Spam killing Email

Death by Spam – The e-mail you know and love is about to vanish is by Kevin Werbach. A third of emails sent today are spam. For many users, 90% of emails received are spam. What’s the solution. Here’s Kevin Werbach’s idea:

Instead of trying to block spam while allowing everything else, [sophisticated] users employ software that blocks everything except messages from already known, accepted senders. These systems, called “whitelists,” change e-mail from an open system to a closed one.

Whitelist applications available today include MailFrontier, ChoiceMail from DigiPortal, Vanquish, and the freeware Tagged Message Delivery Agent. There’s also a whitelist option built into Hotmail, known as the “exclusive” setting. Though it’s hidden in the preferences menu (click “Options,” then “Junk Mail Filter”), more than 10 percent of Hotmail users reportedly invoke it. Before long, expect all e-mail applications to offer this function.

Whitelists typically allow e-mail from everyone in a user’s existing address book. Other, unknown senders receive an automated reply, asking them to take further action, such as explain who they are. Or senders may be asked to identify a partially obscured image of a word. A person can make out the word, but automated spammer software can’t.

Whitelists are rare today, but they will become more common. The relentless growth of spam guarantees it. A filter that catches 80 percent of spam sounds great, and it is great if you get 10 spams a day. But when you get 500 a day, that same filter leaves you sorting through 100 opportunities to Make Money Fast!!!!!

Like it or not, the only way to kill spam is for an element of e-mail to die as well. There’s always been something charming and casual about e-mail. The informality comes through in the style people use to write messages, but also in where they send them. You’ve probably sent an e-mail to someone you’d never call on the phone, approach in person, or even write a letter to. Losing this aspect of e-mail is a shame, but it’s inevitable. E-mail will become more like instant messaging, with its defined “buddy lists.”

E-mail’s openness is doomed when faced with massive traffic and a few bad actors. The next time you try to reach out and touch someone electronically, you may need to know who that person is. Otherwise, you might be reaching out to no one.

A commentary by N.Z.Bear: “open e-mail will continue to exist because there’s just no real alternative. Web publishers and others have a burning need to allow people to contact them — and that means that one way or another, they’ll make their e-mail address available to those who want to find it.”

Slashdot thread

Personally, I have set up a few simple filters which have helped segragate email which has my email ID in the To: or cc: fields. This is still not good enough, but it has reduced clutter by at least 90%. I look at the other folder a couple of times a day and that’s more than good enough for now.

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Small Businesses Online

Portals See Big Cash In Small Businesses (WSJ) talks about the efforts being made by Yahoo, AOL and MSN to woo small businesses and get them to set up storefronts on the Internet:

Hungry for subscribers, and the recurring revenue they provide, these three giants of the Internet world have re-energized their longstanding efforts to take America’s millions of small businesses online. All are now honing and promoting tailored products and services for small companies, with a particular emphasis on the smallest of the small. Next year, independent Internet-service provider EarthLink Inc. will join in, too, with a refreshed service package for this market.

Small businesses are an attractive target because they are more likely to spend money on premium services such as broadband access and Web-site hosting than are consumers, the portals’ core market. Research firm Yankee Group estimates the U.S. small- and medium-business shared-hosting market alone will reach $1.3 billion next year. Moreover, proprietors of companies with just a few employees tend to shop like consumers, which means the portals can reach them fairly easily with their existing mass-market infrastructures.

The portals have long tried to sell to this market. But small firms are a cautious lot, and they didn’t jump on the Internet bandwagon during the boom years the way many pundits predicted. The diverse needs of this market, which includes everyone from plumbers to florists to lawyers, many of whom lack technological sophistication, have made it hard to crack, analysts and portals say.

Have been thinking of an SME marketplace for emerging markets, along with related services in content, community and software. These are some of my oldest ideas and it may be time to revisit them.

Linux Rising on Desktop

Writes Business 2.0:

Why do desktop users seem to be discovering Linux only now? The reason has less to do with the Linux OS, which has become increasingly common on servers in the past decade, than with the availability of quality applications to run on top of it. After years of hard, collective labor, developers recently passed a series of important milestones, or “inch markers,” as they are called by Jon Hall, president of Linux International, the budding movement’s trade organization.

First was the advancement in early 2001 of point-and-click, Windows-like interfaces, the most prominent of which is known as Gnome. (Before that, desktop Linux looked more like the old Microsoft DOS.)

Second was the completion of applications like Ximian Evolution — for e-mail, contacts, and group calendars — that were built on top of Gnome.

Third was OpenOffice.org, the open-source cousin of Sun’s StarOffice. The 1.0 version, released in April, is surprisingly compatible with the applications in Microsoft Office. (If someone sends you a Word document, you can read it in OpenOffice.)

