Apr 182006

A New Season for Bonded Sender (now Sender Score Certified)

A New Season for Bonded Sender (now Sender Score Certified)

(With apologies to my non-email industry readers for such a long detailed posting)

Ah, spring.  New life is everywhere.  Winter clothes are being put away, birds are returning from their winters in the south, flowers are blooming.  We at Return Path are doing our part by announcing the “rebirth” of our Bonded Sender Program, the Internet’s largest and oldest email accreditation program, or whitelist, as Sender Score Certified.

Since we acquired Bonded Sender last fall, we’ve had the opportunity to go on a “listening tour” – talking to marketers, publishers, ESPs, ISPs, spam filtering companies, system administrators, email appliance manufacturers – you name it.  What we learned was that the program was ground-breaking when it was launched in 2002 but that it needed a makeover in order to meet the challenges that have evolved around spam and deliverability for both senders and receivers during the past few years.

Our listening tour revealed that the Bonded Sender of old had four core issues that weren’t sitting well with the Internet community at large:

1.  Data validity:  some senders questioned the accuracy of some of the application and compliance metrics used;

2.  Black box:  a complete lack of transparency led many senders to be unclear as to what was driving them to fail applications or have bonds debited;

3.  Bond:  there isn’t a purchasing department in America that knows how to post a bond or understands why they should; and

4.  Complaints:  as far as ISPs were concerned, even though mailers had to pass some serious hurdles to join the program, mailers who were in the program still managed to generate too many complaints among their end users.

A spring cleaning was in order, and we had the experts to get the job done.   The deliverability gurus inside Return Path — George Bilbrey, Tom Bartel, Robert Barclay, Leslie Price, Dan Deneweth, and others — working with a myriad of external advisors, delivered the makeover the program needed.

So today, Bonded Sender is reborn as Sender Score Certified.  We have worked hard to address all four main beefs about the program, while keeping the elements of the program that have worked well.  So here’s what you can expect of the new program.  First, what’s new and different:

1.  New and Improved Data:  the program is now powered by our newly launched Sender Score Reputation database, which George wrote about last week – a robust source of reputation information sent to us daily by scores of different sources on the Internet, including B2B and B2C, domestic and international, ISP and commercial filters;

2.  Complete transparency:  the Sender Score Reputation Monitor service allows clients to have 100% visibility into every metric tracked for the program, including some super-cool drill-down features;

3.  Bye-Bye, Bond:  these high standards make the bond unnecessary (and they really made us need to find a new name – can you imagine Bondless Sender?).   You’re either on the list, or you’re not.  The transparency makes it much easier for us to work with our clients on compliance; and

4.  Radically Reduced Complaints:  the new standards have allowed us to raise the bar on the quality of the program.  We’ve built the statistical model underlying the program to have a VERY high correlation with some leading spam filters, enabling us to remove a huge number of senders who were previously on the whitelist.  The result?  Our largest ISP user, Microsoft, reports to us a nearly 90% drop in the number of complaints in their network coming from users of the program – and that was off a very small number of complaints to begin with, relative to the rest of the email universe.

OK, you say – sounds great.  But what did we actually keep about the program?

1.  We still partner with third-party watchdog non-profit TRUSTe to perform a critical, detailed practices accreditation of incoming clients as well as help us with compliance;

2.  We still use SpamCop complaint data as one data feed for the program’s compliance – but now it’s just one of several; and

3.  We still have more than 35,000 domains, including Hotmail, MSN, Outblaze and Roadrunner, as well as users of Spam Assassin and Ironport appliances, using the program to help determine what email to let through.

So spring has sprung at Return Path for our delivery assurance business.  The Bonded Sender makeover is done, and the new Sender Score Certified is here to innovate the next generation of email accreditation and whitelists for the industry.

For more on Sender Score Certified, read our press release or the program requirements today.

Aug 052004

Baby and Bathwater Redux

Katie Hafner’s article in the New York Times Circuits section today about spam and false positives is right on the mark. Spam filters are still evolving, and spammers are evolving right with them. Although the flood of spam is largely stemmed by a good filtering app, the results for consumers are still spotty: false negatives are irritating, false positives can be very painful (as the article suggests), and the process still consumes a little too much time. While the article nails the consumer problem, it does miss the corresponding business problem around false positives (see below).

But things are getting better. While I wrote generally about how email is here to stay a couple weeks ago, there are a couple other things I’d point out after reading Katie’s article that are making the email landscape a brighter place of late:

First, even better than the Bayesian style filters referenced in the article are community-based filters. The leading one is run by Cloudmark and is called SpamNet. SpamNet relies on a community of 1 million hardcore email users voting on whether email is spam or not. I’ve used SpamNet for over a year now, and while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty good at reducing both false positives and false negatives to a tolerable level, and it’s very easy to use (but only with Outlook for now).

Second, a few companies in the email industry — Ironport (Bonded Sender) and Return Path included — are hard at work on solutions to the false positive problem that won’t leave false negatives behind. Once these solutions reach maturity (still 6-12 months away), I think consumers will notice a quantum leap improvement in managing their inboxes.

Finally, one thing I’m always trying to encourage people to realize is that this problem is not just an annoyance for them personally…but it’s an annoyance to legitimate businesses everywhere. Businesses who uses email to reach their customers — when customers request the email — are consistently finding that anywhere from 5 to 50% of their emails are blocked or filtered (with an average of 19%, according to our research). Talk about an ROI buzz kill and a CRM nightmare!

So hang onto those babies out there, consumers and marketers alike…the bathwater really will go down the drain soon!

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