On business models

I’ve been using Cloudmark for several months now and it’s proven effective at blocking a good chunk of spam. The stats show that roughly 50% of the mails I receive to my main account are spam and get automatically blocked (I block a few extra too and it’s bothering me that there are so many). On their home page they show the following stats:

66,502,000 emails processed today ………………. 14,291,000 spams caught

That’s roughly 20% spam, so why am I up at 50% or more?

Today, Cloudmark popped up a window offering “version 1.0” (I’ve been on umpteen beta versions) for $1.99 a month … if you’re new to the product there’s a special price of $3.99. Now neither of these are huge amounts – and, if the stats are reliable, then the programme has already saved me a few hours that I would otherwise have spent deleting useless messages.

But what kind of a model is that? I can see the benefit for Cloudmark, a regular income stream. Too low a charge for most people to bother cancelling it, not high enough to worry too many people on initial signup. But where’s the incentive to improve things?

Now if there were a deal where I put a year’s revenue in an account for them and for every message they stopped, $0.01 was debited (say), but for every message that I had to manually block I got $0.02 (say), then I’d be more interested. After all, it regularly seems to let pretty obvious spam through … ones with very odd titles that I can tell right away are spam. I’d get even more interested if I got $0.04 for every spam it blocked that wasn’t spam. Now that would be an interesting model. I’d be happy to see some different amounts there and maybe even a performance clause that got a bonus if they stopped more than 99.9% of spam for instance.

Why I’m thinking about this is because we’ve got a campaign running now to get more people in the UK to use the Internet. I think the stats are something like 50% use it regularly and up to 62% have used it recently … but there’s a core of 30-something% who don’t want to use it and half of them don’t know what it is I believe. The campaign as its own website of course, although its not one of mine.

So, if (suppose) it was my mother that I was introducing to the web, setting up email for the first time so that she could send me photos of her time as Mayor of Lambeth, how happy would I be about 20% of the messages she receives being about viagra, porn, government loans or whatever? Of course, I’d be completely unhappy. Which means that we have to find a stronger model with more incentives to get rid of it. I’ve seen some great ideas recently, including an intriguing one that forces the computer sending mail to do a complex calculation every time it sends something (increasing the cost of sending, but having no effect on the casual user). There might also be options for limiting the size of distribution lists in common programmes, or making it possible to send only one message a minute or similar – but I imagine all of these can be circumvented just through writing custom code. But I can’t believe the only solution is to use a specific distribution list that checks whether you are friend or foe. There’s a lot to be done here – and especially so if we want to get technophobes to come online and embrace the benefits that the rest of us have already seen but with a lot less frustration.

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