Yahoo and AOL propose email postage

February 5th, 2006

According to reports, Yahoo and AOL are planning to test a new system for email postage.

America Online and Yahoo, two of the world’s largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from a quarter of a cent to 1 cent each to have them delivered. The Internet companies say this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges of users of their services.

This would lead to interesting issues especially with respect to micropayments when it comes to individual users and mailing lists or groups. One of the major hurdles could be public acceptance, it would be difficult to expect people to pay for something that they have been so far getting for free. Also, as noted on wikipedia article on email spam, cost based methods might not prove effective since spammers often use hijacked computers and accounts to send messages. Instead, one might take the approach of using ‘virtual money’: for example, there could be points associated with each user – on signup you get some points and then as you use the service, you build points by having earning a good reputation (which in turn may increase your quota for sending emails). Another interesting approach is to use the social networks and trust for email filtering, as described in the paper “Reputation Network Analysis for Email Filtering” by Jennifer Goldbeck and Dr. James Hendler from the Mindswap lab.
This space has become more important than ever before not just because of email spam but also due to the extent to which spam has entered the blogosphere.