Wanted: an executive email service with stamps.

Are you dismayed at getting 100 emails a day you need to wade through, disturbing your concentration? Does your administration bother you constantly with things you just ‘have to be aware of’? Are you tired of the ‘executive reports’, ‘award notices’, ‘compulsory breathing training’, ‘lost car keys’, ‘upcoming events’, and a million other reminders of how everyone else wastes their time? Do you worry that these constant distractions in the long run diminishes your ability, and that of your workers, to concentrate?

If you do, you might want to consider an email service with stamps. What I envisage is that people have to pay, say, 1 dollar for every kilobyte of message they send you, and 5 dollars for every link to some outside website. The only messages you would then get are those that people really want you to see, presumably one a week or so. The stamp is essentially the price of your time.

I envisage a system in which the user can set the height of the price that needs to be paid to reach that user. People who hardly value their time have a low price, people who value it greatly have a high price. There can be minimum prices and discounts for particular groups. This of course goes both ways, so one would see the price list for messaging others before the message to them arrives, and one would need to agree to paying that price before the recipient gets the message.

I think the proceeds of the stamps should in principle go into the personal accounts of the people messaged to (minus the handling fee of course). After all, the stamp buys the time of the receiver who is asked to look at the message. The stamp is then the payment for the attention given. Alternatively, one can send the surplus proceeds towards a good cause, like planting trees.

I would like to see the same service for messages and reminders on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, pings on the mobile, and all the other ways in which social media now distract us. My hope is that some internet organisation develops a whole package of services that embed a system of stamps for all the ways people’s concentration is upset.

I suspect such an internet service would make a very attractive package to many businesses who need their employees to concentrate on their projects and who thus have to protect their workers from all the immediate distractions. The only way to halt the flood of chatter that gets sent round is to charge people for it. This would be particularly useful to reduce the avalanche of stuff that administrations send round to all the workers in the organisation. If administrations and management have to pay for the messages they send round, they would become much more discerning about whether the employees really need to know something or not.

The reaction to such prices would probably be that people start using the phone a lot more and that workers go round to the co-workers in the organisation they want to talk to, rather than ‘flick them a message’. This is perfectly fine and exactly what you want: more conversations and more face-to-face interaction, less spam.

I can see very few downsides to this. The problem of internet scams and outside spam would be solved virtually overnight as those activities would cease to be worthwhile, freeing up a lot of time from the IT services to do more useful things than clean out the viruses that came in via spam.

I do envisage a flood of complaints by the many who love being distracted themselves, and the many more who love distracting others. Yet, since we know that productivity suffers in the longer run from the reductions in the ability of people to concentrate, I see a real business incentive to take the protection of the concentration of workers seriously. I’d certainly sign up for it. It just needs a smart businessperson with real programming skills at his or her disposal to set this up, starting with something like ‘Executive Email Services’.

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Christoph Donges
Christoph Donges
4 years ago

Your post advocates a

( ) technical ( ) legislative (X) market-based ( ) vigilante

approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won’t work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
( ) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
(X) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
( ) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
( ) It will stop spam for two weeks and then we’ll be stuck with it
(X) Users of email will not put up with it
(X) Microsoft will not put up with it
( ) The police will not put up with it
( ) Requires too much cooperation from spammers
( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
( ) Many email users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
( ) Spammers don’t care about invalid addresses in their lists
( ) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else’s career or business

Specifically, your plan fails to account for

( ) Laws expressly prohibiting it
( ) Lack of centrally controlling authority for email
( ) Open relays in foreign countries
( ) Ease of searching tiny alphanumeric address space of all email addresses
( ) Asshats
( ) Jurisdictional problems
(X) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
( ) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
(X) Huge existing software investment in SMTP
( ) Susceptibility of protocols other than SMTP to attack
( ) Willingness of users to install OS patches received by email
( ) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
( ) Eternal arms race involved in all filtering approaches
( ) Extreme profitability of spam
( ) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
( ) Technically illiterate politicians
( ) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with spammers
( ) Dishonesty on the part of spammers themselves
( ) Bandwidth costs that are unaffected by client filtering
( ) Outlook

and the following philosophical objections may also apply:

(X) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever
been shown practical
( ) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
( ) SMTP headers should not be the subject of legislation
( ) Blacklists suck
( ) Whitelists suck
( ) We should be able to talk about Viagra without being censored
( ) Countermeasures should not involve wire fraud or credit card fraud
( ) Countermeasures should not involve sabotage of public networks
( ) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
(X) Sending email should be free
(X) Why should we have to trust you and your servers?
( ) Incompatiblity with open source or open source licenses
( ) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
( ) Temporary/one-time email addresses are cumbersome
( ) I don’t want the government reading my email
( ) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough

Furthermore, this is what I think about you:

(X) Sorry dude, but I don’t think it would work.
( ) This is a stupid idea, and you’re a stupid person for suggesting it.
( ) Nice try, assh0le! I’m going to find out where you live and burn your
house down!

paul frijters
paul frijters
4 years ago

that’s hilarious :-) And what an effort!

