Tim has written up the idea we discussed after dinner on Saturday: Pay to Send.

Granted, this is not a new idea. But the more we talked about it, the more I realized that it's really not rocket surgery. The trick is getting a few decent sized organizations (Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, Earthlink) to start recognizing the service.

It may not work. The economics could be all off. But hell, it seems like it's worth a shot to me.

Now, how do we get started...?

Update: It's worth pointing out that I know this idea isn't perfect. Viruses that send e-mail via Outlook would end up costing you money. And spammers may resort to stealing credit cards.

Update #2: If you're the type that takes this stuff way too seriously, please stop.

Posted by jzawodn at October 13, 2003 09:21 AM

Reader Comments
# Craig said:

So are you going to explain this plan to our internet buddies in the third world, or you going to leave that to someone else?

on October 13, 2003 09:40 AM
# Justin said:

Another problem -- who pays for mails to mailing lists? If it's the list admin, I'd like to point out that I run a bunch of lists that I just wouldn't be happy paying $100/year for. ;)

on October 13, 2003 09:48 AM
# PaulT said:

... Both things are good.

1. Viruses that send e-mail via Outlook would end up costing you money.

- That would encourage users to look at mail clients other than MS (or to sue MS for crappy Outlook) - that would make a dent in MS monopoly - which is good.

2. And spammers may resort to stealing credit cards.

- That would make banks to start caring and may result in some fundamental solutions to the problem which already exists - only nobody cares.




on October 13, 2003 10:12 AM
# Chris said:

This is just a very bad idea - e-mail should say open and free and big-bad-spammers should get punished

on October 13, 2003 10:14 AM
# Derek said:

I'm confused. You had a bunch of geeks sitting at Foo Camp, and re-invented an idea that's been kicked around for years, and -- in the midst of the great learning and sharing experience that was Foo Camp, you came out of it absolutely no closer (even farther since others in the past have at least put forward *flawed* implementations).

Is this the "promise" of Foo Camp? :-) "We'll rehash up old ideas that should be invented, but when we've got the core of mail, dns, etc., geeks right here under one roof, bah, let's not actually work on the problem then..."


on October 13, 2003 10:36 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Yo, Derek...

Nobody said we were trying to solve the problem. We were sitting around after dinner and talking. We talked about search engines too, but we haven't figured out how to topple Google either.

Or maybe you forgot your smiley?

Oh, wait. There it is. Nevermind. :-)

on October 13, 2003 11:01 AM
# Kev Spencer said:

Matt Sergeant (of MessageLabs) commented on it as well.

on October 13, 2003 12:39 PM
# Gudmundur Karlsson said:

What if Hotmail, AOL, Netscape, Yahoo,.. were to still provide the service for free, but in order for them to digitally sign your emails, you'd have to provide a credit card number? - as identification/insurance against abuse.

And you can't open more than a small number of accounts with the same credit card number without paying, and you're limited to less than 100 emails per day unless you pay.

Still free - but not anonymous.

ISPs should always digitally sign the emails of their customers, and charge more for larger numbers of outgoing mails.

The middleman (pay) service would still be useful for a while until all mailservers support digital signatures.

on October 13, 2003 12:50 PM
# Chad Williams said:

Users just wouldn't go for this.

on October 13, 2003 03:03 PM
# kasia said:

Once again.. you guys forget Americans aren't the only ones using the Internet.. majority of spam comes outside of US..

Uh, good luck on that though.

on October 13, 2003 03:29 PM
# E. Naeher said:

I don't think it will work. Here's why:

You, and Tim Bray, and other people like you are well-known. Your sites are heavily linked, your e-mail address is, or has been, plastered all over the net. Therefore, you get much more spam than the average user.

Maybe my e-mail server just has really good filters, but I get, on a bad day, maybe 10 spams. Why on earth would I pay cash to get into a system that will eliminate all of 5 seconds of effort per day? Maybe I'm just stubborn, but my reaction tends to be that anyone who thinks only those who can afford it should be entitled to send e-mail aren't worth writing to anyway. It already makes me angry that many of my e-mails are bounced simply because my mailserver is a free one. Sure, a cent a message doesn't sound like much; but my employer, with three employees, regularly sends announcements to our approx. 700 (paying) members, as well as press releases to dozens of media outlets, and it adds up. As a non-profit, this is not something we could easily afford.

