MAAWG: Internet Police?

I just read in Mediapost's Online Media Daily that the debate over email append got heated at the recent MediaPost Email Insider Summit. Jordan Cohen, vice president of business development at Pontiflex, was direct: "[Email append] is not really okay to do."

He cited industry group MAAWG's condemnation of email append, saying that MAAWG had a de-facto stake in defining "law" when it comes to email practices. Another speaker took issue with that statement, sarcastically asking the room, "Who here thinks that MAAWG is the law?"

Jordan's message is sound, though perhaps a bit too nuanced to cram into 140 characters (he later mentioned this on Twitter), or to fit into a sound byte during that panel discussion.

MAAWG is not a law enforcement body, duh. So what is MAAWG? It's an industry association of a whole bunch of companies involved in (among other things) email. Stakeholders abound. Not just companies maintaining email infrastructure (but lots of those), but also, a lot of companies providing marketing services or marketing support. Check out the roster for yourself.

And this whole group, this large constituency of email stakeholders got together and discussed email append at length, and came up with this widely reported, widely supported public statement saying that they don't think email append is a good practice.

Consider this: when a bunch of smart people, representing a large group of the stakeholders involved in keeping email operating as a successful medium and communication channel, come together to take a stance on a practice like this, it's wise to take heed. It's wise to listen, even if you might not agree. Maybe there's something you can learn from their stance, or how they came to take that point of view. I think there are lots of reasons why this group came to this decision. Various people I've talked to have told me why they've come to identify append as a bad practice. The mailbox providers involved have explained to me that they know that it is mail their users don't want. And, I've read various marketer-conducted surveys showing that subscribers themselves will say that this is a kind of mail they do not want. And, I know how many other unseemly or unethical things potentially make money without being a wise or repeatable best practice. And, if I had a dollar for every append-driven deliverability issue I've been called upon to help undo the damage from, I'd be a very rich man. And, the list goes on. A list comprised of both things I've experienced myself and heard explained to me by very smart folks.

So, to scoff and say "c'mon, this isn't law!" or to complain that competitive interest is to blame ("of COURSE he would say that!") is nothing but a distraction, to be ignored. It doesn't make any sense, anyway. There are multiple valid reasons to consider email append a bad practice, and trying to dismiss it as just one guy's opinion perhaps makes for a good Twitter fight, but out here in the real world, there's a lot more to it.
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