March 22, 2006

Goodmail, Esther Dyson, Andrew Orlowski, etc.

Esther Dyson weighed in in the New York Times on Goodmail-like services. Andrew Orlowski of The Register responded with his usual clueless misogyny.

Orlowski doesn’t just gratuitously bash Esther; whenever possible, he goes after Ann Winblad too. One hilariously stupid instance is this one, in which he fabricated a marriage between Ann and her business partner John Hummer. Hmm, Mitchell Kertzman is there now too. My mind is reeling at the possible menage’-a-trois possibilities …

Esther’s opinion, which I first heard her express almost 20 years ago, is this: Senders should pay readers for the time they spend in looking at email. And you know what? She’s right. Advertisers in broadcast, web, and print media pay us for our attention, by subsidizing the content we consume. So do event sponsors. Almost everything you read or hear about the technology industry is subsidized in one way or another by somebody who would like to sell something. (E.g., if you’re reading this free blog, I may be interested in selling you consulting services.)

Now to Orlowski’s response. Most of it was the kind of ad hominem trash he loves to dish out, especially but not exclusively about smart women such as Esther Dyson and Ann Winblad. Besides that, the main substance I found was “Think of the poor people who can’t afford to pay to send email?!” Well, Andrew — who are they writing to? Whoever it is, those recipients do NOT have to charge them for sending mail, whether that recipient is their mother, their electric company, or you. If you want to open your mailbox to, say, everything that comes in from the poor country of Nigeria, there’s nothing stopping you. (And you can still apply spam filters if you like.) Personally, I find that I get email from the occasional Third-World businessman or professor, but no starving Guatemalan peasant has ever found the time or motivation to send me a personal letter.

So what would my fees be? Without thinking it over at great length, they might be something like this:

Free — friends, acquaintances, family, return mail from tech support, etc.
Free — some news mailing lists
$.01 — other commercial mailing lists, if I opted in
$.25 — unsoliticited email from commercial vendors I have relationships with
$.50 — everybody else

I imagine the cost to senders would be roughly double the prices quoted above, which is OK.

One beauty of this system is that it would immediately turn spam into a matter of pure financial theft. I.e., you wouldn’t be able to spam unless you got somebody else to pay the email delivery charges, presumably by hijacking their computer and/or identity. Most users would have safeguards in place that made them go through security hoops if they wanted to send true spammishly large volumes of mail. And just as online theft isn’t really that big a problem today, this new form of online theft would probably also be a much smaller problem than spam now is.

Implementation of course isn’t easy. The trickiest part would probably be assigning prices to different senders, then adjusting the prices for different senders, and having the senders be automatically notified of the price adjustments. There’s also an antifraud problem, of a sort; if people are paid to get junk mail, they might make efforts to get lots and lots and lots of it to pad their bank accounts. (Wouldn’t that be just a wonderful recreation for smart teenage boys?)

But the technical issues, while non-trivial, are all solvable (or at least controllable — this scheme would indeed add more complexity that could then annoyingly malfunction). So what about adoption? Here’s one scheme that might work — email service providers might compete on the basis of not only being free, but of actually rebating cash to their users. This gets around what could otherwise be a bottleneck, namely the reluctance of consumer service providers such as AOL to share revenue with their customers.

What about nefarious uses? E.g., the government of China is all too eager to control information coming into the country, and this could be another tool. Hmm. I don’t have a fast answer. But I have even less of an answer as to what good would be done is this regard by refraining from using the technology in the rest of the world. After all, they can adopt it themselves if they want.

OK. I’m on board. How do we make this happen?


14 Responses to “Goodmail, Esther Dyson, Andrew Orlowski, etc.”

  1. rob finn on March 25th, 2006 12:54 pm

    Curt, I would love to talk to you privately about email deliverability. Please email me.

  2. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Credibility in cyberspace on March 27th, 2006 11:09 pm

    […] Many columnists fail to live up to these standards. Some of the most famous firings from large newpaper staffs have been of columnists, not ordinary reporters. Scoble’s bashing of Andrew Orlowski is — er, it’s well-founded. Newspaper sports sections often assign reporting and analytic duties to the same person, who may supplement his income by doing radio or TV gigs; such people are often entertainers much more than they are serious analysts or honest reporters (as some readers may have already guessed, I’m thinking most specifically of Ron Borges of The Boston Globe). Other columnists manage to combine analysis, expert wordsmithing, and high-quality reporting. Political columnists (and former partisan Republican speechwriter) William Safire, for example, won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the subject of Billy Carter. […]

  3. Dennis Howlett on March 28th, 2006 1:10 pm

    What’s the matter with you? Andrew’s slamming is no worse than others I see out there. He says Dyson’s idea is a bad idea – disagree with that if you want – but as to the rest…is Dyson such a wimp she can’t defend herself? I doubt it. But then irony never travels well does it?

