We’re all pretty used to paying for postage, whether sending a postcard to an old friend or getting the new catalog out to our best customers. In the e-mail channel, though, things have been a bit different. E-mail is a zero-postage zone—for both a quick note to a colleague or an e-mail offer to your entire housefile. That is, until now.
In January, AOL announced it was phasing out its reputation-based “enhanced” whitelist and moving toward using third-party certification provided by Goodmail, which would cost e-mail marketers a “fraction of a cent” for every e-mail sent to AOL subscribers. This announcement generated immediate controversy as e-mail marketing firms like Return Path lambasted the move as harmful to small senders. More recently, nonprofits, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Moveon.org, have openly opposed the idea, charging that by using Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail system, AOL would lower the ability of such groups to communicate with their members.
Why did AOL announce that e-mail would no longer be free? Well, free for legitimate businesses means free for everybody—including spammers. Consumers often complain about spam filling their inboxes, and so Internet service protocols have looked for a way to block it while allowing in legitimate e-mail marketing. Their efforts have fallen into two main categories: authentication programs and third-party certification. It seemed as if authentication—which focuses on the Web address e-mail originates from, and what reputation a sender has—was gaining traction with marketers and ISPs alike. Yet, AOL’s move may have shifted the scales in favor of third-party certification.
AOL has since backed off its original plan to phase out the enhanced whitelist, instead instituting a two-tiered service that allows senders to determine for themselves whether to use Goodmail’s service. Not all senders are happy with this plan, though, and the controversy looks to continue for the time being—especially since Yahoo! also has continued with its plans to use the CertifiedEmail program.