[FoRK] At what point is email officially broken?

Justin Mason < jm at jmason.org > on > Thu Dec 7 10:20:47 PST 2006

Jim Whitehead writes:
> Justin Mason writes:
> > The only thing that can "solve" spam (almost) entirely would be to  
> > close
> > it down -- turn it into a closed-address-book AIM-like protocol,  
> > where you
> > cannot receive emails from someone you haven't added to a whitelist in
> > advance, out-of-band.  Once you've done that, it's no longer email,
> > unfortunately.
> My particular pet technical fix is a variant of this.
> Have a 2-tier email system.
> Tier 1 (lowest level) is the current email system.
> Tier 2 is a closed-address-book system.
> Layer tier 2 into existing mail servers, so that existing mail  
> clients can get tier 1 and tier 2 email via POP/IMAP (which aren't  
> broken).
> Have a mechanism for smart clients to tell the difference between the  
> two, so that UIs can separate email in both tiers, such as by sending  
> all tier 1 email to a "spam until proven otherwise" inbox, and tier 2  
> to the standard inbox.
> You can still receive random email from the masses and ecommerce  
> sites, while preserving the desired quality that 99% of useful and  
> desired email comes through tier 2.

Interestingly, this is pretty much how Hotmail does spam filtering
nowadays as far as I can see (although they spice it up with some random
"disappearing into the ether" events, too, reportedly).

Ask around a few Hotmail users/ex-users -- they're not exactly
fans of having to dig through the "bulk" folder on a regular basis.

Sure, you've got a new, two-tier email system -- but to a user, it's
indistinguishable from the old system operating with a really
crappy spam filter...


> - Jim
> PS - You may now commence to tell me all the things wrong with this  
> technical fix. In doing so, please do not miss the main point of this  
> thread, which is that email is broken. My particular fix being bad  
> does not negate the fact that email is broken.
> PPS - Extra points for finding flaws not on the following list:
> * Expensive to develop/roll out new infrastructure
>    retort: email is dying. Destruction of existing infrastructure is  
> also expensive. Current levels of spam are expensive.
> * Management of address books is a pain, and a new management cost
>    retort: management of address books is a part of most  
> communication systems. It is manageable
> * Closed address systems are still susceptible to DDOS attack.
>     retort: agreed, but this is current problem for all Internet  
> services
> * Existing closed-address-book systems haven't worked
>     retort: they were implemented in context of existing SMTP  
> architecture. A permission-needed-to-write-at-destination email  
> system would reduce motivation to spam, since all spams would be  
> rejected.

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