On Political Speech, DOI, and Mr. Poopyhead

Ken Magill (or shall I say, Mr. Poopyhead) makes a funny, yet very insightful point, in his recent article about an email he recently received from the Obama campaign. His article is fun, and silly, and it accurately highlights what can go wrong when you don’t confirm or verify information received from a web form.

Godaddy misusing the PBL?

According to Justin Mason, domain registrar (and email/web hoster) Godaddy is misusing the Spamhaus PBL: Using it as a URL filter. This is where you convert a URL hostname to its IP address, then look up that IP address (or its nameserver) on an IP-based blacklist. Great idea. I do it with the SBL. It's a horribly bad idea for the PBL, though, because the PBL is not meant to be a list of things that aren't allowed to have web servers. Using it this way is going to cause false positives like mad.

Ow, my Irony hurts!

Hey, what? Did I really just read that?

An email appender sending out a press release about how to combat spam?

Wait...the company name sounds familiar. Is it the company Ken Magill talks about here?

Ha. Methinks somebody is trying to spread some fluff around in an effort to modify what people find about them when searching online.

What is a Sender?

Somebody just asked me what I mean when I say "sender." I often refer to senders in contexts like this: A good sender should always do X. Somebody who does Y will always be labeled as a bad sender.

In my mind, a sender is simply somebody who sends email. Someone who causes email to be sent. If you are a list manager, a marketing manager, a list owner, or anything along those lines, you're a sender. If you have a list, people sign up for that list, and you send to that list, you are a sender. I'm a sender, through the list I set up and manage for my friend's jazz club.

On the other side of things, you have "receivers." A receiver is somebody who receives email. AOL and Hotmail and Yahoo are receivers. I tend to use the term "receiver" instead of saying internet service provider, because some sites that handle email only provide email access (webmail, for example), and don't actually provide internet connectivity.

I hope that gives a little more insight as to where I'm coming from when I use terms like sender and receiver.

More on Pizza Hut

Dylan at email service provider eROI points out that Pizza Hut's email sign up process is substandard: You have to opt-in to receive emails just to order a pizza online.

This is seemingly another sign of people who have ... interesting ... ideas about email best practices. Here's another FAQ question for my imaginary best practices FAQ.

Question: We want to grow our lists aggressively. Can we make people opt-in to receive emails from us when they register or make a purchase online?
Answer: You could, if you like pain. If you make people opt-in, you end up sending them emails they don't want. They report those emails as spam, and ISPs like Hotmail and Yahoo will come down on you like a ton of bricks.

Here's the deal. Recipients are looking to you to be a good list mom. Don't force people to get emails they don't want. Don't send emails people didn't explicitly sign up for. If you fail to be a good list mom, the ISP steps in and does it on your behalf. Look back to what I wrote in January: A sender started sending me extra emails. Made it hard to unsubscribe. What did I do? I marked the mail as spam, and appropriately so. If enough of us pebbles (recipients) vote that mail to be spam (and we often do), an ISP decides that the sender is not being a good list mom, and stops putting their email in the inbox.

This process is repeated thousands of times a day across hundreds of internet service providers.

Don't Spam to Apologize for Spam

The Consumerist headline says it all: Pizza Hut Sends Unsolicited Email To Apologize For Sending Unsolicited Email

Or does it? Let's talk it through.

Look, I can see something bad happening accidentally. For as many email platforms I've worked with, there are just as many ways to accidentally send the wrong thing to the wrong list. I've seen it happen more than once (far more than once). And since CAN-SPAM came into effect, sometimes a legitimate, non-spamming company has to do things like receive a suppression list (and keep it, and use it as such) from another company, if they're going to advertise that company's product. (Example If a pizza restaurant chain were going to send out an ad that advertised a specific cola, they'd probably be required, under CAN-SPAM, to take the cola company's suppression list and ensure they send no email to anybody on the list. The transfer of data involved irks me, but it can't always be avoided.)

So, sometimes somebody will send an email to the wrong list. Or to a list of people that was never intended to be mailed. People who didn't opt-in to receive emails from that company, or didn't opt-in to that list. What do you call that? Spamming. So, if everything I've read is correct, then Pizza Hut apparently spammed people.

That sucks. That's not good. But, they recognized that they made a mistake. They fixed whatever happened, and hopefully, it'll never recur. Great? Great. Almost....

Almost, except for the fact that they spammed again to apologize for their original act of sending spam.

I don't know who served the Pizza Hut email; if it was some internal system or some email service provider. But, if it was sent via an email service provider, and if they have an online help section, there apparently needs to be a FAQ question & answer like the following:

Question: We accidentally emailed people we don't have permission to send email to. Should we email them an apology?
Answer: No. You don't have permission to email them to begin with. Sending them email is sending spam. Don't send spam! The way to fix an accidental spam issue is not to send more spam intentionally. Vet your practices, fix your issues; stop retaining data you shouldn't be retaining. But, do not send more spam!

It seems obvious....to me. Apparently not everyone sees it that way.

ReturnPath Buys Habeas

ReturnPath has purchased Habeas, according to all of the industry sources in the world, all of whom have sent me separate emails giving me a heads up about the acquisition.

Let the goofy haikus commence! My favorite:

It took Habeas
Millions to figure out that
Haikus don’t pay off

Also, don't miss Ken Magill's take on the sale.

Political Sending Reputation

Ever wondered what the sending reputation was for your favorite presidential candidate?

Here's the IP addresses and Sender Score ranking for the last three mailings I've received from each of them. The Sender Score number was noted at the time I originally received the message.

Candidate IP Score
Barack Obama 80
Barack Obama 70
Barack Obama 70
John McCain 65
John McCain 55
John McCain 65

A higher Sender Score number is usually considered better. Looks like very generally speaking, Obama's sending reputation may be a bit higher than McCain's. Of particular concern to me is both candidates seem to be mailing from multiple IP addresses. Why is that? I hope it's not to avoid blocking.

Beware the Fake News Spam

Terry Zink reports on the most recent ball of spam that he (and most of us) have been receiving: Fake news alerts that claim to be from CNN.

Yahoo Insights and Subcriber Engagement

Mark Brownlow talks about Yahoo's take on subscriber engagement here. After you read that, check out Mark's more generalized theory on what ISPs consider when determining whether or not email is unwanted. Comments from Yahoo's Mark Risher confirm what many of us already knew -- subscriber engagement matters.

Anti-spammers and deliverability people both get hung up on opt-in (alone) sometimes. A sender will say, this mail is opt-in, how dare an ISP choose not to deliver it. Various blacklists will harp on confirmed opt-in (alone) as the sole arbiter of whether or not mail should be delivered.

Truth is, they're both wrong.

Sure, opt-in matters. Your mail has to be opt-in, and confirmed opt-in is the best way to do it. If your mail isn't opt-in, all bets are off.

But, ISPs care about *more* than just that. They're figuring out whether or not recipients care about mail from any given sender. If the people on your list don't care about your mail, the ISP doesn't care about your mail, and that doesn't bode well for your ability to deliver that mail.

List Reconfirmation Example

Hey, fellow anti-spammers: "Re-Engagement Strategy" is what email service providers or deliverability people would call a reconfirmation email or a permission pass.

DJ Waldow has a good write up over on Bronto Blog of a recent re-engagement email he received from Shop.org. It's chock full of good tips you should share when you're working with some list manager having problems, and you want to convince them to reconfirm their list.