And most recent was the June release of Mozilla 1.0, the first competitive open-source Web browser for the desktop. Most users agree that these applications don’t quite measure up to their Microsoft counterparts (see chart). But for the money, they are good enough to form the makings of a Windows alternative.

I agree. For the past few months, our desktops have been running Evolution, Mozilla, OpenOffice and GAIM on a Linux Thin Client.

As the article says in the end: “The way to make Linux a true competitor to Microsoft is to make it work seamlessly with Microsoft products.” This is very important. Rather than innovating initially, we need to just make sure it looks, feels and works just like MS-Windows.

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Security Market

Business Week writes: “While overall IT spending is likely to slide next year, companies plan to buy plenty of security products from the market’s top names.” The leaders: Cisco, Checkpoint, NetScreen and Symantec.

Of the future, BW writes: “Faster growth will come from advanced forms of protection, such as intrusion detection, plus tools that protect specific applications on corporate networks and vulnerability-assessment software and services. IDS is the star of the moment….A smaller sector with slightly slower growth is vulnerability assessment. That involves engaging tech experts to check a corporate network’s security by probing and testing it…Another big growth area is protecting servers and desktop machines. Most companies large and small now use some form of perimeter firewall protection to protect their networks combined with antivirus software on mail servers and individual desktops.”

A related story discusses open-source security software.

Post-Bubble Tech Spending

From McKinsey Quarterly: Technology after the bubble: “IT will rise againbut only if the providers learn how to help their customers make money…When corporate demand for technology revives, within the next 18 to 24 months, the requirements for success in IT will be very different from those of the boom years. In the profligate 1990s, vendors got by on somewhat theoretical return-on-capital analyses. Now customers are more likely to demand that any case for investment not only take into account the business realities they face and their existing IT investments but also demonstrate the top- and bottom-line impact of the products and services on offer. The vendors must also learn from companies that have made their IT investments pay and show less successful companies how to emulate them.”

TECH TALK: India Post: Ideas for Tomorrow: The Story of Nayapur (Part 2)

As Pitaji and Gauri get ready to go to the farm and school, respectively, Ganga checks her Digital Dashboard, which she has set up to get event notifications for Mataji from the Lijjat Pappad website. The real-time event updates have made Mataji a just-in-time producer. Ganga quickly checks Bawarchi.com for the new recipes after all, this is the festive season, and Gautam is coming home tomorrow. She wants to make something special and surprise him. She bookmarks an especially interesting recipe, and decides that she will take a printout when she visits the Post Office in the evening after school.

During the day, Pitaji stops by the Post Office. He continues to be fascinated with how the Post Office had evolved over the past year after it launched Operation Outreach. From just delivering letters and money orders, and holding his savings account, the Post Office had grown into an integral part of his and his family’s lives.

There had been a lot of skepticism when computers were first introduced by the Post Office; there were also fears of retrenchment. Now, a year later, the skeptics had been proven wrong on both counts. All the Post Office staff had been retrained and they now also functioned as computer attendants helping less computer-literate people like Pitaji to do their work. The government had led the way by setting up many of its citizen-centric services for access via the Internet in the past year, as it saw the infrastructure being set up by India Post. The ecosystem grew as more and more service providers added their services using the Web Services e-Business platform offered by India Post. All in all, Pitaji could not help thinking that he had seen more change in the past year than in the many decades since Independence.

With the help of Ramji from the Post Office staff, Pitaji pays the electricity bill using his smart card at one of the terminals, and picks up a printout of the receipt. He also books his train ticket online for a visit to the city for the AgriExpo next week. The ticket will be delivered to him by the post office within three business days. Pitaji marvels at how well this hybrid ecommerce system works. He remembers watching a programme on TV the other day which talked about how India Post’s computer and communications centres were actually helping increase its core delivery business as new consumers across India came online and used the Internet to order items, and then relied on India Post to deliver these items and collect their payments. India Post had reinvented itself as both an e-business utility and a trusted intermediary for transactions, and had become a model for post offices worldwide.

Pitaji’s attention returns to his computer. He finds a tractor being auctioned at one of the sites and decides to put in a bid. He prints out the bank loan form, scans a copy of his ration card and latest income-tax returns, and then emails the complete application across to the bank. Pitaji also checks his bank statement online and takes a printout. As a security measure, banks only allow access to their accounts from Post Offices and other designated locations. This lets them an additional level of authentication. Seeing an email from India Post about the coming maturity of his deposit, Pitaji accepts their offer to roll it over for an additional six months.

Tomorrow: The Story of Nayapur (continued)

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