print logo

AOL®'s New Email Certification Program: Good Mail or Goodfellas?

L-Soft's Eric Thomas, Inventor of LISTSERV®, Says Decision Threatens to Shake the Foundations of Internet Communication
L-Soft | 03.02.2006





AOL®'s New Email Certification Program: Good Mail or
"Goodfellas"?


L-Soft's Eric Thomas, Inventor of LISTSERV®, the Original Email List
Management Software, Says Decision Threatens to Shake the Foundations
of Internet Communication


Erlangen, (February 2, 2006) -- AOL®'s recent decision to require
payment of "a fraction of a cent per message" to ensure delivery of
email messages with images and links to AOL mailboxes threatens to cut
off Internet communication at its very roots, potentially spelling the
end of an era of near-free mass communication and making good email
marketing practices obsolete. This as-yet unspecified fee is to be paid
to email certification company Goodmail Systems(TM). Founded in 2003,
Goodmail, according to its Website, "provides a new class of e-mail
that identifies good mail ... so the messages can be delivered to
recipients' inboxes - not junk or bulk folders." Until June 2006,
senders that are unwilling or unable to pay the per-message fee will be
able to continue to use AOL's Enhanced Whitelist service. After that,
it's time to pay (Goodmail), or face a future of relegation to the junk
folders of millions of AOL mailboxes. To accelerate the migration to
Goodmail, AOL will begin reducing the number of Enhanced Whitelist
participants in April.


AOL's implementation of Goodmail's CertifiedEmail(TM) service,
announced January 30th, was greeted with sharp criticism from email
service providers and marketing experts. L-Soft, the company behind
LISTSERV®, the product that launched the email list management industry
20 years ago, is one of the few potential beneficiaries of AOL's move,
since its customers would have no options but to purchase the necessary
software upgrade to support Goodmail certification, an upgrade that
L-Soft could choose to license on very profitable terms. Yet there are
no sounds of champagne glasses clinking to be heard in L-Soft's
boardroom.


"When I read about the AOL-Goodmail deal, I first thought it must be a
hoax," says L-Soft CEO and founder Eric Thomas, who invented LISTSERV
in 1986. "I know a lot of good people at AOL, people I admire for their
patience and professionalism in dealing with the spam plague, on which
AOL spends more time, energy and money than anyone else. I just cannot
imagine them as the cast of the IT industry's version of 'Goodfellas,'
selling senders protection against a destiny of junk folders for 'a
fraction of a cent per message'. Somehow, something has gone terribly
wrong."


"The fundamental flaw in AOL's new certification plan is that there is
only one technology supplier. Coupled with AOL's dominance in the
marketplace, this creates a de facto monopoly. Once the system is in
place, nothing would prevent Goodmail from raising prices to increase
profits. Higher certification prices would lead to lower email volumes
and reduced operational costs for AOL, so they would be unlikely to
complain about any such increases."


Goodmail Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder Richard Gingras was noted to say
that Goodmail expects that its charter program will provide significant
discounts to senders through 2006.(1)


"This could be seen as just another way of saying that Goodmail is
already planning to raise prices in 2007. And price is not the only
concern. As the sole provider, Goodmail would also be in a position to
censor senders, with or without reason. Thus, nobody would dare to
criticize Goodmail or complain about price increases," Thomas says. "At
the press of a button, Goodmail could put companies out of business by
blocking their access to AOL. People would have no option but to pay up
- and keep their voices down."


With only one supplier, only one pricing model is being offered - in
this case, a per-message fee that should deliver a steady growth rate
to Goodmail as the Internet grows. Other Internet necessities, such as
domain names and SSL certificates, are typically priced at a flat fee,
allowing people and organizations at most income levels to establish a
substantial online presence.


"If VeriSign® started charging for Web certificates by the click,
people would be crying foul, and VeriSign does not even have a
monopoly," Thomas says. "A per-message fee will eliminate
non-commercial email traffic, such as the hundreds of thousands of
discussion lists that serve as online communities for millions of
people - for example, lists connecting people who are struggling with
cancer, coping with parenting special-needs children, or simply wishing
to exchange tips about their favorite breed of dog. You end up with a
situation where, if your non-commercial newsletter is successful, it is
driven out of business by the Goodmail fee, and you have to turn it
into a commercial venture just to survive. In order to be acceptable to
the community, the certification process must be available for a
reasonable fixed fee and from a choice of several certification
providers."


Discussion communities such as the award-winning international
Association for Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) are also speaking out.
"In essence, this is going to block every AOL subscriber suffering from
any form of cancer from receiving potentially life-saving information
they may not be able to get from any other source, simply because a
non-profit like ACOR - which serves more than 55,000 cancer patients
and caregivers every day - cannot afford to pay the fee. There must be
a better solution," says Gilles Frydman, ACOR's President.


Thomas concludes, "While I have the deepest sympathy and understanding
for the situation AOL is in, the introduction of the Internet's first
email tax ever is simply not the right solution to the spam
problem."


....................................................


About L-Soft


L-Soft, which was incorporated in 1994, is the company behind
LISTSERV®, offering email list and opt-in email marketing software and
hosting services for managing email newsletters, discussion groups and
marketing campaigns. L-Soft's products deliver about 30 million
messages a day to more than 110 million list subscriptions. L-Soft
celebrates the 20th anniversary of LISTSERV® in 2006.


For more information visit http://www.lsoft.com or contact
L-Soft via email at: info@lsoft.se


L-SOFT PRESS CONTACT
Claudia Schweiger
pressinfo@lsoft.se
+49 (0)9131 9779977


(1) ClickZ article by Kevin Newcomb, "AOL to Implement E-mail
Certification Program". January 30, 2006.
http://www.clickz.com/news/article.php/3581301


AOL® is a registered trademark of America Online®. CertifiedEmail(TM)
is a trademark of Goodmail Systems(TM). VeriSign® is a registered
trademark of VeriSign®, Inc.