On Friday, Esther Dyson wrote a New York Times op-ed piece, “You've Got Goodmail,” in which she advocated for Goodmail Systems’ freedom to pursue a 'certified' approach to dealing with the problem of spam and fraud on the Internet. She wrote:
What Goodmail is proposing is a sort of FedEx for e-mail. For a penny or less per message, the sender gets guaranteed delivery for mail and the promise that it will stand out in the user's mailbox. The recipient pays nothing. (Goodmail, of which I am not an investor, has tested its system with the participation of a few companies, including this newspaper.)
Internet service providers like America Online, which receive and process mail in bulk, can share in Goodmail's revenue if they want, as long as they promise to pass the mail to their customers without filtering it for spam. The payment encourages AOL to adopt the service and to display a "certified e-mail" icon to users on each "stamped" message, indicating that the message is wanted and safe.
Goodmail's customers have to prove that recipients want their mail, and Goodmail checks the sender's mailing behavior and manages the quality of the mail through a system that makes it easy for recipients to complain about unwanted messages. Too many complaints and the senders lose their accounts.
The DearAOL.com coalition views GoodMail's approach as unsavory, a form of e-tax:
This system would create a two-tiered Internet in which affluent mass emailers could pay AOL a fee that amounts to an "email tax" for every email sent, in return for a guarantee that such messages would bypass spam filters and go directly to AOL members' inboxes. Those who did not pay the "email tax" would increasingly be left behind with unreliable service. Your customers expect that your first obligation is to deliver all of their wanted mail, and this plan is a step away from that obligation.
DearAOL.com responed to Esther's editorial, claiming that she said that a service like GoodMail would "lead to a world where sending email is no longer free -- and she likes it that way."
Esther responded in an email as follows:
Hell hath no fury like a columnist misquoted. When I wrote this piece - which was considerably simplified and shortened for all the usual reasons - I simply wanted to promote an idea I have long espoused: that recipients should get paid for receiving e-mail unless they decide they want it and refund the charges.
To me, Goodmail represents one early step along the way to that model. Over time, I suspect a variety of different models - including bonded sender mail services, attentiontrust.org's "attention" data and the like - will evolve to the point where much mail will cost money to send. A large portion of personal e-amil will likely be unpaid, traveling between individuals who know each other, but the larger volume of business mail will be part of a commercial ecosystem that will reduce spam and fund an environment in which the burden of (and financial liability for) figuring out whether e-mail is wanted will rest, appropriately, with the sender.
But now I'm mad. the DearAOL.com coalition is twisting my words. Read below to see what they say I said, and then read further to see what *I* said. The distinctions may be subtle, but there's a world of difference between "consumers pay for e-mail" and "sender pays, and recipient decides how much to charge."
The point is not that this is what Goodmail now offers, but that the freedom of Goodmail and others to experiment is what will lead to the evolution (rather than the intelligent design) of a system that allocates the costs and privileges of use of the Internet appropriately.