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E-Postage Just Won't Die

E-Postage is back! Wired covers a report from New Scientist. Here’s what they have to say: “Yahoo’s researchers want you to voluntarily slap a one-cent stamp on your outgoing e-mails, with proceeds going to charity, in a bid to cut down on spam. Can doing good really do away with spam, which consumes 33 terawatt hours of electricity every year, not to mention way too much of our time?”
Alex Rubin at Return Path says hold up, wait a minute. He writes: “Our contacts at Yahoo! tell us this idea is purely in the research realm, and is not scheduled for development in Yahoo! Mail. In other words: it isn’t even vaporware and isn’t likely to be a part of the Yahoo! mail system anytime soon.” He goes on to say (I’m paraphrasing) that oops, Yahoo didn’t really intend for this research to become public.
So, apparently, there are no plans for Yahoo to roll out E-Postage today, tomorrow or next week. Nothing to see here, beyond a simple web site and some thoughts from a Yahoo researcher. Some individual’s hopeful vision for the future, not a corporate announcement of an upcoming product.
E-Postage has always been a neat idea, I’ve thought. A neat idea beset by insurmountable problems. First, end users don’t want to pay for the email messages they send, they want all you can eat. With years of webmail providers offering free email access, you’ll have a heck of a time convincing somebody’s grandmother that they have to pony up a nickel to be able to email the grandkids.
Then, answer me this: Who’s going to handle the economics on the back-end? And any time you have a computer storing a resource (like, say, account information for that tiny little bit of money you’ll need to be able to send me an email), that information can be hacked, exploited, stolen. You think spammers are actually going to pony up? Why would they? They’ll just hack into millions of exploitable computers, stealing five cents from everyone along the way, and gleefully shoveling millions of spams into millions of inboxes.
This concept of E-Postage, either paying money to send email, or spending “computational power” to send email, has been kicking around for years. Periodically, some researcher comes up with the idea anew, and suggests that we all immediately adopt their sure fire plan to solve the world’s spam problem, immediately, pennies at a time. These ideas never seem to go anywhere. And that will never change until somebody can actually convince most of the world to adopt their proposed scheme. Will it ever happen? Never say never, but I have no plans to rush out and buy e-Stamps any time soon.
— Al Iverson

2 comments

  1. John Levine says

    oops, Yahoo didn’t really intend for this research to become public.
    Somehow, presenting a paper on it at this year’s CEAS doesn’t strike me as a very good way to keep it confidential
    http://www.ceas.cc/papers-2009/ceas2009-paper-22.pdf

  2. Peter Blair says

    There are plenty of research examples where people try to place the onus of delivery on the sender ( http://cr.yp.to/im2000.html ). I feel like they will all remain in the research universe for the foreseeable future.

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