your electrons don’t get “accidentally” sent to the back of the queue…

    Reply

  12. Scott, I thought Esther’s essay was very good, and I’ve known her for many years, and have always had a friendly relationship with her. This is my space, and I like to keep the discussion on a personally respectful basis. No problem disagreeing, but if you have to use terms like “bloviating” to describe someone else’s writing style, it makes the whole thing pretty unpleasant, and also, btw, weakens your point, because it distracts from what you have to say which has value (which is why I approved the comment even with the disrespectful tone).

    I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with knowing nothing about a subject. At some point in every topic, we all knew nothing about it. One perfectly valid way to learn is to put your thinking out there and let people comment on it.

    Further, sometimes newbies see things more clearly than the old-timers. Sometimes old assumptions become obsolete, and the old folk forget to revisit them as the world changes. So let’s no disqualify an opinion just because some information is missing, either.

    I’d like to be able to recommend to Esther that she read this thread and participate, but I’m reluctant to do that if people are going to get personal about it.

    Reply

  13. Posted by Julia Holcomb on March 17, 2006 at 8:56 am

    I’m with Craig Laurer on this. Most of the phone calls that come to my house are unsolicited offers of credit or mortgage loans; most of my snailmail hits the bin unopened. Snailmail is *very* expensive, but that doesn’t reduce the crud much. I see no reason to think Goodmail would be any different.
    I teach: like most university profs, I email w/my classes. ( A recent NYT article discussed the degree to which college students use email to communicate w/their profs, and also discussed the nature of those emails–many of them demanding, unnecessary, or untrue.) Who’s supposed to pay for the “My car broke down and I missed class–did we do anything?” emails I get jammed with? I? My students? The university (who will no doubt take the cost out of my pathetic salary)?
    I *already* pay for email–I pay my ISP, and I am about to go to cable internet at $50 a month. I’ll be d**ned if I’ll pay by the email for the stuff my students fill my inbox with.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Holger Hoefling on March 17, 2006 at 9:56 am

    Goodmail will not solve the spam problem. As long as there is a significant amount of uncertified email (e.g. from your friends abroad, people with their own mailservers not using big companies) you will still need a spam filter. The spammers will keep on sending (after all it is virtually free). So the spam filter will still let a lot of spam through, as you don’t want to sort out a too large percentage of the remaining uncertified legitimate emails.
    Of course, this a pain, so you might simply block everything that is not certified – forcing everybody to get certification.
    But you will still get a lot of spam – through hijacked PCs, companies who are willing to pay (after all it is supposed to be very cheap and look at all the unwanted mail in snail mail) and glitches in the protocol, which will definitely be the case when we are dealing with a truly competitive market with lots of providers.

    Internet technology companies have long looked for an opportunity to earn more money. Right now, only sex, online dating and news items sell on the internet and there is only so much you can earn through advertising. This is an opportunity for additional revenue. I certainly don’t want the service, but I am sure that when it is even moderately successfull, I will have to get it just to get my email delivered.

    Reply

  15. I suppose I was rather disappointed that the Times, for one, printed an article what I would say didn’t have much “substance” to back its claim that Goodmail was a good thing. Also, her comment that free and open people are trying to squash an “idea” was a little irrating because it didn’t confront any of the claims people have made against this idea in other forums, just waved them off with a hypocritical turn of phrase. If the editorial was a critical piece that I felt tried to at least back up its claims with some quantifiable research, I would’ve given it more thoughtful consideration. Without strong facts it comes across as a marketing shill however. It’s one thing to say here’s a good idea, and provide some strong rationalized cases to why it is such. It’s another to say this is a good idea just because I think so, or because I feel its inevitable. Not that you can’t say it, it just doesn’t need to be represented that way in the Times (not that the Times is what it used to be anyhow).

    I agree the world is constantly changing, and hence we have to be on guard against those who might like to carve it up into fiefdoms where they can exert sole control (not saying this is Goodmails goal, but it is and has always been the goal of many corporations). Or where the imprintur of control becomes the inevitable reality, hence the “electrons” commment. It is a well-documented fact that corporations as a general rule of thumb given precendence to financial power and control of human progress and technological progress. For a case study, see Dow’s use and retirement of Freon. What most people have an aversion to is that this sets up the classic, if A then B then C sequence. If someone carves out a secure channel and offers a service, who is to say everyone can’t do the same, all the way down to the bits moving across the semiconductors themselves? Does any of this actually “add value” to technological or human progress in general (a good measure of whether something is a good idea)? It’s more like a tariff system. And the unsurprising revolt among groups is similar to the Boston Tea Party. The internet is a fairly level playing field exactly because there are no kings, and I don’t wish there to be any king-makers either. Some corporations also have finally come around to believing this (Reference IBM/Sun support for emerging open source technologies as a MS counterweight). Many unfortunately do not, and will continue to refuse to.

