Nov 092004

Gmail – I Don’t Get It, Part II

Gmail – I Don’t Get It, Part II

Back in June, I blogged about Google’s new Gmail service, how I didn’t understand the fuss, and how its features would ultimately be replicated and true usership stalled at a couple million.  I stand by those assertions (just look at what Yahoo, Hotmail, and Lookout have done to the landscape since then), but my company Return Path published some data today that’s interesting on this topic.

We run the largest Email Forwarding and Email Change of Address service around, so our data on email switching is pretty solid — we’ve had about 16 million consumers register a change of email with us in total, and about 25,000 new ones come in every single day to report a new ISP.  So our numbers are probably pretty good relative to each other (ISP to ISP or month to month at the same ISP), but they’re certainly not meant to be correct on an absolute basis.

– In July, we saw 375 people join Gmail, in August, 802, and in September, 2,396.  To put these numbers in context, we see 50,000-100,000 new users every month at Hotmail  and Yahoo, and even 5,000-15,000 new users every month at smaller ISPs like AOL, Earthlink, Comcast, and Roadrunner.  These numbers are obviously on the rise, but they’re still pretty small.  In all fairness, though, G-mail is still invitation-only, at least in theory.

– Gmail is mainly stealing share from Hotmail and Yahoo, twice as rapidly from Hotmail as from Yahoo — and twice as rapidly from Yahoo as from AOL.

Read the full article in eMarketer here.

After I saw the article this morning, I asked my colleagues Jack Sinclair and Jennifer Wilson to tell me how many people we saw leaving Gmail every month, an interesting metric to offset the one most people are interested in covering.  The answer at this point is also revealing.  While we recorded 2,396 new Gmail users in September, we also recorded 741 people leaving Gmail in the same month.   That’s a sign to me that a lot of people are trying it out to see what the buzz is all about, but many are quickly switching back after a little experimentation.

And yes, we also took a look at how many people are leaving Yahoo, Hotmail, and AOL every month relative to the number of people joining those services.  Hotmail and Yahoo do a lot of treading water (lots of people leaving, lots of people joining), but let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be the guy in charge of AOL subscriptions these days.

Nov 042004

Caught In Their Own Underwear

Caught In Their Own Underwear

This is, as Brad says, priceless. According to PC World, verification emails sent by the challenge/response anti-spam technology from Mailblocks, Inc., which is now owned by AOL, are being blocked by…you guessed it, AOL (and Earthlink, too). Read the full article here.

This is a little embarrassing for AOL, but it really underscores the continuing problem in the world of email, spam, and anti-spam systems: false positives. It’s almost impossible, with the moving targets of technology, consumer complaints, and aggressive spammers, to get filtering right 100% of the time. We all know the multi-faceted solution is out there somewhere (authentication, reputation, monitoring, improving permission and mailing practices, legislation and enforcement, etc.), but the industry hasn’t nailed it yet. Stay tuned!

Filed under: Email

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Aug 052004

Challenge Response: Oy!

I don’t think the news about AOL buying Mailblocks and its challenge response anti-spam product is such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But it does give me a quick opportunity to rant against challenge/response.

First, I don’t think the world is in danger of mass adoption of challenge/response. Earthlink, which in general has much more sophisticated customers than does AOL, has had a hard time gettings its adoption level of this up to the 7-10% level over a period of at least two years. I think it will be even tougher for AOL. I applaud AOL for trying to do more to help members fight spam, but I don’t think this is the answer.

So onto the rant. Challenge/response is a pretty poor solution to spam. Or, rather, I should say it’s an excellent solution to spam with humongous side effects. Some are documented in Pamela Parker’s article in ClickZ about this, but my top three issues are:

1. Challenge/response effectively eliminates everything other than personal email from people who like you. In other words, no emails from people like Fred who don’t have time to respond or work offline, no newsletters, no Wall Street Journal email alerts, no Amazon shipping confirmations, no eBay bid responses.

2. The flip side of the previous point is that for publishers and marketers, challenge/response is a nightmare. Manually responding to dozens of emails is hard enough — that is, if the marketer/publisher can find them and respond to them before they “expire.” But when the volume gets into the hundreds or thousands, it becomes a nightmare cost of being a non-spammer.

3. My final pet peeve? David Daniels nailed it in his quote in Pamela’s article — it solves the problem of too much email by tripling the volume of email (one email, one challenge, one response)!

Overall, it’s a crude solution to the problem, and one that I think will be obviated over time.