Tired Old Goodmail Regroups, Becomes Net Neutrality Issue

    July 24, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

Two year’s ago there was a bit of a media frenzy surrounding Goodmail’s apparent arrangement with AOL; if you don’t recall the exact players you might remember national news coverage of the "email postage" scare in spring 2006. Well, Goodmail’s back with a new CEO and a new plan: certifying video email.

Goodmail's apparent arrangement with AOL
Goodmail Logo

Currently, many email providers filter the complexities of code that make video in email possible, sending those files automatically the spam bin. The idea is the same as last time, with that video caveat: senders pay between one-tenth of a penny per message, perhaps up to a penny if the videos contain any advertising to go with them, to guarantee bypassing of provider spam filters.

Once again Google is a chief holdout along with Microsoft. But those loudly alarmed last time could shatter some glass with their voices this time around because it’s not just AOL on board with it. It’s Yahoo, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Comcast. This half-dozen represent about 75 percent of inboxes. If a similar arrangement as the one with AOL in 2006, each provider gets a cut of the Goodmail cash.

Yahoo is an interesting addition to an already notorious group of providers. Two years ago, they just played footsie with the plan, abruptly withdrawing their sensitive digits when water got too hot. The rest have never had any qualms about innovative ways to monetize their networks, nor qualms about upsetting everybody, including customers, in the process.

It’s hard to know what to make of Comcast’s participation in conjunction with other odd news today that the cable company is acquiring email newsletter company Daily Candy, which targets women shoppers. Peer-2-peer sensitive detractors note that’s another $75 million Comcast isn’t spending on network management, adding a network neutrality angle, an issue surprisingly part of this arrangement as well.

But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Goodmail’s new CEO, Peter Horan, argues at the New York Times’ Bits Blog (Sam Hansell authors) that this new authentication initiative could lead to automatic approval of other email application innovations. Imagine, for example, being able to make a purchase of a product without leaving your inbox. Horan is banking on that one especially to grab the attention of email marketers and nonprofit donation-dependent organizations who made such a ruckus two years ago about how devastating Goodmail’s pricey authentication could be to their bottom line.

Shrewd move, already a bit more clever than Goodmail’s previous CEO and founder, who often got caught up in his own words, especially in front of legislative assemblies. Yes, do remember even governments got involved last time, all the more reason to make a quieter relaunch of an old idea.

Commentators at the Bits blog took the news to be a reprisal of an old misconception: This means spammers can buy their way into your inbox. Other commentators corrected, mentioning how Goodmail certification in no way takes control away from recipients in terms of what they can block, only what they may receive. And, as always noted by Goodmail, certification isn’t a pay-to-ride option for unscrupulous emailers—participants have to maintain high standards to get the trusted sender icon to appear at the inbox—it’s a way email subscribers can know it’s safe to open an email.

And a way to make a lot of money in the process by shaking down those who can pay for it. Currently, free service-provider whitelists have served this certification function, but likely ESPs aren’t making any money directly by having them. This new incarnation of Goodmail adds that video word to differentiate between types of email a provider may want to send and/or block.

In essence, this means text mail would always be free to send, and means those small businesses and non-profits—churches, charities, (pesky) activist organizations—will have the future equivalent of cardboard posters and markers with which to make their signs, and always a corner on which to stand and hold them up. But if you want to make a video and get lots of people to see it, well, just like always that will cost you a little (a lot) extra. After all, you could just, since links were left enabled the last time everybody threw a fit, just upload to YouTube and send a link for nothing.

Goodmail and your friendly neighborhood ISP may also take a small cut of those donations—betcha, for PR reasons, they make concessions for non-profits, but no promises.

This is where that surprising Network Neutrality angle comes in. The old issue of Goodmail carries again the old issue of special treatment for fat wallets. A Bits comment by George, by George, hits the mark on the very edge of the target: "I expect that at some point the free column I write and send monthly via e-mail will be summarily trashed unless and until I pay up, and when that happens, the column ends."

No, George, we’ve already established text will still be free to send. If you want to send out your new video column, that’s where you’ll run into filter trouble if you don’t have the money to pay the troll toll.

Horan himself brought up the tired old FedEx example used countless times by ISPs to justify their stances against Net Neutrality:

“It is akin to saying there is U.S. Postal Service and there is FedEx,” he said. “Some people can pay a premium to get a message to you sooner, in better style.”

It’s a tired old example because it is a false analogy used to persuade tired old Congressmen who don’t understand the Internet. There’s no series of tubes, no dump trucks of data, no restraints of real-world physics, no planes, trains or automobiles or government (in)efficiencies and budgets involved.

Comparing Goodmail to FedEx is also a big mistake. It’s a trigger to launch a whole world of passionate agenda setters onto Goodmail again, and it mimics telecoms’ and cable companies’ arguments for a tiered Internet nobody wants except those who expect to profit immensely from the tiers. The FedEx argument already failed because it’s not the same thing. Why bring it up again?

Sam Hansell found a hole in it pretty quickly, too, by mentioning the postal service doesn’t sift through his mail to throw out 95 percent of it before he gets it. But again we have a false analogy. First, postal service costs money and that is the chief reason one doesn’t get a thousand times more junk mail at home. Second, ESPs are expected to filter out junk mail as a customer service.

What we’re looking at instead—if we want to keep this tired old analogy—is that the US Postal service has access only to Interstates that are partially blocked, meaning that they can’t always make it to where they want to go, while special underground high-speed pay tunnels provide smooth sailing to any destination. What we’re looking at is FedEx putting the Postal Service out of business entirely.

That makes Goodmail a full-fledged Net Neutrality issue. That makes Goodmail the sole arbiter of who gets to a cabal of providers. That makes it easier for providers (all of whom deal in video distribution these days) to block out user-generated competitors. That makes the wave of the future—Internet video message distribution—firmly in the grip of a few corporations. That makes it one more step toward your next step, your next pivot, one you have to pay for.

You want the truth? Spam is actually a small price to pay to keep email free. It’s better than the real-money expensive alternative.