    I also agree with the comments above that paying for anything never reduced fraudulent activity. In fact, people would be better served investing efforts in exploring the AI capabilities of spam filters, and AI in general, not trying to isolate and close off their own worlds (isolationism being proven a failure throughout history). Greater openness will lead to greater innovation, greater innovation should lead to greater progress. Putting taxes at every little stop along the way only ensure that those who pay can play.

    Can Goodmail insure us, under the threat of penalty, that a message is received within a particular time constraint? If that were the case, then you’ve potentially “added value”. The FedEx comparison is a bit of a nonstarter as well, because, in the case where FedEx doesn’t get my package to me according to a specified timeframe, or in the condition I expect, I am able to redress my grievances through filing claims. Can Goodmail really insure the same when it doesn’t own 99% of the supply chain through which the mail is passing?

    So given all of the natural questions that this endeavor elicts, Ester chooses to ignore addressing any of them in detail. That’s why I didn’t like the article, and why it sounded like typical marketing speak.

    The world can be a dangerous place, with spammers, viruses, this, that, and the other. But, I would rather have the freedom to protect myself and communicate with who I will unencumbered. For the record, my 80+ year old Grandmother has moved from shorthand, to manual & electric typewriters, to a savvy computer user (not innundated by spam), so people can learn to navigate this new world without us having to create and pay for “safe” zones, if we just require and encourage them to apply some intellectual rigor.

    Reply

  16. […] People who doubt that thoughtful discourse is possible in the blogosphere, need only look at the discussion here about Goodmail. In just a few hours we’ve heard why Goodmail is not the solution to any problem we currently have. That is, unless someone who believes in Goodmail can explain why it’s anything more but a new way for Goodmail, Inc and their partners (AOL and Yahoo) to make money.  […]

    Reply

  17. Posted by Ralph on March 17, 2006 at 11:46 am

    I have no problem with anyone who wants to buy the services of Goodmail, or pay for anything else they want. I do have a problem with losing my own choice for email that is freely included with ISP (including Yahoo webmail, etc.)or the choice to pay for Goodmail.

    Many of us Americans are so finacialy squeezed we actually can afford less each year, not more. Costs go up, income creeps slowly behind it. I’m not anxious to ad yet another bill each month. For us, the pennys, the nickles and the $30 to $50 ISP bills really do ad up to an amount that we seriously have to consider. The free and open market works great for people who’s monthly income and monthly financial needs aern’t practically equal. I wish everybody could get wealthy, just please stop coming to me for your next pay increase. “Choice”, for some of us, is often between medical care, gasoline or groceries. It’s not always about the next luxury service we’d like included in or life.

    BTW, I don’t have a big complaint about spam. But the amount of junk snailmail I get is atrocious. If Esther Dyson has a problem with spam, may she please find a solution that doesn’t include billing me for it.

    Reply

  18. Why should email be more restrictive than the post office? If I choose to send direct mail, I can send it to anyone. They may throw it away, yes. But I have a right to send it if not illegal material. So why should my right to send something be more restrictive on the internet, which I think we can generaly agree has freed us to be a global communtiy with access to knowledge of the world beyond our wildest imagination even 10 years ago. No, I don’t agree with such restrictions. We have just found freedom, let’s not applaud it being taken away. That’s throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    Reply

  19. […] Steve Gillmor just pointed this out on the Gillmor Gang (recording now, up later): The New York Times is linking to Dave Winer’s blog at the end of an New York Times op-ed piece written by Esther Dyson. […]

    Reply

  20. Dave–

    Very interesting discussion. I added my two cents here. In a nutshell, I didn’t appreciate you’re saying that “no one” made any arguments against Goodmail during the roundtable on it at PC Forum. I was there; I made a point about the importance of protecting free (a.k.a. inexpensive) political speech online. Others made valid arguments too.

    Micah

    Reply

  21. Posted by Jake on March 17, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Sure, people get a lot of junk mail and a lot of telemarketing calls, but I’d say I get maybe 10 a day combined. That much spam makes it past my aggressive filtering; and it’s worse, because people generally set up e-mail to interrupt them, while you only get your snail mail once a day.

    Reply

  22. Posted by jv on March 17, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    The author should get their head out of their @#$%. They should make a list of all the reason why charging for email is bad. There is always two sides to a story. After making the list, hopefully they will realize just what a dumb idea the were promoting. We would just be cramed full of spam.

    Just plain dumb.

    Reply

  23. “Most leading vendors”

    Everytime I hear that phrase I get nervous. It needs to be ALL leading vendors. Is there a list somewhere? Sendmail? Postfix? QSMTP? Imail? MailEnable?

    Reply

  24. Posted by Paul on March 17, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Why should we pay twice? Anyone who sends out an e-mail to over 100 people should be required to be listed as .adv and pay the service provider accordingly.The problem is that the spamers, (99.9%)business’,are getting a free ride and the brightest idea is to charge the consumer.

