RealTime IT News

Mailblocks to Marketers: We Can Be Friends

Consumer anti-spam e-mail service Mailblocks today begins a PR campaign to promote its consumer anti-spam solution -- to marketers.

A flurry of press releases and research the company will issue today promote Mailblock's challenge/response system and back claims up with company-commissioned research that shows challenge/response is more effective than filtering technologies at preventing spam from reaching consumer inboxes while ensuring legitimate messages get in.

In a more unorthodox move, the company will also issue a brief prepared for e-mail marketers, "How to Manage Online Customer Communications with Challenge/Response Solutions." It also announced a "Preferred Digital Communicators Program," intended to encourage marketers to learn about and demo its technology, and also provide input on challenge/response from a marketing perspective.

Mailblocks VP of Sales and Marketing Susan Bratton summed it up saying, "People need challenge/response; and they need a way around challenge/response."

In challenge/response, when a user receives an e-mail from an unknown source, the sender is challenged to prove he's human by answering a simple question via e-mail. Once accomplished, messages from that sender's address are delivered. Suspect mail, often from legitimate marketers, is segregated into a separate folder and deleted at a user-determined interval.

Mailblocks has developed a tool, "Trackers," to make it easier for users to receive legitimate bulk mail. Mail sent to a tracker alias address will not be challenged. Currently, this is used by about one third of subscribers. The company says it's working to educate users about the tool and encourage them to use it for subscriptions, e-commerce and online registrations.

In the brief, Mailblocks makes two primary recommendations for getting marketing messages delivered to challenge/response subscribers. The first is a consistent "from" address that can easily be whitelisted by users. The second are "no challenge" headers; or precedence headers containing "list" or "bulk." The company promises e-mail thus labeled won't be challenged. It can end up in the segregated mail folder.

"This is what marketers can do to get e-mail into challenge/response users' inboxes. If challenge/response use rises, there are very specific steps e-mail marketers can take," says Bratton. Bratton is a natural spokesperson to take this message to interactive marketers. She's well known in the industry from her work as senior vice president of sales and marketing for Excite@Home's media business, where she helped push broadband advertising. However influential the messenger, it's unlikely that marketers will take any steps soon. Challenge/response is hardly widespread. Mailblocks doesn't reveal subscriber numbers, but hints they're in the mid-to-high five figure range. EarthLink just introduced challenge/response in its latest software release, although it's too early to say how many subscribers are using it. (In a patent dispute, Mailblocks is suing EarthLink over use of the technology.)

Some 40-odd vendors currently offer a version of challenge/response.

"Where there are 40 providers, there will be consolidation," hinted Bratton. Mailblocks recently announced it is absorbing Cleanster's 450 subscribers.

Many marketers and publishers use sophisticated e-mail technology with dynamic "from" addresses for enhanced analysis and customer service functionality. Bratton suggests these marketers switch to static address, and says the company discourages domain whitelisting, which many such marketers are beginning to recommend to subscribers.

"It's a spam hole and leads to spoofing," she said, but she also readily agrees full e-mail addresses are just as easily spoofed.

Another recent Mailblocks gesture toward marketers occurred just after the recent California anti-spam bill passed. "We amended the legalese on our challenges notifying senders they can be sued in California...if they do not have a relationship with the recipient," Bratton said.

Future company initiatives include a digital signature; tools to more easily manage "trackers"; one-click whitelisting of marketer addresses and custom e-mail headers for trusted communicators.