Feb 3 2006

AOL and Goodmail: Two steps back for email, Part II

AOL and Goodmail: Two steps back for email, Part II

(also posted on the Return Path blog)

There’s been a lot of noise this week since the news broke about AOL and Goodmail, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to change the direction of the dialog a little bit.

First, there are two main issues here, and I think it’s healthy to separate them and address them separately. One issue is the merits of an email stamp system like the one Goodmail is proposing, relative to other methods of improving and ensuring email deliverability.  The second issue — and the one that got me started earlier this week – is the question of AOL making usage of Goodmail stamps a mandatory event, replacing its enhanced whitelist.  To really separate the issues, this posting will tackle the second question, and the next posting will tackle the first question.

I have reached out to Charles Stiles this morning to try to clarify AOL’s position on Goodmail.  Initially, it was reported in the press that AOL was discontinuing their enhanced whitelist on June 30, and that Goodmail stamps were the only option available to mailers who wanted guaranteed delivery, images, and links in their emails via the enhanced whitelist.  But Charles has subsequently made some unofficial comments that the AOL enhanced whitelist will live on as an organically-driven or reputation-earned entity, and that Goodmail stamps will just be one option of many to gain enhanced whitelist status.  This is a critical distinction, and one that AOL needs to make.

If in fact they are not shutting down their enhanced whitelist on June 30 as reported and forcing thousands of mailers to use Goodmail as opposed to organically earning their way onto the enhanced whitelist, then I will help them publicize the correction since I’ve been such a vocal critic.  That would be great for the industry, and it’s my biggest hope that something good will come out of this controversy.

If AOL is making Goodmail the king — the only way to reliably reach users inboxes — then my complaints stand:  the lack of affordability for many mailers is problematic; the threat of a monopoly is real; and the absence of an organic route for mailers who have clear end-user permission to send email and sterling reputations runs counter to the entire spirit of the Internet.  AOL can accept Bonded Sender or not, although I hope they do some day.  But to tell mailers they have no other option, and in particular no organic option, to use the AOL enhanced whitelist to properly reach customers who are requesting their email is akin to Google telling the world that they will only present paid search results in the future, and that organic search is dead.

Can you imagine how well that would go over?