Digital Post Archives

January 3, 2003

Rethinking Mail - COMsumer POST

I've been listening to Tom's search for heritics recently and was reminded about the stamp story and the origins of the postage invented in Britain in 1840. Postage created new industries, including advertising and rapidly accelerated literacy rates. The parallels are important today, for e-mail, spam, and digital identity.

The printing and publishing industry of the time was caught up in the 'Industrial Revolution', benefiting from changes in manufacturing and exploiting developments in other network technologies - railways and telegraph.

Stamps were a reformers idea. Rowland Hill wrote"Postal Reform; its Importance and Practibilitiy" in 1837. The plan introduced stamps and uniform low rates, which made it universally affordable. It also dramatically cut the accounting costs of the Royal Mail who up and till then logged each individual letter. Let's be clear. Up until 1840 the "receiver" paid. After 1840 the "sender" paid. Until 1840 the system was high cost, with frauds on it common.

Within a few years the stamp revolution spread around the world. For additional statistics see The Economic and Social Background to Victorian Print Culture

Post packets.gif

Today 163 years (May 2003) later the postal revolution has peaked. The efficiencies driven to a point where AOL can create metal non-recyclable CD sign-up trash and still make a business case for putting it in my mailbox. An with e-mail yep we have improved the immediacy of the delivery and reduced the costs. And behold.... just like pre 1840 the receiver pays, the system is increasingly spamed and fraud is more rampant.

What was the platform they launched the penny post on? "Mothers and fathers who wish to have news of your absent children; Friends who are separated and wish to write to each other; Emigrants who do not want to forget your motherland; Farmers who want to know the best place to sell your produce; Workers and labourers who want to find the best work and the highest wages" to support their postal reform measure."

It went beyond their wildest dreams. The rapid rise in literacy; an unexpected consequence. The passion to learn played a great role. With the internet we have the greatest learning and productivity tool so far.

The case and outcomes for a digital COMsumer Post will go way beyond our thinking today. The final comments here introduce an idea, that creates markets for digital identity by moving the postal system from an industrial paradigm to today's knowledge paradigm.

Should we look at POST another way? At issue is the value of access to our personal mailbox. We think about e-mail without thinking about the history and purpose of the postal system. Today the post box in front of my house is public and I receive 98% ineffective direct mail offers. Some put up no solicitation signs etc. The telephone directory is public and I suffer more abuse from telemarketers. However e-mail is completely free. Get my address get spam! Put an e-mail on a website, get more spam.

Is it possible that what we have is the postal system before the stamp revolution? Stamps put a price on sending. However they also drove efficiencies that enabled lower tarriffs, and accelerated more profitable exchages, be they personal or business. (Can anyone tell me where bills and checks fit into this story and early timeline?) Have you looked recently at the value spent dumping trash in your mailbox? Postage plus printing costs?

Our digital mail system is currently free, and increasingly suffering from receiver based inefficiencies. Could the price of free acceptance be too high? It seems the few are spoiling it for the many. It's also costing senders. It's harder than ever to look up an e-mail address. Why can't I just look it up and link it with a phone number? We give our phone numbers away almost without thinking. With e-mail there are reservations. Many have multiple addresses, separating public, business and private, with different levels of profiling information (and honesty) attached to each.

Perhaps it's time to re-think mail. How can we keep it free for the public, our preferred business suppliers etc. while putting a price on spam, that turns it back into information we want to eat.

At the same time we can return the stamp value of "post" to the people. It's no longer efficient to get your power bill via the post or pay it using the postal system. Done correctly, it's USPS that will have a problem. Perhaps literally we only need one physical delivery per week.

Let's start thinking out a solution. I'll call it COMsumer Post - after The COMsumer Manifesto. This is a world in which we all are paid to receive mail. It's a world where different levels of transparency surround our profiles. COMsumer Post is the system that enables the market for consumer information to arise.

Let me say this is not choice mail! Both Kevin Werbach and Jon Udell made recent posts on that subject. This piece on the impact of choice mail Jon's Radiois a great illustration. Choice mail assumes all incoming mail is spam unless it's mails from a buddy - approved source.

More to come.... Tying Smart Mobs to Post and Digital Identity.

January 7, 2003


Do we want spammers to think before sending? Would there be value in incorporating a postage system for e-mail? What opportunities for commerce may arise? What are the benefits for the people?

