Is Money A Good Solution To Spam?

I have posted extensively on the Internet Axis of Evil and the list is a permanent placement at the bottom of the left sidebar of this blog:

I hate spam in all of its forms and the people who engage in it are criminals in my book are in the same category as murderers and rapists (edits at the suggestion of the commenters who I concur with).

So when I came out strongly against a "paid stamps" model for email in my post on January 30th of this year (possibly the first salvo in a loud and long response to the Goodmail initiative), I had to think hard about this issue.  Is money a good solution to spam?  I don’t think it is.

But I totally agree with Esther Dyson’s closing point in her op-ed column on the same subject in the New York Times this morning.  Esther says:

If people like those little stamps that mark their mail as safe and
wanted or as commercial transactions, then let the customers have them.
And let other companies compete with Goodmail to offer better and less
expensive service.

Goodmail isn’t good because it’s new, but
neither is it bad because it’s new. If it’s a good model, it will
succeed and improve over time. If it’s a bad model, it will fail. Why
not let the customers decide?

My outrage in that initial post was not about Goodmail.  I think Goodmail has every right to promote a paid stamps model.  It was that AOL had decided to go exclusively with Goodmail and was eliminating its "enhanced white list" program and was apparently not open to other white list solutions like Return Path’s Bonded Sender and Habeas.

A lot has changed since that monday morning in late January. First AOL clarified its position and said that it was not going to phase out its enhanced white list. I responded with another post where I said:

If AOL and others want to offer a paid stamps program as a compliment
to these other approaches, that is fine with me.  But mandating paid
stamps as the only solution, which is what was announced last week and
now seems like an miscommunication, is a bad idea.  I am glad everyone
is coming to that conclusion.

And I believe that the other companies in this space, Return Path (where I am an investor and board member) and Habeas, are going to get a place in the white list at the major mail receivers.  So Esther’s call for competition is going to happen and the market will decide as long as the mail recievers maintain an open playing field for all.

But back to the question I asked in the subject of this post.  Is money a good solution to spam?  I don’t think so because spam is not limited to email.  It is the scourge of every open system on the Internet.  You get Google spam, blog spam, comment spam, trackback spam, etc, etc.

Should I charge people to comment on this blog in order to elminate comment spam?

Should I charge people to trackback to this blog to eiminate trackback spam?

Should Google charge web pages to get into its index to eliminate search spam?

I don’t think so. Approaches like those will eliminate all that is good about the Internet.

We have no choice but to work on reputation and trust systems.  These are the long term solutions to spam and the Internet Axis of Evil in all of its forms.

I think we are very close to workable commercial whitelist solutions for email that are entirely reputation based.  And I think these approaches can be adapted to work in other areas, if they aren’t already.

So its fine with me if we have a competition for the best ideas in the marketplace.  But my bets aren’t around paid approaches.  There’s a better way and smart entrepreneurs armed with great technology will show it to us as long as the market remains open to such approaches.

#VC & Technology