Damage Control Goes Into Overdrive......This is the last Part of the Articles....it will take me some time to prepare a "Review/Summary" that is palatable to post! LOL
Reprinted From "Internet Retailer" Magazine.....................
April 2006 Boston Tea Party?
Protestors barrage AOL and Goodmail over certified e-mail program
By Bill Siwicki Given that they did so little advance public relations, it’s a safe bet that America Online Inc. and Goodmail Systems Inc. didn’t anticipate the industry uproar over AOL’s plan to charge bulk e-mail senders to smooth the path to AOL users’ inboxes.
But if they were expecting their plan to be a non-event, they were mistaken. As soon as word got out that AOL wanted to charge 1/4-cent per e-mail to guarantee that a marketer’s message arrived, and arrived intact, in an AOL user’s account, some forces began mobilizing to oppose it and others to support it.
Two points of view
“This seems like an unnecessary tax and most likely would have to be factored into the cost of doing business,” says John Salai, director of marketing for online music retailer CD Universe. “It’s an unfortunate situation when a company with valid customer e-mail addresses must pay to insure customer-requested e-mails go through.”
Other retailers have embraced the plan. “I’m very excited about certified e-mail service. It can enable retailers to separate our messages from the noise and spam that consumers are constantly bombarded with,” says R. Preston Wily, vice president of business development at Sewell Direct, a computer vendor. “Right now our open rate for opt-in e-mail campaigns is much lower than it should be because our customers are using default filter settings that often erroneously identify us as spam.”
And then there’s the great middle that’s confused. “I’ve never seen more misinformation and hullabaloo on a topic in this industry,” says Loren T. McDonald, vice president of marketing at EmailLabs, which sells e-mail marketing software and services.
America Online announced late last year that it’s launching a certified e-mail service using e-mail reputation vendor Goodmail Systems’ CertifiedEmail program. Then Yahoo Inc. announced it’s testing the same service. Ever since, many in industries that rely on the Internet, civil liberties groups, analyst firms and other organizations have been up in arms, dubbing the fee for the "optional"(?) service a tax.
Focus on AOL
The focus of the uproar has been on AOL, in part because the company is the first ISP colossus to offer this service to online retailers and marketers; Yahoo has said for the time being it is only testing the service. Another source of concern has been that AOL opted—at first—to use only one e-mail reputation vendor, Goodmail. It has since changed its stance and now is investigating the use of other e-mail reputation companies.
Because of an abundance of incorrect information and rumor, concerns quickly developed into today’s uproar. In response, AOL and Goodmail recently conducted a webinar in an attempt to allay industry concerns. They said this is the story:
— The Goodmail service, which AOL officially launched last month, guarantees delivery of intact marketing e-mails to AOL subscribers’ inboxes through a certification process. In recipients’ e-mail boxes, an icon is displayed next to certified e-mails to show they are “safe.”
— The service is optional. This has been become "indefensible"
— The cost is approximately 1/4-cent per e-mail; AOL will offer the service for free to not-for-profit organizations.
— AOL will continue to operate its standard and enhanced whitelists, which move reputable e-mail marketers’ mail to inboxes with little interference from AOL.
— Non-certified e-mails will be handled precisely as they have been—nothing will change.
— Links and images in all e-mails will or will not manifest as they have. Some examples: Links and images do not appear by default for AOL software 8.0 and higher; users can change that setting. AOL’s enhanced whitelist ensures the delivery of intact links and images for companies on that list. Links and images defaults vary by ISP and e-mail software.
— AOL subscribers sending e-mails, and any individuals sending e-mails to AOL subscribers, will not be affected by the service, nor will they be charged. The service is aimed at businesses.
“This is the reality: The Goodmail concept and others like it are like Federal Express 20 or so years ago,” McDonald says. “If your delivery is critical, you know it will get there, on time, and in the format you want it. But it’s not a requirement. It’s an option for those companies who want to participate. If companies don’t want to, it’s business as usual, not the end of the world.”
A new layer of protection
Where the confusion came from is difficult to say. A press release on the Goodmail Systems web site, for instance, does not mention anything about AOL continuing or discontinuing whitelists, the alleged discontinuation of whitelists being one of critics’ chief complaints. In the release, an AOL executive refers to the Goodmail CertifiedEmail service as an optional “new layer of protection.” An exhaustive search of the AOL corporate web site, however, did not turn up any press releases related to this subject. AOL chose not to provide executives or interviews for this story.
Some industry observers believe the uproar stems from the fact that such certified e-mail is a new line of revenue for ISPs and other companies. Many professionals in numerous industries that use the Internet have resolutely labeled the service a tax.
“There is much cynicism that this is simply about money,” says Donna L. Hoffman, professor and co-director of The Sloan Center for Internet Retailing at Vanderbilt University. “And there is no way small companies can afford to do this. It is unfair for the thousands of small retailers the Internet has allowed to flourish. You can start to look at it as a tax when retailers have permission-based relationships with their customers but have to pay to ensure e-mail delivery. That is ridiculous.”
