The Spam Crisis Is Over

I was at a Kaufman Brothers Conference last week and was on a panel with three other VCs, Bob Davis of Highland , Deven Parekh of Insight Ventures, and Adam Dell of Impact Ventures.

It was a very good panel and we talked a lot about media, entertainment, paid search, and new technologies that are coming that will impact the media business.

At the end of the panel, we got to talking about email. I made the point that email CPAs are almost the same as paid search and yet Wall Street has written off email as an interesting category. The moderator looked at me quizzically and said, “isn’t email dead?” We all said, “no way”.

Then I tried to explain. I said that the spam problem has been solved. And then I asked the audience, which was primarily public market investors, to give me a show of hands if they have less spam in their inbox today than this time last year. I was expecting the whole audience to raise their hands, but I got less than a third to do that.

I guess my view on this isn’t shared by everyone, but I really do believe that the spam crisis is over. Today, I saw a piece by Brian Cooley at ZDNet’s AnchorDesk that makes the same point. Because it’s not easy to link to it, I’ll run his thoughts directly below:

Myth: Corporations can’t deal with the spam flood.
Reality: Yeah, they can. Using CNET as an example, our server-side spam filtering works really well. In fact, the IS guys recently told me I could stop using MailFrontier on my PC and just let their mail servers kill spam. Yeah, right. But that night I apprehensively switched off MailFrontier and went home, expecting an onslaught of spam the next morning. Nope. No perceptible increase at all. And that was almost two weeks ago. Server-side filtering works well.

Myth: Spam is costing corporations a fortune to manage.
Reality: The server-side spam blocker SpamAssassin is open source, and it’s free. Meanwhile, disk storage is the fastest decreasing expense item in all of IT, and IT will continue to shrink. (How do you think Gmail can offer the unwashed masses a gig of online storage?) And it seems nonsensical that corporations are spending money on lots of extra bandwidth just to handle the volume of spam. All of their bandwidth needs are increasing, and spam e-mail is just a part of that.

Myth: “I can’t get anything done because I have so much spam to deal with.”
Reality: You’re sandbagging. In fact, here’s some new data from IDC about our spam “workload.” This is the amount of time spent dealing with spam as reported by people at work–and even these numbers look overblown to me:
This is a productivity crisis? Sorry, if Srinivathan in Bangalore took your job recently, it’s not because spam killed your productivity.

Now, if your company isn’t filtering spam at the server, it’s their fault you’re swamped. If they are filtering it and you’re still bamboozled by the fraction of spam that does get through, then the hum of the air conditioner must also be killing you.

And I’m always surprised when I ask a few questions of people who tell me about the onslaught of spam that is choking their in-box. It’s usually something like 100 spam messages per day at most. It’s so daunting that they wait till the end of the day to deal with it, wringing their hands all the while and telling coworkers their e-mail is “a mess today–call me on the phone if you need to reach me.” Wimps. Knocking off 100 spam messages takes me about 15 seconds spread over an eight-hour day. Even if you read at a fourth-grade level while your lips move, you can scan the subject lines and delete it all in a few minutes.

Now, I know this doesn’t take into account all the feckless users who’ll always be overwhelmed by anything technological: the grandmas on AOL, the poor slobs on dial-up, the people you see in John Mellencamp videos. But their e-mail traffic is not part of the nation’s GDP.

The bottom line is that we’re pissed about spam because we think of our in-boxes as personal space. But stop calling it a crisis.