ETC Show Highlights Issues Facing E-Mail

 
 
By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2004-07-12
 
 
 

ETC Show Highlights Issues Facing E-Mail


The first e-mail technology conference, held in San Francisco last month, aimed to explore such issues as using e-mail as a marketing channel and as a productivity platform, but it ended up bogged down talking about spam.

Its understandable that, like the Inbox event before it, the conference had a hard time getting beyond the issue of unsolicited and unwanted e-mail. After all, the unresolved problem of spam is a threat to the overall stability of e-mail as a communication channel. Nevertheless, eWEEK Labs experience at ETC showed that IT managers clearly should start looking for new ways to use e-mail and messaging to combat spam.

It is important to note that during the same week ETC convened, there was an announcement that the niche conference had been sold to the sponsors of the newly minted Inbox e-mail conferences. (For eWEEK Labs look at Inbox, go to www.eWEEK.com/labslinks.)

Although controlling spam and addressing new ways to use e-mail are growing concerns, we believe there isnt a great enough diversity of technologies, products or services to support two niche shows. We expect to see only one such show next year and hope that it will combine the best of Inbox and ETC.

Next Page: Messaging will evolve.

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Messaging will evolve

in remarks made at the opening ETC keynote, Vint Cerf, widely hailed as one of the inventors of the modern Internet, made clear his belief that messaging will evolve significantly in the years ahead.

"I think of e-mail as being close to a general file system, but its not, and that bugs me," said Cerf, senior vice president of technology strategy at MCI Inc., based in Ashburn, Va. "As you think your way through new products and services in the e-mail space, you might give some thought to using e-mail as a metaphor for a work space ... a place to store any digital object."

Unfortunately, most of the nonspam ETC sessions focused on getting marketing e-mail through anti-spam filters, not on how to make e-mail a better productivity platform. We hope Cerfs advice is taken up at the next Inbox conference, which is slated for November. (Details are at www.inboxevent.com.)

We were impressed by the idea that, although anti-spam products are now mostly installed as software that augments a mail server, that situation will change.

At a panel discussion, Ken Schneider, chief technology officer of Brightmail Inc.; Danny Shader, president and CEO of Good Technology Inc.; Mark Sunner, CTO of MessageLabs Ltd.; and Scott Weiss, CEO of IronPort Systems Inc. pointed out that "mail hygiene" will likely move closer to the edge of the enterprise network in the near future.

This likely means that more products will be sold as stand-alone appliances and services that clean e-mail before it enters the corporate network.

We advise IT administrators to consider seriously any anti-spam product or service that keeps unwanted e-mail off the corporate network, servers and storage systems. In addition to avoiding the raw costs of transporting, processing and storing junk e-mail, keeping spam off the corporate network can make compliance with government regulations much easier.

Increasingly, health care and financial regulations that audit information access touch the e-mail system. Cutting spam off before it reaches users will likely reduce the liability associated with processing junk e-mail if an investigation arises.

As at the Inbox conference, sender authentication was discussed as a way to control spam. It was clear from discussions at ETC that initiatives such as Domain Keys, Caller ID and Sender Policy Framework (the last two now appear to be merging) are stopgap measures that address a fundamental flaw in SMTP.

Related to these efforts, the Anti-Spam Technical Alliance released a report last month that focused on best practices for ISPs, e-mail service providers and large-volume e-mail senders. According to the report (at antispam. yahoo.com), large-volume senders and carriers agreed that they will try to be good neighbors.

Although these efforts appear to be a first step in the right direction, eWEEK Labs also sees several potential shortcomings in putting the proverbial fox in charge of the henhouse. In this case, it is clear that ISPs and corporate senders want to continue to use e-mail as a channel to send unsolicited advertising messages. At the same time, these entities want to block commercial senders that currently avoid paying fees for advertising messages to ISPs that carry the traffic.

It is likely that ISPs now envision a potential source of revenue in charging bulk senders to carry messages. These charges would augment the advertising fees already paid to e-mail service providers to place advertisements around e-mail messages, as is the current practice in nearly every so-called free e-mail service.

Leaving aside the many serious questions this raises for consumers, proposals that put ISPs and e-mail providers in charge of collecting fees from spammers will likely turn out to be good for corporate e-mail systems. The proposals from ASTA, if put into effect, would almost certainly reduce the number of spammers while bringing some semblance of order and accountability to the remaining commercial senders.

All this may mean a drastic reduction—at some point within the next several years—in the amount of junk e-mail. But ASTAs proposals will have to coincide with authentication-based systems to be truly effective. The discussion was at least continued at ETC, and eWEEK Labs believes that can only be a good thing. ´

Technical Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at cameron_sturdevant@ ziffdavis.com.

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