Eradicating Spam

No I am not dreaming. Although I do dream about eradicating spam every day and night.

I get about 400 emails a day from senders i never want to get email from. That’s how i define spam. About 300 of them are caught by Postini, my spam filter. It’s not perfect. About 100 more spam messages get through. By spelling Viagra V-I-A-G-R-A. And by lots of other tricks that annoy the hell out of me.

I am an investor in two great email companies Bigfoot Interactive and Return Path. Both companies help legitimate commercial emailers who have permission to send emails do just that. But they are not growing as fast as they should because their customers are reluctant to spend more money on a channel – email – where four out of every five messages is garbage. And I don’t blame their customers. It’s a huge problem.

Seth Godin convinced me in 1996 that direct mail without stamps was a great business. And it is. But its a great business for a lot of jerks. And that’s what they are. Because they are violating Seth’s number one rule for direct mail without stamps – you must obtain permission in a world where sending costs are almost free.

But if the jerks could be stopped, we’d have the greatest marketing channel ever invented. I get Clear Channel sending me a weekly email on all the new concerts coming to NYC and when i can buy tickets. This is great for me and great for Clear Channel. I get ~10 emails a day from Jim Cramer telling me what stocks he is buying and selling. I get a daily email from the Italian Wine Merchants telling me about new wines that i might want to try. I read these emails. I act on these emails. And i am better off because of them. And the companies that send them to me are too. It’s Nirvana for direct marketing – the smart/pull marketing that works (spam is unfortunately the proof of that). Not the stupid/push marketing that doesn’t.

So what do we do about Spam? We fix it. I am convinced we’ll fix it in less than 12 months. There is too much money at stake. Bill Gates said the following at ETRE, according to David Kirkpatrick, “”Clearly e-mail should be verified. There are proposed standards for that.” He said Microsoft would be able to make spam “a truly minor problem.”

I know for a fact that all of the major ISPs and email providers are working on standards to verify the sender of commercial email. They will roll this stuff out in the next 6-12 months. And it will take time to have an effect. But it will clean up our inboxes. And that’s a great thing. Someday soon my dream will be a reality.