SpamNet is “a new e-mail filtering program using the same technology that allowed Napster users to swap music online, is helping its users banish unsolicited bulk e-mails from their inboxes — and protect other people from the spam at the same time.” It has been developed by Cloudmark Inc. Writes WSJ:

The program works like this: After downloading the software add-on to Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook e-mail program, users can simply hit SpamNet’s “block” button whenever they receive an e-mail they deem to be spam. The twist: Not only is that message and similar pitches blocked for that single user, but any identical message subsequently sent out to other SpamNet users will automatically be filtered into the “spam” mailbox of all the users on the system. Users can review the messages in their spam folders before they are deleted.

SpamNet scans the content of the message and creates a unique identifier for each marketing message. The theory is that the marketing pitch is the most important part of any spam message, and thus, the least likely to be changed.

“The one thing they care about is the marketing message,” says Mr. Karl Jacob, Cloudmark CEO. “It’s how they make money and it doesn’t change a lot.” He adds that the software is designed to check each message’s attributes against the database of known spam, so that even similar — but not exactly identical — messages will be blocked.

Over time, each person builds up a reputation within the system according to how many other users agreed with their spam choices. That reputation in turn determines how much weight SpamNet gives their future choices.

According to the company, the “trust” component of the application accomplishes two things: It protects SpamNet from being compromised by bulk e-mail senders who might “unblock” their own spam. And it creates a sense of community.

Managing Email

A story from a WSJ reader (Michael B. Johnson) on how to manage email overload:

Years ago, I was comparing notes with my fellow grad student at the MIT Media Lab and housemate, Joe Chung. We were discussing various faculty and students and their e-mail abilities.

We easily agreed on who was the smoothest e-mailer of them all — our fearless leader, the founder and director of the Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte. Nicholas always got back to you within eight hours, and as MIT grad students, we pretty much invented the term “odd working hours,” so we appreciated sending mail at 11 p.m. and getting a response at 3 a.m. Nicholas also always seemed to answer the question, even if it wasn’t the answer you wanted.

We puzzled over it for a bit, trying to figure out why Nicholas always seemed in command. And then we summed it up — Nicholas always “put the onus of communication back on the sender” (you can tell we were in grad school — we used words like “onus” naturally).

For example, I sent Nicholas e-mail one time about some hardware the lab was supposed to be getting. Nicholas got back to me a few hours later, sending me mail from Greece. He said that he wasn’t sure when it was to arrive, but X would probably know, if I wanted to track them down. Either way, when he was back in the office the following week, if I pinged him then he would get me a definitive answer.

Well, see, this is brilliant. Nicholas tells you as much as he remembers about it at that moment, and then says “ask me next week”. Of course, most of the time you don’t remember to ask next week. This isn’t bad — odds are good that things sorted themselves by themselves (i.e. the equipment showed up) or I tracked down X and found out myself, or it wasn’t really that important.

Either way, Nicholas is done. Message dealt with.

Over the years, I’ve tried to have similar discipline.

Wow. We’re reconsidering those times we wondered if Mr. Negroponte was really such a genius. That’s the most elegant defense against e-mail overload we’ve ever run across. And so simple. Call it e-mail jujitsu.

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Outsourcing to India

The one bright spot in the tech business is the software and business process outsourcing to India. Writes the Economist:

The appeal of outsourcing has soared, especially to low-cost offshore locations such as India. As a result, the export revenues of India’s software services market reached $6.2 billion last year, up from under $500m in the mid-1990s.

At some point, the Indian firms may find themselves facing a choice similar to that now confronting IBM, EDS and others: move to a lower-cost location or become uncompetitive. Some day, China, Russia or the Philippines are likely to emerge as a seriously competitive threat to Indian outsourcing. The current thinking in India is that it has a window of three to five years before those countries match its value for money in outsourcing.

The leading Indian outsourcers reckon that the key to their long-term prosperity is bagging ever larger deals and moving ever higher up the value chain.

I had written about Outsourcing in yesterday’s Tech Talk.

TECH TALK: 2003 Expectations: The Real New Markets

Amidst all the action in 2003, one market segment which will get a lot of attention: the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). Microsofts acquisitions of Great Plains and Navision, along with its planned entry into the CRM software segment, will change the dynamics of the sector. The 25 million SMEs across the world are one of enterprise technologys last frontiers. Technology adoption by these businesses has still been very limited. Making them e-businesses is the next big challenge and opportunity.

The other big untapped market consists of the non-users of computing in the worlds emerging countries like India and China. As income levels rise, the computer becomes affordable to a growing class of users.

There is one thing common to both these segments the need for technology at much lower price points than what it has been available at so far. Hardware, Software and Communications need to be become affordable for the next set of users. 2003 will see efforts made to tap into these markets by the existing technology leaders, but they will fail because the price points are not likely to be right. Todays leaders still dont see these markets as being large from a financial standpoint they face the Innovators Dilemma.

The combination of four elements will help in opening up these new markets: the use of recycled PCs from the developed countries to slash the cost of new computers to under USD 100 (Rs 5,000), the use of open-source software to cut cost of software, Wi-Fi to provide a high-speed wireless network, and services to tie the whole solution together. The magic formula which needs to be applied: lag hardware by one generation and combine with latest ideas in software, with the emphasis on making technology like a utility.

These are the markets which provide the next set of opportunities for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The needs of these new consumers and enterprises are likely to be different from technologys first set of users. The new set of users that need to be targeted in 2002 are like the new users the computer makers must have targeted in 1982. Creating a simpler interface, bridging islands of enterprise data, and providing for real-time access technology can make all this possible.

Overall, 2003 is thus likely to be a year of incremental innovation rather than dramatic breakthroughs. In that respect, it is also a great opportunity for incubating new ideas. The impact of technology in the world has just begun. The industry may have matured but that is only in the developed markets. The world is a very different place if we look at it from one of its developing countries. The digital divide runs deep across much of society. Will 2003 see the creation of the first sustainable and replicable digital bridges?

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