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The delivery communication gap

There seems to be a general uptick in the number of specific questions that ESPs and commercial senders are asking recently. I’m getting them from clients, and I’m hearing similar stories from my various contacts over on the ISP side. The questions cover a wide range of areas in email delivery, but the underlying issue is really that there are no real fixed rules about email delivery anymore. The only rule is “send mail users want to receive” and there are no specific guidelines to how to do that.
This is frustrating for a lot of people. They want to know exactly how many complaints they need to stay under. They want to know what “engagement” means and how exactly the ISPs are measuring it. They want to know all of the metrics they need to meet in order to get mail to the inbox.
There is a lot of frustration among senders because they’re not getting the answers they think they need and they feel like the ISPs aren’t listening to them.
Likewise there is a lot of frustration among ISPs because they’re giving answers but they feel like they’re not being heard.
Some of the problem is truly a language difference. A lot of delivery people on the ESP side are marketers first and technologists second. They don’t have operational experience. They don’t have that any feel for the technology behind email and can’t map different failure modes onto their causes. Some of them don’t have any idea how email works under the covers. Likewise, a lot of postmaster people are technologists. They deeply understand their customers and their email servers and don’t speak marketing.
The other issue is the necessary secrecy. Postmasters have been burned in the past and so they have to be vague about what variables they are measuring and how they are weighting them.
All of this leads to a very adversarial environment.
I’ve been talking with a lot of people about this and none of us have any real answers to the solution. Senders say the ISPs should spend more time explaining to the senders what they need to do. ISPs say the senders should stop sending spam.
Am I quite off base here? Is there no communication gap? Am I just cynical and missing some obvious solution? Anyone have any suggestions on how to solve the issue?

4 comments

  1. Tribes – Word to the Wise says

    […] Earlier Laura talked about a communication gap between ESPs and ISPs. […]

  2. Marc says

    I think that the communication gap as you describe it isn’t about communication – it’s about the perception of the deliverability “issue”.
    ISP’s want to protect their users from emails they don’t want to receive, and senders want everyone on their list to open and click links.
    The 2 sides simply have incomparable goals, and until it is commonly accepted that you can make more money with a smaller more engaged list than you can by blasting to a big list it will always be this way.

  3. John Levine says

    You’re quite right. As I see it, ISPs are realizing that they are doing the ESPs a large favor by delivering their mail and going to great effort to winnow the ESP not quite spam from all the other spam, and what do they have to show for it? Exasperated users with mailboxes full of ads, even if they’re ads that they might have technically opted into ages ago.
    If I were an ISP, I would be asking why exactly am I accepting this garbage in at all. It’s pure expense with imperceptible reward.

  4. Cultural Bias – Word to the Wise says

    […] reading Laura’s and Steve’s posts on the gap between the “senders” and “receivers” […]

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