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Just Make It Stop

John Levine

In a recent discussion among mail system managers, we learned that one of the large spam filter providers now has an option to reject all mail from ESPs (e-mail service providers, outsourced bulk mailers) regardless of opt-in, opt-out, spam complaints, or anything else, just block it all. Some of the ESPs wondered what would drive people to do that.

We are bombarded by ads from the moment we get up until the moment we go to sleep. There's ads on the radio, ads on TV, ads in the newspaper, ads on billboards, ads on the bus, ads on the fricking steps in the NYC subway. In my physical mailbox, where I used to throw away about one worthless little newspaper full of ads a week, now it's one or two a day.

The reality is that recipients do not care if they get the vast majority of what ESPs send. Even if we might have at one point checked the box to get Valuable Offers for More Fabulous Products Like This, now it's just more stuff in the gusher of ads. If there's a button to push to make their inboxes an ad-free zone, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that people push it.

For the minority of stuff that people do want, like the daily headlines from newspapers, or perhaps the weekly roundup of cheap plane fares, there's better ways to get them than e-mail. An RSS or Twitter feed is entirely under the recipient's control, meaning that no sleazy marketing manager can try to shove his messages to the top of My Yahoo, or to insert his feed if I didn't ask for it. If I lose interest and unsubscribe, it is gone instantly, permanently, and reliably. If I were a mail manager, I would be delighted to push the no-ESP button, then show a few of my users how to set up feeds for the trickle of stuff they really want, because now the management burden is on them, not on me.

For ESPs, if there is any argument whatsoever about whether recipients want your mail, you lose. Yes, it's hard to read their minds and only send them what they want, but thats how competent ESPs make the big bucks.

(Several mail managers at very large ISPs wrote privately to thank me for my note and wish they had that button, but they asked me not to name them since ESPs are so excitable.)

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker. More blog posts from John Levine can also be read here.

Related topics: Email, Spam

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I can see where that'd be popular Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Dec 05, 2009 5:26 PM PST

.. and enforceable too, in the case of some userbases (corporations that'd mandate what their employees can and can't use their email for, for example)

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