Suspend your disbelief! Let's imagine a simple scenario where all electronic mail carries a postage stamp equivalent. We would have a rate card... A personal, home, business and government package would be provided. And then levels. Let's just introduce it first for it can begin simply.

Like Paypal provided a verification system for linking e-mails with physical names and addresses, the same can be done for our digital mail box. A PayPal POST type system would enable "franked" mail only to go though. Franking can be determined by the rate card and other features, like contact list updates.

By setting a fee for a "registered" mailbox.... direct mailers, billers etc can quickly move expensive inefficient mailing to more effective online formats. It works virally. Imagine I open an e-mail box for everyone in the whitepages and enable direct marketers to send mail to these accounts. They will pay me a portion of the fee for mail handling (just like Visa) and the balance of the fee will be handled like an unclaimed PayPal account. When the unclaimed digital post value reaches $10.00 then a traditional physical postcard is electronically printed and sent to the physical address. It says... you have digital post, sign your account and collect $10.00. The recipient then opens the account and receives payment for each "letter" opened. This is now an active account. Legal obligations can be contracted, eg collection daily or levels of frequency.

This would be made rapidly smarter with different levels of profile access. In the beginning 25 cents may almost represent a drop box. However, additional levels will use mail profiles to create additional value. Eg accept mail from Sears, Wallmart, Target.... rejects from Nordstroms, Macy's etc. may enable another retailer to more appropriately search paying a higher value to obtain a more targeted distribution. This might pay the consumer a dollar for looking! I can see agents emerging manipulating this info trying to find markets. Now consumers may also be prepared to sell additional profile information. Eg age, favorite brands, plenty of possibilities, these could be bundled as well. A few simply research questions would create a system vastly more sophisticated than the current one quickly. The more partiticipation the greater the definitions and the larger the market for segmenting data. I might even tie it to my TIVO account!

In a world like this.... a few consumers may enable / invent new directional mailbox tags. Each tag can be approved just like each new Visa Bank.... Each tag will get a percentage of the revenue. Tag holders will also work to bundle their assets. By bundling they will make certain "info nodes" more valuable. These might become super agencies.

Senders will know where and to whom mail was delivered. They will with each drop improve targeting and performance. For example when mail is opened... if it recieves a click though additional postage may be due (a return receipt posted).

COMsumer Post participants can speed their participation by collecting money for changing their bills over to electronic systems. AT&T would love me to give up my paper bill -- but I refuse, an electronic or e-mail bill does not result in a discount. Imagine.... the screen option to select all your bill providers... and collect the postage from the invoicing companies. PG&E doesn't bill another company does it. Imagine millions of customers saying.... redirect my bills electronically.... the reduction in paper waste, the legal transfer simplified, and then being paid for putting efficiencies into the system. I'm green and better off!

This will create new efficiencies and are the first steps to creating market aggregators. Super agents for consuming communities. There was much written on meta-markets over the last few years. In this scenario they can become reality. Using your post box to register guarantees etc can link you to other consumers. Only one consumer needs to code a guarantee for each product for everyone to participate. See the CD song id. Similarly consumer complaints can be handled by this mail system. I wrote anti-port some time ago.

What are the core concepts here.

The majority of postage is payed to consumers. There is an incentive to enable certain levels of public information. It is built off of current mail and profiling systems. We work first to eliminate waste paper of direct mail.

It will create a more efficient postal system, which no longer penalizes the receiver with spam, for the sender will now pay for access, just like our current postal system. By definition corporate mail boxes will be different to personal mail boxes. Rates and exchanges for business post may also be different. Licensing opportunities are also available. Eg post approved for children.

By moving all post into digital space, we have made post mobile, so new options will become available. Eg paying for gps link and timed delivery to a consumer. If the consumer doesn't collect it within an allotted time then it is simply void and disappears. Under the right set of circumstances... informercials might take on a different pricing structure. learning on the run.

There is also an important social issue here. By enabling the payment for post, we are endeavoring to make Internet access free for everyone. Not everyone may move over. Still if we are smart enough to create a social - community - postal system that incents business and pays enough to cover the costs of access and equipment then we have done good. It may be easier than we think. WiFi PDAs may just collect your mail as you walk around.

Lastly this is not a posting that suggests we should raise the rates between friends. In fact there are many ways round that. Though even at the simplest level if I mail you 25 cents and you mail me back... except for the "VISA" percentage we are even. So to make it better... You can join... become a COMsumer for $35 per year we will enable you to exchange mail freely with your friends and close contacts.