Also, I wonder how exactly this will work for someone like me, who is unable to get either a credit card or a bank account. Or are we simply irrelevant?

on October 13, 2003 09:57 PM
# gaemon said:

this idea was already tested in a slightly different form: daum.net, #1 portal in Korea, charges about 1cent per mail if you send more than 100 (not surely exact) addresses. and if you send more than several thousand a month totally, then you must pay too.

the idea didn't take off because nearly every other websites refused to take daum.net address as user registration. (go figure) and the spam thru daum.net didn't stop either, because spammers used daum.net ID one-time fashion, with millions of forged SSNs (we must give our SSN for an email account chrissake).

I second Chris with legal approach. and yes, you're REALLY well filtered, Naeher. even I get about 50 spams a day. only spamassassin-2.55 keeps me at 5 spams/day mark. and I'm afraid to upgrade, re-training baysian filter will take several weeks and I don't keep old spams...

on October 13, 2003 11:20 PM
# grr said:

doesn't look like you got a trackback to this from the jabber archictecture blog

on October 13, 2003 11:55 PM
# Hemo said:


To think the next time some types 'just my $.02 worth' it might _actually_ be just that.

The idea sound neat, but we might just be opening another venue for criminals...sadly.

on October 14, 2003 07:34 AM
# mtcx said:

I think I'd rather sign my e-mails (which mutt makes extremely easy) and tell people I correspond with via e-mail to add my signature to their whitelist. Basically, it seems like this just suggests using a centralized signing relayer that assures everyone that people have... payed them money? I'd much prefer the decentralized way we have now in which everone is their own signer. The people that are concerned about spam can set up a whitelist and use bayesian filtering for the rest, while the people that don't get spam or don't care that they do can continue using the free, distributed e-mail system. Maybe I just don't understand this, but it just seems to be just making e-mail artifically expensive.

on October 19, 2003 01:22 PM
# Sam Newman said:

We had this idea a while ago - setup a company to develop the idea but we ended up getting screwed by our VC's. I don't want to go into too much detail but basically we had a patent protected machanism based around the concept of payment for email (all user configurable). We used SMTP proxies so installation on target ISP's was simple. At the end of the day our solution worked (we were blocking 50% more spam than Brightmail) but problems with our investors meant it never got off the ground. A real shame :-(

on October 20, 2003 03:52 AM
# james said:

People pay to send SMS messages, yet here in the UK we managed to spammed via SMS. It goes to show that companies are willing to pay to send spam providing they think the benefit is large enough.

on October 20, 2003 07:30 AM
# Sam Newman said:

Sending bulk information of whatever kind relies on a return on investment. Given a cost to distribute the information of X, marketers/spammers will send the information if they know they can make more than X. It pays to send leaflets through your leter bbox if make more money than the leaflets take to make and distribute, likewise people SMS spam because they think they can make thier money. If they dont. they go bust. IF they do, they continue.
With email the costs are drastically lower than any other media (they are never nil though - they use electircity using thier computers at least!) and therefore the reasons for NOT using it are appropriately reduced. All current anti-spam measures (beyond the questionable use of law as an anti-spam measure) rely on stopping the spam after its sent. Stopping spam being sent in the first place is a more efficient albeit more complex thing to do.

on October 20, 2003 04:43 PM
# James said:

Why should anyone have to pay to send an email?

I think its a pathetic idea, just a con really.

If their bothered about spam then why now have one of those number pictures, which require you to enter a number before sending an email.

on February 7, 2006 09:03 AM
# April said:

I dont think paying to send e-mail is for stopping spam. That makes NO sense. E-mails have bulk folders that spam is sent into and deleted so you dont have to see it or read it.

Plus we already pay. We pay to get our internet hooked up. We pay if we want better e-mail accounts.

Paying for e-mail is the dumbest idea i've ever heard in my life.

It should at least be optional if you say it's because of spam which I doubt. Most spam doenst even come from America and most people who use the internet and e-mail know that.

The internet made us all equal. I have friends all over the world rich and poor. I've honestly learned japanese, and italian from the internet and friends I've met. Now if we pay for e-mail only the rich people will be talking to other rich people and us poor people will be suffering. I'm so sick of rich people getting everyting. I dont want tons of money I just want to know about the world. Talk to people. See the world through the internet and learn about it since I have no money to do it any other way. Now if this goes through I wont be able to do it in any way.

Some people will pay to send spam, rich people will pay to send e-mail and the poor will get even dumber and more desperate. The internet actually made us equal and smarter. Well it did.

And this is something that should be taken seriously if you have no money to send e-mails.

on February 9, 2006 12:38 PM
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