  4. Curt Monash on March 28th, 2006 4:30 pm

    Orlowski gleefully and repeatedly makes personal attacks against people I know personally.

    Are you suggesting that anybody should be allowed to make personal attacks, but only the target herself should be allowed to respond?

    What privilges Orlowski to deserve an immunity from attacks, if you aren’t willing to extend the same immunity to Dyson or Winblad or his many other targets?


  5. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Spam: the bottom line on May 2nd, 2006 6:52 am

    […] Thus I stand by my prior opinion: Sender-pay systems are a good idea if and only if some of that pay goes directly to the email recipients. • • • […]

  6. Dr S Jones on May 24th, 2006 8:20 pm

    Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest egos appear to be the most fragile. Andrew is a very funny critic, and Esther Dyson is anything but smart.

    If you can’t stand the heat – what are you doing in the kitchen?

  7. Curt Monash on June 2nd, 2006 1:52 am

    I have had many personal conversations with Esther, and tracked a good deal of her work elsewhere. Yes, she’s smart. That doesn’t mean she’s always right. The same goes for, say, Bill Gates. He’s not always right either, and I think he’s smart too. The same, for that matter, goes for me. (Yes, I talk to myself on occasion.)

    Or to pick a public figure who I don’t know personally, but happened to see on TV a few days ago — Noam Chomsky is a very smart guy, but he isn’t always right either.

    And while I agree Orlowski is a funny guy, he’s also a lazy, dishonest, and/or stupid journalist. My best guess is that he’s all three.


  8. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » So THAT’S why Andrew Orlowski still has a job on July 3rd, 2006 12:37 am

    […] Good things can come from the oddest sources, like mushrooms from a guano cave. And thus an amusing and worthwhile article has appeared under Andrew Orlowski’s byline. It’s over-the-top, of course, but hey — it IS an Orlowski piece, after all. […]

  9. Leonard Sherman on September 17th, 2006 4:51 pm

    There is absolutely no need for additional fee’s to send email messages.

  10. Leonard Sherman on September 17th, 2006 5:04 pm

    There is absolutely no need to require additional fee’s to send email. Dyson’s assessment of such a system is flawed and will only assure that spammers who pay the appropriate fee’s will be guaranteed that the spam they generate will not be filtered. Furthermore, any attempts to control email via filtering will be quickly circumvented. On the upside spam is relatively easy to detect thus can be readily filtered. If you are not filtering your mail then do it, or at least learn how. Viewed as systems neither email nor filters are perfect. True, even the finest filters can yield false positives now and then. But when informing someone of something vital or of critical importance I should hope one does not chose email as the medium through which to convey it.

  11. gogoG on January 7th, 2007 7:05 am

    There are advanced email filters now but they can not filter
    every spam mail.

  12. Text Technologies»Blog Archive » So THAT’S why Andrew Orlowski still has a job (Part 2) on March 26th, 2007 9:55 pm

    […] Andrew Orlowski is an over-the-top jerk, and a pretty sloppy reporter and analyst to boot. But he occasionally makes a good point even so. In the most recent instance, he confronted Tim Berners-Lee. As the article makes clear, Berners-Lee reacted badly to Orlowski, reflecting an attitude that is probably shared by 99% of the people who encounter the guy, and in the future will probably be adopted by sentient computers as well. Even so, Orlowski’s underlying point is valid: If the Semantic Web is going to be any more spam-free than the current Web, nobody has adequately explained why. […]

  13. Consumer Reports + National Enquirer + ? = the future of free societies | Text Technologies on May 8th, 2009 2:21 am

    […] Orlowski was too busy being a sexist jerk to say anything useful. (Misogyny is standard practice for […]

  14. An odd claim attributed to Mike Stonebraker | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on July 14th, 2011 6:10 am

    […] which got an amazing-sounding quote from Mike. If The Reg is to be believed — something I wouldn’t necessarily take for granted — Mike claimed that he (i.e. VoltDB) knows how to solve the distributed join performance […]

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