With great wisdom…


Guest Post by JD Falk
There was certainly some surprise in the room when I pointed out (yep, it was me) that Laura has been around since before there were ESPs. Part of it, I’m sure, was because Laura’s not particularly ancient — and part was because it’s a shock to realize that people sent and received email and everything was just fine long before the segment of the industry that you work in had even been imagined.
Since this was at MAAWG, there were quite a few people in the room who were involved before there were ESPs (I asked for a show of hands) — and it was interesting to see how many of them work for ESPs now. Commenting on Laura’s article “A very young industry,” Kent McGovern mentioned three — including Anne Mitchell, who made up the word “deliverability” not long after stepping down as the head lawyer for the first shared blacklist of email-sending IP addresses.
Just think about that. She was the head lawyer for the MAPS RBL before there was such a thing as deliverability. (I worked with her there; so did Laura.)
There are a lot of us who’ve been around that long, and most don’t work in the deliverability/marketing side of the industry. Nearly all of us have become cynical over the years; some were cynical to begin with. A few, sadly, have burned out entirely from the frustration of having the same arguments, same discussions, over and over and over.
I think some of the recent refrain calling for ESPs to pressure each other into better practices comes in part from that same frustration. Yes, bad practices are bad, but we’re also tired with teaching the same thing to people with the same title, and feeling like the message never gets through. Part of what we’re saying is “It’s your industry, you’ve learned this stuff, now you teach ’em.”
And when you do, it does work — far more often than when we say it, because you speak the same language. There’s now a generation (for lack of a better term) of ESP & deliverability staff who weren’t around before there were ESPs, maybe not even before CAN-SPAM, but have learned many of the same things and undergone similar transformation. Who’d have thought that Jaren Angerbauer — quite possibly the nicest guy in the industry — would ever start sighing at those young whippersnappers like a cynical old anti-spammer? And Jaren’s not only teaching deliverabilitators; he’s also teaching college students, ensuring that they’ll know far more when they enter the work force than you or he did.
We old-timers once struggled with the idea that we must reach out — even to people we disagree with — and teach what we knew, learning along the way to put it into terms that marketers understand. It’s so much simpler to add to a blacklist and throw away they key, declaring “not my problem anymore.” But we did start teaching, and look how far we’ve come; we’re still doing it, and look how much further there is to go.
Now it’s time for the next generation to do the same. Stop looking to us, or to the ISPs, to solve the problems of your industry for you; we’re busy dealing with spam, as we should’ve been doing all along. Your colleagues’ cluelessness is exactly as impermanent as your own was, and can be overcome in the same ways. Whether you have fifteen or ten or five or merely two years of experience, you’ve found your way to this blog and read down to this line, and attained some measure of wisdom, and you can ease the passage for others.
When someone at a marketing conference says something that you know isn’t true, that you know will result in poor deliverability and industry ire, call them on it. Engage them in a dialogue. Teach, explain, cajole, push — because with great wisdom comes great responsibility.
It’s your turn.
J.D. Falk is Director of Product Strategy for Receiver Products at Return Path, which is not an ESP.

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  • I think “deliverabilitators” may be the worst word ever Can we just shorten it to “debilitators”, please?
    Other than that, yes. More of this, please.

  • Is this comment (ESPs didn’t exist when Laura entered the industry) technically true? Certainly there are some that founded back in the back half of the 90s (whole bunch of the big guys founded circa ’97, lsoft in ’94 (though I don’t recall if they hosted then as well)). I missed MAAWG this time around, so was the context that they didn’t call themselves ESPs, or that it wasn’t recognized as a category then?
    No arguments on the broader points of the churn in the marketing industry and how that can create alot of ill will as one group is constantly having to learn the same basic lessons again and again. Also interesting to me is the trend of people moving from ISPs to marketing/b2c communication arena, and figuring out what that actually means for the industry.

  • Yesmail, e-dialog, and DI all founded in ’97 iirc. Whitehat in ’99 (at least according to the website, though it jives alright with my memory of the time).

  • Not to put words in JDs mouth, but I think he was talking more about ESPs as an entity and a market force more than just folks who sent email. Certainly even when I was handling abuse@ back in 2000/2001 there wasn’t really the concept of an ESP being different than a bog standard ISP. ESPs as a entity came a little later than that.
    With that being said, though, I was reading headers and fighting spam before ’97 and my entrance into public spamfighting and negotiation was right around then. There was a call between Sanford Wallace and a group of anti-spammers that happened sometime in late ’97 that I participated in. http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/1998/04/11577 is a link to an article about the call. I was one of the 10 “prominent anti-spammers” involved. There was also the meeting between the DMA and a different group of anti-spammers that happened around that time as well.

  • I’ve been at e-Dialog since Oct 2000. They were calling themselves ESPs then and I remember reading articles about them at least a year before that and I’m fairly certain they were calling themselves an ESP then too. I don’t think the actual date is important. However, I strongly believe that those outside the ESP industry took a while to acknowledge the ESP industry itself. It is probably true for any new industry that recognition is much later than formation.
    The introduction of anti-spam techniques and the widespread adoption of them has caused the reliability of email to drastically drop. So while this statement “it’s a shock to realize that people sent and received email and everything was just fine long before the segment of the industry that you work in had even been imagined.” may be true, it is also true that the reception of email has changed dramatically since then.

  • The part of this that confuses me is that JD seems to think that ESPs are the only ones who care about or even use the word Deliverability. Seems like a sweeping conclusion to me. ISPs send plenty of mail and sometimes even care if it gets where it is supposed to go. I worked for a large ISP in 1999 and everything wasn’t “just fine”. Large portions of our network were blocked by lists such as SPEWS which were widely used at the time.

  • Tara, I haven’t ever heard anyone from an ISP saying they have a deliverability problem — but I’ve heard a lot of ’em say they’re working on their outbound spam problem. The difference in terminology reveals the difference in approach.
    But that’s not really what the article was about….

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