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ISPs Are Speaking, Is Anyone Listening?

Lately I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of quiet warning noises coming from ISPs and spam filtering companies about sender behaviour. I believe they’re forecasting changes in how ISPs treat commercial email and what new issues senders are going to have to negotiate.

The short version is that commercial mail is a mixed bag. Recipients want commercial mail that is relevant and engaging. As the ISPs get a handle on filtering spam from botnets and viruses, commercial mail is showing up on their radar. They’re seeing problems in the mail streams coming from commercial mailers. Unlike spammers, the commercial streams are hard to block, as they are a mix of wanted and unwanted mail.

They’re seeing more and bigger problems from commercial mailers and they’re starting to drop the hints that smart people will take and incorporate into their future business plans.

What are the ISPs saying?

The model for blocking, temp failing and bulk foldering is changing. No longer are there hard metrics driving delivery decisions. ISPs are moving from complaint based filtering schemes to something a lot more squishy. The ISPs want mail that their recipients want. They don’t want mail their recipients don’t want.

For a while “want” was measured as “do not complain about in numbers higher than X” but that was a metric that was very, very easy to game. It’s not just about individual IP reputations, and it’s not just about individual IP complaint rates. Now it’s about not sending mail to that email address that’s been abandoned for 9 months. It’s about sending mail that keep the recipients around so the ISPs can show them ads. It’s about making the end users happy with their inbox experience.

Right now, the statements coming from the ISPs are quiet. They’re not talking specifics, but there is a growing chorus that says commercial mailers need to make some changes to how they’re doing things now. The warnings are there for the people who are listening. From what I’m hearing, though, I don’t think many people are listening. I have no doubt when the quiet warnings turn into blocks and filters there will be much complaining about the lack of warning.

The problem isn’t the lack of warning, the problem is the lack of listening.

By Laura Atkins, Founding partner of anti-spam consultancy & software firm Word to the Wise

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Are users are too lazy to say what they want? Alessandro Vesely  –  Dec 16, 2009 10:50 AM

Regrettably, the Solicitation Mail Header has never taken root. Several blogs, social networks, and even personal bookmarks use tags to sort items and ease searches. Why is commercial mail not tagged? Perhaps, senders don’t want recipients to know beforehand what a message is about.

In a diligent world, users could directly choose what tags they are interested in, or that could be inferred from what they report as spam. ISPs would then have a hint on whether to accept or reject tagged mail for a given recipient. It would even be possible to setup forwarding agreements complying with European privacy directives.

I'm actually glad to see this Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Dec 18, 2009 5:16 AM

And for the ESPs and senders - this seems to be a clear message that they must take collective action to distance themselves from their peers who use coreg, leads, waterfalling etc etc.

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