Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
There are many people out there who run legitimate email newsletters. Newsletters provide useful information to subscribers and they are a great way for companies to stay in touch with their client base. Those who send newsletters have to be very careful about how they handle their mailing lists. Most people who send newsletters are careful and concerned about stopping spam. The CAN-SPAM act is a good starting point, but those who care about their customers agree that these are probably the most important "best practices" for sending email newsletters:
- Use a self-managing mailing list or service
- Include unsubscribe instructions with every email you send
- Require a double-opt-in for new subscribers (Double opt in refers to the process of signing up for a newsletter then requiring a confirmation response from the email address that was sent. This way an email address cannot be added by an imposter)
The double-opt-in signup makes it impossible for an email address to be accidentally added to a mailing list. Someone has to choose to subscribe and then verify their wish to subscribe. But a month later, they may have forgotten all about it. They complain to an ISP about this spammer or hit the "Spam" button on their email client. Just like that, the emailer has been accused of spamming. The consequences of being accused of spamming can be drastic and swift, often resulting in non-delivered emails and blacklisting. The anti-spam movement is so strong right now that an ISP might immediately deny service to the newsletter sender. This happens without any crime being done, without any proof, and without any warning to the person managing the newsletter.
What's most alarming about this problem is that there really is no defense against it. This is a problem that is totally out of the control of people who use email legitimately. Email recipients have been empowered to take on spam. People have a lot of rage when it comes to spam and they have no qualms about practicing mob justice. Apparently the AOL email interface is particularly empowering when it comes to accusing spammers by providing a large spam button… that has serious consequences.
The only solution may be to abandon email newsletters all together. As RSS technology becomes a part of the daily lives of mainstream internet users we ca see an alternative to using email to deliver content. There can be no argument about who is subscribing to RSS information. The recipient requests the information only when they want to, or when their reader has been programmed to.
Interestingly this corresponds nicely with the advent of blogging. Blog content authoring tools can easily be directly liked to RSS feeds. By inviting site visitors to subscribe to your RSS feed, they get a much greater amount of anonymity and you get a huge drop in stress and no possible way of being accused of spamming. But for the moment, you can't reach the same audience with RSS that you can with email. But t writing is on the wall. RSS, or more precisely the idea of RSS as a means of people gathering up information that they like will likely replace the "pushed" architecture of the email newsletter in time.