Who could set this up? It's a mighty attactive proposition for some banks. PayPal may have a head start. Then again hotmail, or yahoo, AOL (help us!) or Earthlink? Quicken maybe? Banks are closet to providing the trust and security over data. They are important to the linking aspects and perhaps more so when we begin aggregating this info to enhance consumer purchasing power.

Ultimately, this is more like Visa. It is chaordic in nature. It must also be consumer owned. Afterall it is our consumer info we are talking about. The majority of the assets our personal info at the edge of the Network. Just like in David Isenbergs's Stupid Networks. We are close to the point where consumer can have a STUPID POST OFFICE. I'd like to think it was more open source... a postal bazaar, than a new cathedral.

Idea? Thoughts?

January 9, 2003


Suggestion. Use TDMA an open source protocol along with a postal charging mechanism to control and incent the development of inbound digital mail and eliminate SPAM. Putting a cost on digital mail will make marketers more efficient and selective. It will also create a market when you pay consumers for more detailed information.

After my COMsumer POST blog on Tuesday; Mitch Radcliffe blogged a segment of my post (ah for an editor!) and the discussion that followed was very helpful to me. His objections my para-phrasing was one I have heard before. People won't give up their current e-mail addresses to do this. There are a great many problems with ISP's and you can't fiddle with how it currently works.

The discussion led to looking at TDMA. TDMA works on the basis of whitelists.

" The way TMDA thwarts incoming junk-mail is simple yet extremely effective. You maintain a "whitelist" of trusted contacts which are allowed directly into your mailbox. Messages from unknown senders are held in a pending queue until they respond to a confirmation request sent by TMDA. Once they respond to the confirmation, their original message is deemed legitimate and is delivered to you. Updating your whitelist insures they won't have to confirm future messages. TMDA can even be configured to automatically whitelist confirmed senders. To see what the confirmation process looks like, send me a test message, and then reply to the confirmation request.

This methodology has the advantage of being very selective about what it allows in, while at the same time permitting legitimate, but previously unknown senders to reach you......"

TDMA is not alone in developing a whitelist approach. See Bruce Simpson's September thougths. Kevin Werbach also wrote "Death by Spam" in November. TDMA may be the only open source choice however.

So consider. Is it possible to use TDMA as part of a spam-killing postal system? You know add a postal metering / franking system link it to my paypal account, which means I'm verified to get my digital post. Then if you can also insure that everything is encrypted as it goes each way? I'm assuming it is P2P, and that I will adopt a standardised or recommended rate card.

Then I'm not only getting money for receiving post and making the planet a better place, I also know the commission I pay to the service (like VISA) is adding to the security and integrity of the overall system.

This solution alone doesn't answer the pressing business issue. How can I improve my returns on direct mail beyond just going digital? For marketers require profiles -- data. TDMA with a payment system can improve inbound effiencies with verified accounts - addresses. The same system can work in the reverse, when consumers create profiles of real value.

The very same consumers can enable whitelist profile sharing in exchange for postal access.

February 6, 2003

Spam Fixation

Bob Frankston provides a very thoughtful article :Spam Fixation reinforcing the economics of attention and promoting (in my view) typical "tech views" about consumers who don't think. There is lot's of great thought here. Particularly when I've been writing about a digital post.

"We need to restore the balance. We need to control access to our attention and we must be able to determine our own priorities."

"The problem is not that email is free. It's that we treat our email address like our home address and then act surprised when everyone assumes they have a right drop in unannounced. After all we asked them in by giving them our address. ........."

"We can start to find a balance by giving people tokens that can be used to vie for our attention. Each token is unique and we can use it to prescreen the access. ............".

There is much more to think about here. Bob rejects the idea that people should pay me and provides the telemarketer as the example. I'd beg to differ. In both the direct mail and the telemarketer examples there is a cost of probing for our attention. With spam the cost is an order of magnitude different. Similarly an argument for CRM customer relationship management is inserted. The paradigm proposed remain supply side driven. Maybe the economics of attention identify the problem, perhaps the answer lies in the economics of cooperation?