But methinks you exaggerate the technical problems.

I did think about the issue of whether spammers could use it to harvest emails, and that has a relatively easy fix: there are two stages, potentially with two stamps, a small one to get to the organisation at all, which then may simply send back the email ‘no such person here’, and a larger one to get to the person one wants to get to. Even the small stamp would defeat the spammers.

On how to organise the finances I am also less pessimistic. It’s essentially a micro-trade so could use existing systems for small payments. That’s the handling fee. If the first variants of this are to organise emails within a large organisation (say Microsoft), then the payment system can be very local too.


Nicholas Gruen
4 years ago

Christoph Donges, if you need Paul’s address in London, just shoot me an email.

We’re always keen to help here at Troppo

Moz of Yarramulla
Moz of Yarramulla
4 years ago

I suspect it would be more useful as a though exercise if you viewed it as “a messaging service like email, but where you have to pay to send messages”, because there is approximately zero chance of getting actual email modified to work this way. We haven’t even managed to get signed email popularised, let alone encrypted.

So the question then becomes: do you really want yet another antisocial media system to check every day (week/minute) and how much are you willing to pay for it?

Also, this isn’t a new idea, it was old in 2003 (slightly dodgy link, hence quote):

Who Will Pay to Send E-Mail?

Pay money to send e-mail? Or to guarantee delivery? The models are being explored.
Author Ben Isaacson Date published March 17, 2003
There’s been too much talk about solving spam by forcing emailers to pay to send email. Let’s stop talking and examine the options for making this actually happen.

Before we conduct this exercise, bear in mind anyone can get a block of IP addresses, set up some servers, and become an ISP or a bulk emailer. Costs are minimal. There are no specific taxes or legal restraints to online operations.

Let me outline three different models for paid email delivery.
* Intergovernmental Agency Model
* Free-Market Business Model
* Grassroots User Model

The latter featuring Aussie business Cashramspam.com who already do exactly what you want.

paul frijters
paul frijters
4 years ago

thanks Moz. Didn’t know about cashramspam but they indeed do something very close to what I am suggesting. They have been doing this since 2001, so it IS a viable business idea :-)
The way they seem to operate is in an internal closed loop, ie from one CRS email account to another, which is the way to go initially, though I had in mind that a large company could start with this for internal emails. They take a 10% handling fee. They indeed seem to go for the upper end of the market. I do wonder how many accounts they have. Can’t be that many. Indeed, it almost looks like they might have spammers operating from that site (because its hard to mail them back!).

Moz of Yarramulla
Moz of Yarramulla
4 years ago
Reply to  paul frijters

A viable business but not so viable that it’s become popular.

Operating only between their accounts is absolutely necessary for the “only paid spam” part to work. As soon as they allow non-paying customers to send messages to their customers via their service they have the same problems as email.

It’s kind of like your physical letterbox in that regard – AusPost charge a significant premium to have your spam delivered by them, but luckily there’s a whole industry of junk mail peddlers who will put things in there for a much lower fee. Plus there are various volunteers doing the same, either unknowingly (they think they’ll get paid) or knowingly (for example election material from The Greens (some parties pay people, some don’t, so I won’t generalise)). Trying to fix that, even just for physical letterboxes in the single jurisdiction of QLD or AU, has proved impossible even though it’s much, much easier to hunt down the people who poke things into letterboxes than “some guy on the internet somewhere”. I still fail regularly despite talking to both the various peddlers *and* their customers (including brutally illegal measures such as gluing their junk mail to their front windows… the disadvantage of advertising a physical business to local customers is that you kind of have to tell them where your business is).

I suspect extending your solution to email more generally would require the one world government{tm} using strong measures to enforce their legislation against all computer messaging systems. Otherwise free-to-send messaging services will continue to dominate.

There’s also an equity issue (how many days income does each message cost? It’s either trivial to me or unaffordable to most people, but if it varies by sender that can be arbitraged), and free speech (do I have to pay to email my local MP?) as well as civil administration (do I have to pay to contact Centrelink when my benefit is cut off?)