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Christopher Knight

Will AOL Phase Out Enhanced Whitelist? Is Certified Mail From Goodmail Systems the Answer?
By Christopher Knight

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UPDATED, Friday night, February 3rd, 2006 7:30pm CST: This story is now twisting as new information comes to light to clarify AOL's true position. read this new post first. (This Ezine-Tips issue has been updated)
Over the coming months, AOL [may]is going to phase out their enhanced whitelist service and replace it with a taxation model that will bill YOU a fraction of a cent per email delivered to their subscribers. This means delivering to AOL will drastically raise email delivery costs...for many, the cost will exceed a multiple of what it already costs to deliver the entire mailing. Will AOL's subscribers stand for it? Will you end up paying for it? Let's find out together... If you care about delivering into AOL, pull up a chair, grab your coffee or soda and here's the deal:

First, understand the AOL basics in terms of their whitelist levels:

  1. Whitelist (This is their basic whitelist level)
  2. Dynamic Senders List (requires an SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record)
  3. Enhanced Whitelist - This is the current service they provide that will be replaced with a fee-based structure later this year. From AOL's postmaster pages, "The Enhanced White List is a subset of the general White List. For certain Bulk Mailers and e-mail marketers who meet strict delivery standards, it is an automated mechanism by which messages to AOL members are displayed with images and links enabled."

Next, read what Charles Stiles, AOL's Postmaster released on January 30th, 2006:

  • "On April 3, 2006, AOL will change the qualification criteria for the Enhanced Whitelist by lowering the complaint threshold to an extent that will significantly reduce the number of IP addresses included in the program.
  • On June 30, 2006, AOL will terminate Enhanced Whitelist privileges. This change will disable links and images by default from all non-certified bulk email viewed from AOL 9.0, AOL webmail and all subsequent client releases. As always, links and images can be enabled by the end user on a message-by-message basis." -Source

Here is how the email service providers and other important market voices have weighed in on the issue so far:

Matt Blumberg, CEO & Chairman of Return Path said:
"With senders having to pay a fraction of a cent for each email sent, the fees for companies (and profits for AOL and Goodmail) will mount and good mailers will not always be able to participate -- even if they have a pristine email reputation and customer relationship. This is in effect taxation of the good guys with cash – and it does nothing to help the good guys who can't afford the cost or to deter the bad guys who just plan to spam anyway." ... "AOL stands to make a lot of money at the risk of setting back email as best practices-based marketing. This is bad for senders who care about setting high email standards, bad for consumers' inboxes and simply, bad policy." -Source
Jason Calacanis, CEO of the blogging network Weblogs Inc that was recently acquired by AOL said:
"The CEO of Return Path makes his plea that the AOL White List remain in place--I think that's a good idea." -Source
Brad Feld, Managing Director at Mobius Venture Capital said:
"Hopefully the service providers and end-users in this ecosystem that understand the issues will be brave enough to speak out clearly to AOL and AOL will be brave enough to look out for their end-users. If not, AOL is effectively telling the spammers of the world "if you are willing to pay AOL, we'll deliver your mail to our end-users." If I was an AOL end-user and I understood this, I wouldn't be an AOL end-user for very much longer." -Source
Bill Nussey, CEO of Silverpop said:
"The irony of this is that AOL's customers are the ones that will suffer most from canceling the Enhanced Whitelist. It's like the proverbial rich kid vs. the guy who worked his way to the top. With AOL's old system, marketers had earn their way into the inbox. Best practices were rewarded, and AOL's customers got better, more targeted emails. CertifiedEmail changes the rules to benefit the people with money over the people with relevant messages." -Source
Eric Thomas, L-Soft's Founder & Inventor of LISTSERV said:
"AOL's recent decision to require payment of "a fraction of a cent per message" to ensure delivery of email messages with images and links to AOL mailboxes threatens to cut off Internet communication at its very roots, potentially spelling the end of an era of near-free mass communication and making good email marketing practices obsolete. This as-yet unspecified fee is to be paid to email certification company Goodmail Systems™." -Source
Rob Wilson, Vice President of Technology of Lyris Technologies said:
"We're concerned about how it affects our customers' costs. And, if AOL makes their regular Whitelist rules so strict, how does this affect the end user?" ... "The fee is "astronomical," ... "They're potentially going to spend more for getting through to AOL than they spend on their e-mail budget." -Source
Do you see a pattern here yet?

Defending AOL, includes:

David Daniels, JupterResearch Analyst said:
"The use of Goodmail's certified mail is a positive step forward for several reasons. • It removes any perception of a conflict of interest for the ISP's as it totally removes them from the certification process. • It standardizes the certification, accreditation and reputation process, which potentially can be used universally across ISPs and MTAs (to date AOL, Yahoo, Port25 and Strongmail are on board as well as a handful of ESPs). • Most importantly it will accelerate the rate at which marketers improve their level of sophistication...." -Source
Richard Gingras, co-founder and CEO of Goodmail Systems (venture that has a patented tokenized email delivery platform designed to providing reliable certified email messaging) said:
"We've seen a good response from many senders who recognize the problems in the e-mail ecosystem today," ... "They very clearly understand that their brands have been damaged by phishing attacks, that they're having a hard time getting their messages delivered, that consumers don't trust their messages. We're confident that over time we'll see significant adoption by senders of all types and stripes." -Source
What or Who Really is Goodmail Systems? They are the folks who have designed a cryptographically secure path between the sender (you the publisher and your email provider) and the mailbox provider (AOL and perhaps YAHOO in the near future) with a financial path between the sender and mailbox provider (meaning Goodmail is the intermediary making the buck to certify the sender). Goodmail Systems:

How much is this going to cost email publishers?

We really don't know yet. I've heard so many conflicting estimates from fractions of a cent per email to $175 USD to thousands per year depending on volume. It's too early at this point to speculate on the true costs until AOL/Goodmail releases a statement.

What should you do now? Chris Knight of says:

  • Take a few steps back and let this market discussion take place.
  • Watch what happens on the dates that AOL's postmaster outlined.
  • Look to your email list service provider for leadership and guidance on this issue as I'm sure they will have a lot to say if they care about helping you get your legitimate permission-based emails into AOL.
  • Continue to monitor your deliverability into AOL/Yahoo more closely than normal this year.
YAHOO mail is rumored to be next on this path as they are already testing Goodmail's certification system... at least for transactional messages (and not bulk non-spam content like email newsletters). 2006 is off to an interesting start for everyone in the email value chain! I'll keep a close eye on this issue and stay tuned to future Ezine-Tips issues to keep your permission-based emails flowing directly to your recipients.

This Ezine-Tip was submitted By Christopher Knight -- Email List Marketing Expert, author and entrepreneur. Get your weekly dose of Email newsletter publishing, marketing, promotion, management, email-etiquette, email usability and deliverability tips by joining the free Ezine-Tips newsletter:

Ezine-Tips for February 03, 2006

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