Mar 7

Marc Hedlund

Marc Hedlund


In Dale's recent post, "Another War We're Not Winning: Us vs Spam", he asked if the war against spam is winnable, or if email will go the way of Usenet, drowned in abuse of the system. I liked a lot of the answers Dale collected, but I don't think it is possible to lose this war.

Prophecies of Internet doom were so common on Usenet that there was a stock joke to dismiss the doomsayers: "Death of Internet predicted -- film at 11." I always think of that line when I see these conversations. What some of Dale's respondents are saying is that the joke eventually proved true, and email is next. I don't think at all, though, that Usenet simply drowned in spam; I think that Usenet still exists, but now we call newsgroup posts "Blogs." It didn't scale to have one group where all the discussion of politics on the Internet could take place, so instead people use their own blog to post their political views, and you subscribe to the person instead of the topic. The activity is the same even if the form is different. Spam was a big force for this change, but so was the massive growth in the Internet population at large.

(Of course, Usenet literally still exists, too, in the form of Google Groups. The interface and character have both changed a lot, but the niche still supports life.)

I believe the same adaptation will happen to email. I've been testing 37signals' upcoming product, Highrise. One thing I love about it is that it serves as a layer on top of my inbox, and it makes my inbox a lot more manageable and workable for me. Even when I wake up and find a ton of spam in my inbox, there's a way to get work done and respond to the important things by using a tool that extracts what I need from the email morass. You can easily imagine some new form of application emerging to deal with the problem of open email receipt from any source, and Highrise is a good early example of that model.

Maybe the form of email will change; and maybe the form of spam will change with it (like newsgroup spam became blog comment spam). But the idea of writing a message from one person to another is certainly here to stay, and talking about a change in the form of email makes a lot more sense to me than declaring this war lost.

tags: meme wars  | comments: 5   | Sphere It

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Comments: 5

  Nelson [03.07.07 11:13 AM]

Marc, speaking as your former Usenet administrator I have to say Usenet is truly dead as a community. NNTP still exists, but most of the traffic now is warez and porn. Giant anonymous distribution of binaries. A few struggling communities of people talking still exist but most community activity now has moved to mailing lists. I don't think blogs are a real substitute for Usenet, since they lack the same sense of group membership Usenet groups had. Livejournal communities come a bit closer.

Email is a broken medium for me now. It's not so much that 99% of my mail is spam I filter away; it's that 50% of the mail I can't filter away is also spam. I think the only solution is to move to some sort of authenticated sender system.

PS: remember when "You've got mail!" was a happy, optimistic advertising slogan?

  Julian Bond [03.07.07 12:05 PM]

Actually usenet still exists as nntp. Google groups is just a view into that. And mailing lists still exist and not just in Yahoogroups. And the reason they still serve a niche is that blogs are not very good at few to few conversations. They're much more like one-to-few monologues.

  Henrik [03.07.07 06:48 PM]

yahoo/google groups
mailing lists
bullitin/forum sites
comments on links
instant messaging

Lot's of choices, and they all seem to be used a lot. Serves different crowds as well.

  Asbj¯rn Ulsberg [03.08.07 07:44 AM]

There needs to be made a distinction here. While I think Dale's primarily talking about the underlying technology, SMTP, you're talking more about the social aspect that's built on top of the technology. While SMTP certainly won't live forever, it's just as certain that sending messages from a person to another will. But the way we do it and the technology that supports it will change.

I believe the blogs have started to pave a way that opens up a lot of possibilities that before was hard to imagine. With OpenID and the Atom Publishing Protocol, people can interact in completely new ways and "The Writable Web" will finally become a reality everyone uses every day. In the future, with APP, instead of sending an SMTP RC-822 message, I will POST an Atom Entry to my friend's Atom Feed. Or, I will post it locally in a feed my friend subscribes to. Either way, it will be completely locked for strangers, we will have the trust level we need through OpenID and the facilities we need to send each other messages through the Atom Publishing Protocol.

  John Faughnan [03.12.07 09:07 AM]

I'd like to see more discussion of the claim that process patents are now blocking implementation of many spam blocking technologies. In particular, I wrote about "Differential filtering based on the managed reputation of an authenticated sending service" several years ago, maybe that could invalidate one of those patents.

It seems like there are a lot of things we could do that haven't been tried yet. Do the patent problems explain why progress has been so slow?

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