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Can I assume consumer and business filtering is the same?

Today’s question comes from Steve B.

I wondered if you know much about hosted email providers such as google apps, Microsoft and yahoo.

I have seen a rise in number of people using them to provide their corporate email service.   I am using the same logic that the rules governing delivery to gmail will effect those using google hosted email for example.  For Microsoft i have  been using Hotmail due to the SmartScreen filters.  Would you agree with that logic?

I actually don’t agree with that logic, for a number of reasons. The two big ones are: different user requirements and different data availability.

In a business environment the email delivery requirements don’t rely on the user wanting the mail, they rely on the mail being useful to a company. Consumer ISPs will delivery any email that they think their recipients want; and they have some interesting ways to identify that kinda of mail. This tends to imply that mail is sent only to people who have opted in to receive it. That doesn’t apply to businesses. Businesses use email to further their business goals and as such will often have much stricter filters than any consumer ISP.

One clear example of this is business filtering against against porn or other offensive email. I know one corporate filter manager that blocked any mail that had the word Viagra in it. He tells the story of blocking a mail from a wife to a husband telling him to hit the pharmacy on the way home from work. The wife was told about the filter and that she should avoid it. The filter was non-negotiable on the business end. A consumer ISP blocking sexually explicit mail in the same way would lose much of their user base.

Businesses also have a vested interest in not letting employees spend too much time on non-work activities. The clearest example of this was a global technology company that would not unblock any sender unless the sender explained how their email would further the business of the technology company. The company wouldn’t necessarily block any consumer related email out of hand. But if a sender had caused enough problems to get blocked, only those senders with legitimate business with the company could get unblocked.

In terms of data availability, many of the hosted services don’t have direct control over the mail client. Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo and AOL all control the mail client, and can implement things like the “this is spam” button. Hosted services often provide a web interface, but many users will choose to use a desktop mail client instead. This limits the data that the service can get from the users. Of course, the big webmail providers have that data from consumers, but as I discussed above, business requirements are different than consumer email requirements. Because the requirements are different, the ISPs can’t just use their consumer filters against business mail.

Hosted solutions like Google Apps and Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange (whatever they’re calling it today) are most often used in the SMB market. I don’t think they have exactly the same type of rules as the big corporations do, but they are different from the rules on consumer mail delivery. They also use different engines for handling mail. For instance, Microsoft bought Frontbridge and uses that as their primary filter on their SMB hosting product. Google bought Postini and it appears they’re using Postini, or parts of the Postini engine, for filtering on Google Apps hosted domains. In fact, they’re now transitioning all their Postini customers to Google Apps.

Overall, I think that B2B mail is different enough from B2C mail that you cannot extrapolate how mail will pass through business filtering from how that mail performs at webmail providers.

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Have a question you want answered? Tweet them to wise_ laura or send them to laura-questions@wordtothewise.com. (And I can hardly wait to see what harvesters grab my email address this week, given I mentioned the little blue pill)

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