[Mailman-Users] Goodmail spells doom for mailing lists?

Stephen J. Turnbull stephen at xemacs.org
Mon Mar 6 10:35:19 CET 2006

>>>>> "Dave" == Dave Crocker <dhc2 at dcrocker.net> writes:

    >> You understand that and I understand that, but I don't think
    >> it's easy to grasp from the pages whose URLs you posted.  What
    >> _is_ easy to grasp is that bulk emailers who have been getting
    >> a certain level of QoS for free are now being asked to pay for
    >> it, and they're upset.  Stinks of "special interest" to high
    >> heaven.

    Dave> Let me see if I understand the model:

    Dave> AOL creates a specialized, rather expensive process that it
    Dave> provides for free, to ensure delivery of a class of mail.

[If you want to know why Brad asks if you're an "intentional shill for
the advertising industry," there you have it.  The purpose of the
"process" from the point of view of the AOL subscriber is to ensure
_non_-delivery of a class of mail.  I doubt most subscribers really
care whether they get their "opt-in" mailings from "specially selected
advertisers"---but those advertisers care, and care enough to pay!
Most public-service MLs, on the other hand, will not be able to pay.
Except those which are mailing solicitations for donations!

Who is being served here?  Advertisers, not AOL or mailing list

    Dave> The operation of this mechanism is pure overhead for AOL.

True, but only because they don't dare charge their subscribers for

    Dave> Worse, it is distinct to AOL.  To the extent any other
    Dave> receive-side ISP operates such a service, it is entirely
    Dave> independent of AOL. That is, anyone wanting on these special
    Dave> lists must to special things for each of these lists.

    Dave> So along comes a few companies who are trying to find ways
    Dave> to let receive-side ISPs outsource the job of assuring that
    Dave> trustable bulk mail is, in fact, trusted.  (That is, the
    Dave> receiver wants this stuff and these services are provding
    Dave> ways to assure that they get it.)

Note: trusted _by the ISP_.  The ISP should be a reliable
representative of their subscribers, or the whole scheme is
suspicious.  As a former AOL subscriber, I'm pretty sure that AOL
never had anything in mind but hanging on to the direct debit for as
long as possible.

    Dave> These companies offer mechanisms that will work across
    Dave> multiple receive-side services and they all all charge the
    Dave> sender for the special handling that is needed to bypass
    Dave> most or all of the receive-side filters. (Just to nit-pick,
    Dave> EWL membership does not bypass all filters, while a Goodmail
    Dave> token will, as I understand it.)

If a Goodmail token bypasses any user-defined filters, that's spam.
If AOL doesn't provide a way for users to define such filters, they're
aiding and abetting, no?  Ie, they will help the advertiser/Goodmail
to push things as close as possible to what the subscriber(s) consider
unacceptable.  In particular, they are likely to adopt a "voting
criterion" for "unwanted," or a "wanted until specifically refused"
criterion.  All in the name of maximizing information flow.

    Dave> So one of these services lands some strategic relationships

[Ie, attempts to restrict trade. :-)  That's all that "strategic
relationship" means, has ever meant, or can ever mean.  If it meant
something else, you'd call it by a more precise name: "customer-
supplier", "competitor", etc.]

    Dave> and makes a splash announcing them. Somehow, this
    Dave> value-added service is heralded as subversive,

Tut, tut.  I certainly wouldn't call this service "revolutionary",
although I wouldn't be surprised if AOL/Goodmail do!

    Dave> in spite of the fact that pretty much all other
    Dave> communication services have levels of service.

    Dave> I must be missing something, here.

Yes.  First, you may have missed the fact that "special interest"
above refers to "bulk emailers who have been getting best QoS for

Second, the key point is that, up until "spam", where carriers provide
QoS to third parties, the cost to the third party of getting high
quality far exceeded the cost to the user of "not picking up the
phone."  Modern telecommunications, and especially the Internet,
changes that comparison; we can no longer assume the costs of ignoring
unwanted communication are negligible, and anything that guarantees
arrival of a transmission has the potential to impose such costs.

Third, the fact that AOL/Goodmail are certifying mail in bulk as an
exclusive relationship[1] rather than competitively offering various
ways to help users filter at the mailbox level means that they are
(more or less deliberately) setting up a situation where they can turn
the communication connection to a very large block of users in one
click of a GUI.  Stretching the point to make a point, under the
Sherman Act that's prima facie an illegal combination in restraint of

Put it this way: what is wrong with a competitive solution where AOL
allows the _users_ to choose _one or more_ filtering service(s)?
Besides reducing revenue to Goodmail and AOL (and maybe raising
overhead a bit)?

A couple more points.  "Other" communications services that provide
levels of service often negotiate them with subscribers, not with
third parties.  "Other" communications services are often classified
as "common carriers", or outright nationalized.

I'm still not convinced Goodmail is evil, especially if the AOL
subscribers think they want it, but I do smell fish.

[1]  AFAIK, but I haven't checked carefully.

[2]  I repeat: don't try to sue them under any of the anti-trust acts,
it almost surely won't fly.

School of Systems and Information Engineering http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
               Ask not how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.

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