    Reply

  25. Posted by Danny O'Brien on March 17, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Esther’s argument relies on the fact that spammers (as well as everyone else) would have to pay to send mail to you, which isn’t how Goodmail or AOL advertise their product as operating. Quite the contrary — only legitimate mailers should be able to certify as Goodmail payers, otherwise AOL’s offer to allow these mails to bypass their spam filters would punish AOL customers. Goodmail is pay-to-send, but only for legitimate mailers. What they’re paying for is the certification that they’re good players. Spammers still get to send for free.

    The transition that would work to get to Estherworld, then, would be that slowly free mail would get so absolutely crummy that everyone would switch to pay-to-send like Goodmail in order to get past anyone’s filters. I don’t think, under a normal market, that’s going to happen: there’s a lot of innovation in this space (including systems like Goodmail) that could improve free mail. Free mail isn’t dead, and if it is, we have a lot of other places where we’re going to have to fight and fix the spamming problem. Money is a nice proxy for “I really want to send this to you”, but it’s not the best proxy for “I really want to receive this”. And that’s what makes free email competitive with pay-to-send, even with a spam problem.

    The real problem with Goodmail is that it isn’t just certification – it splits its per-email charge with the mail receivers like AOL. So now, AOL is getting paid to stay with Goodmail, as opposed to other certificators who offer them a service, but don’t pay them. Acceptance by big ISPs is the only way certification is really going to get off the ground, and now it’s going to be the case that they’ll all have to compete to offer ISPs money.

    Worse, AOL is now getting a cash incentive to encourage a move to pay-to-send, instead of working to fix free email. Under those conditions, they’re not abandoning free mail because it’s unfixable, they’d be given a cash incentive to let free mail decline because Goodmail’s revenue split has given them an opportunity to make money from having it get crummier (as opposed to contributing to the collective benefit of trying to fix it).

    I know that a lot of people feel that the market will sort this out: that if AOL really does start letting free email delivery decline (and you know, that doesn’t just mean letting free email delivery decline for their own users — AOL does a lot to protect other free mail receivers to), people will move from AOL. Right now, we’re all working to fix spam: mass mailers, Goodmail and AOL too. Every time an email fails to get to its destination, for AOL, that’s an unadulterated bad thing. From now on, it’s an opportunity to get someone to switch to paymail. When you’re a major figure in the fight against spam, and somebody offers you a way to make money out of the current failings of your spam filter, which way, as a corporation, are you going to go? Which way will the stockholders lean on you to go?

    Esther says that universal pay-to-send is the way to go, and that Goodmail is the first step along that road. We agree: we’re just not sure that’s a good thing. I don’t think Goodmail or AOL have ever said that they wanted to switch from free mail to paymail, because it’s so controversial. Goodmail should be honest about whether it’s a certification service with a neat payment structure, or a serious attempt to build Esther’s world by encouraging ISPs to make money from their own anti-spam filter’s failings. The difference between the two, to me, seems to be whether they’re offering AOL a service to help them identify good mailers, or working together, as Esther says, to build an infrastructure for paymail.

    Reply

  26. Any metric that is something like “anyone who sends an email to over 100” (or really nearly any number you can substitute) is missing a major number of the reasons why someone might send out that many emails – many of which are not advertising or even in many cases commercial.

    I’m part of dozens of mailing lists that are at (or well over) 100 people. These are only in a few cases “commercial” lists – mostly they are groups of people who share a common interest and passion – and who wish to exchange emails on the topic. Should who ever manages the underlying listserv software have to register a new domain and pay lots of fees to ensure their emails go though?

    In the past month I have receive emails from friends announcing the birth of a child, a child’s upcoming wedding, and their own wedding plans – should people with such personal announcements need to pay to share them if they happen to have a large family or number of friends?

    I’m the organizer of a non-profit conference and I help a number of other non-profits, should non-profits have to pay (or the volunteers and supporters of those organizations) if they want to send out a note to more than 100 (or N) people?

    A few times each year I send out a short update to the people in my address book – these are people with whom I have corresponded in the past, or whom I met in person and we exchanged cards (with a promise to connect). These updates are both personal and professional and encompass my for-profit and non-profit work. Should I have to pay to send these emails?

    And for that matter what determines whether (or not) I’m sending out multiple emails? Is it just identical body texts (then mail merge or spam with randome strings would break this) or is it some “closeness” metric? (and if so, who determines what makes an email “close”)

    By that logic, should someone who sets a vacation notice be charged if more than 100 people happen to email them while they are vacation? (for a point of reference, including spam – just to my primary accounts – I get over 500 emails on a typical day. If you included the spam to my mail servers that goes directly to /dev/null, it is likely in the 10,000’s a day)

    My point is that merely counting how many times a specific email has been sent (or a similar email – with all that adds as issues) is not sufficient to decide if it is spam or even if it is advertising. (and how would you count commercial messages that I, the recipient specifically request – like a alerts from my bank or an airline I’m flying) Not to mention the issue of how anyone (whether commercial or not) handles registering and verifying users if they have to pay for messages over 100 – registration will all “seem” the same – yet differ in a very crucial details (username/password/unique URL link etc)

    Great discussion!

    Shannon

    Reply

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