The issue has been positioned that if you place a levy on business e-mail, it will stop spam—and that is false, says Des Cahill, CEO of Habeas Inc., an e-mail reputation vendor. “The spammers will not participate and you are penalizing legitimate senders,” Cahill contends. “Money being spent on postage or a tax is the wrong way to spend money. What the industry has been asking legitimate companies to do is invest in improving their e-mail practices, use authentication technology, segment their lists, opt people out promptly. So if their budget is going into paying a tax, how will they invest in further cleaning up their act?”
Many companies have cleaned up their act and no longer are in “batch-and-blast mode” like they were in the ‘90s, Cahill adds. “All those businesses have made investments and are successfully getting delivered today. So why all of a sudden do they have to pay a tax to achieve what they already do?”
In addition, some retailers are concerned about how the certified e-mail service might affect their routine communications with customers. “We send customers things like order status notifications; your order has been received, shipped, etc. Does this mean for every single e-mail we send to AOL subscribers we’ll need to pay to certify that the customer receives it?” CD Universe’s Salai says.
Joining the chorus of voices against the move, civil liberties organization Electronic Frontier Foundation has pieced together an unusual collection of not-for-profit organizations and others—including Gun Owners of America, MoveOn.org, Civic Action and the Association of Cancer Online Resources—“to fight AOL’s ‘E-mail Tax,’” according to a statement by the group. It has launched a campaign against the certified e-mail service.
“AOL’s proposed pay-to-send system is the first step down the slippery slope toward dividing the Internet into two classes of users—those who get preferential treatment and those who are left behind,” the group’s statement says.
And the harshest critics are standing their ground. When AOL announced last month that it had changed its plans to offer discounts to not-for-profit organizations and instead provide certified e-mail to such organizations for free, it did not waylay protestors’ concerns.
At the same time, some critics voiced concerns over Goodmail’s rejection of a majority of applicants for its CertifiedEmail service. The company reports that more than 75% of applicants are turned down. The number is so high because most companies do not meet Goodmail’s rigorous standards, says Richard Gingras, CEO and co-founder of Goodmail Systems.
“Most applicants simply do not have the necessary pristine complaint histories we require,” Gingras says. “Additionally, the information these companies provide often does not match what we find during our research.”
There is nothing to fear...
Many in the industry do not subscribe to the fears of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s coalition and others. The service is optional—a tax is not.
“As a legitimate retailer, the cost of such a program is negligible,” says Wily of Sewell Direct. “Even assuming the cost is as high as 1 cent per e-mail, any retailer who cannot justify a $1,000 expense for reaching 100,000 opt-in customers probably has a message that would be considered spam by a recipient and hence should never be sent anyway. As a result, additional cost for certification added to an e-mail campaign will be offset by an increased open rate—ultimately leading to more sales.”
The e-mail medium has a reputation problem; certified e-mail can help solve it, contends Arial Software president and CEO Mike Adams, who two years ago launched an anti-spam campaign, www.SpamDontBuyIt.org. Arial sells mass e-mail marketing software.
“Spam has polluted our inboxes and phishing has made us distrustful of opening e-mail from our own banks, for example,” Adams says. “The medium of e-mail needs to be rescued, and I have long argued for a solution that would require some sort of expense to be paid by mass e-mail senders. When you change the economics by making it unprofitable to send spam, the spammers will pack up and move.”
The Goodmail program is simply a service retailers can employ to help ensure e-mail delivery, says Sam Cece, CEO of StrongMail Systems Inc., a vendor of e-mail infrastructure software that has worked with Goodmail and other companies to integrate e-mail reputation and other systems into its software.
“I am not jumping on the ‘taxing the Internet’ bandwagon,” Cece states. “Retailers know they need to develop best practices to ensure their e-mail gets delivered. They use list hygiene, authentication services and other methods. Certified e-mail is just another option.”
And Salai of CD Universe, who expresses concerns about the service, nonetheless sees advantages. “We rely heavily on e-mail marketing and search engine optimization. If the costs of certified e-mail can be justified by even a small increase in conversion, it would be worth considering.”
For its part, Goodmail says its service is a practical alternative, in part because the e-mail inbox is, as the company puts it, a dangerous place. It has described its service as a “safe and reliable class of e-mail to help shield consumers from spam, fraud and phishing attacks.”
Is it safe?
“None of us can look at a commercial message today and be comfortable it is OK,” says Goodmail CEO Gingras. “Certified e-mail was created as a class of e-mail to allow consumers to easily see that a message is authentic. We are taking great efforts with AOL and Yahoo to ensure legitimate messages are clearly seen as legitimate. Certified e-mail is about offering companies another class of e-mail they can use to communicate with consumers.”
As history has proven, change—whether good or bad—often is met with great resistance. In this case, the reservations and criticisms being expressed may help guide the ongoing evolution of the Internet.
“It’s a troubling but exhilarating issue,” says Hoffman at the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing. “We’ve reached the point in the commercialization of the Internet where it is appropriate to have discussions about changing the economic model. In principle, it is interesting having ‘tariffs’ based on levels of service. But this particular case does raise some troubling issues.”