To use the telemarketer example. Currently x calls y misses and an economic hit rate. We can assume the credit card companies, the mortgage brokers, the magazines etc, would all change this in a minute if it could be done for a lower cost. Your best marketer is the consumer. When the consumer spreads good news you grow. When one consumer spreads a complaint we know what the cost is. At the moment Consumers don't share the good news very effectively. If they did, we may find an invisible collaborative solution that informs other consumer more effectively. Could this replace telemarketiing?

February 12, 2003

SPAM Polls

I just read in the SF Chronicle this morning more research on SPAM. The research is all flawed. It assumes that the government or organizations or both should take some form of action. The questions are all asked that way. Simply because no-one understands that perhaps you and me and others together can do something about it. How can you change paradigms when the research is constantly promoting a dialogue round the current impasse?

More government regulation particularly of the opt-out kind will only make the problem worse. While almost certainly (I presume) giving the government more power to track, and even tax exchanges.

July 6, 2003

Controlling Digital Bits

Are two links to new businesses (BitPass and Vanquish) early indicators that Internet economis are close to a tipping point?  They provide an interesting contrast both targeted at enabling and controlling digital access.  Will they be successful? If only the RIAA would think.... I might pay a cent a song to listen.  I might even sell back my attention to enable some ads, if the stream was customized. 

BitPass via Chirstopher Allen's new blog. Life with Alacrity is trying to solve the micropayment problem.  What is BitPass?  It's like a prepaid phone card for the web.  The real secret will be getting Earners to sign up and test the business model at different price points.  It may not be comics that makes this a great business.  I did like their interface, and no I can't sign up yet for an earners account.

Then via Pay Up! "Hoping to stop the evil epidemic of spam, Philip Raymond is putting a price on it. The 46-year-old software executive has a provisional patent on a service called Vanquish, which requires e-mail senders to post a cash bond of 5 cents into a bank account for every piece of e-mail they send. If a recipient judges the mail to be illegitimate, the sender loses the nickel, with four pennies going to the recipient's Internet service provider and one penny going to Vanquish as a processing fee.

So if the receiver accepts the message the sender is then "okay" from then on.  However, the sender won't post the bond... then the mail won't go through.  Vanquish has been at this for sometime.  Their marketing and site navigation fails to communicate what Forbes does --- so I'm still unsure if they have it cracked or when it might be available. 

So now..... As an Earner with BitPass "During the earner sign-up process, we provide you with gateway software (a single file in most cases) that you install on your web server. This software acts like a ticket checker at a movie theater, allowing only those with valid tickets to enter premium areas of your web site."

Could Premium be my mail server?  After a spender clicks on a BitPass-enabled hyperlink and then authorizes payment, we issue a ticket to the spender's browser, which then presents the ticket to the ticket checker on your server for validation and access.

My interest traces to a number of blogpostings I've made around Digital Post.  For my two cents, the Vanquish model if it works is only a stepping stone to something much more elegant.  It will never enable consumers to aggregate and trade their data.  However, both ISP's and consumers have an interest in stopping spam.  For that alone it may just work if ISP's start marketing it.  On the other hand BitPass clearly understands we do have something to sell.  Maybe Ryze will let me put a BitPass fee on a revised commercial profile and sell it to all those car direct marketers that have my name. 



November 4, 2003

Bonded Future for E-Mail?

Interesting thoughts on the future of e-mail. See the link to Bonded Sender and the Economist article on this approach to putting a "price" on e-mail.

VentureBlog: The Future of Email

While people may debate the death of email, there is no question that many email servers are already overloaded with spam. Current spam solutions are beginning to address the problem, but so far they all suffer from the arms race issue - as fast as we come up with new ways to fight spam, spammers are finding new ways to deliver it to us.

One solution is to charge people to participate in the system. Anybody who pays a fee is automatically on the whitelist. Several companies (such as the Bonded Sender program) are working to provide this solution to legitimate bulk emailers (e.g. travel specials from United Airlines, etc.). United Airlines pays a bond to the company, which they lose if they actually send any significant quantity unsolicited email. The company then provides this list to all of the anti-spam companies so they can properly distinguish bulk email from spam.

When the change comes, it will deliver the future of email to Microsoft.

May 30, 2007

Blog Ping from the Past - Identity Circles

When one gets out of the habit of blogging we can forget some of the reasons why it was so important to us. I used to use my blog continually for sending links and updates to others. It provided a steady stream of what I'd been thinking about, testing and what I'm following. Even today I get pings from the past on a post I've written. I really appreciate them.

Hi Stuart,

I stumbled upon an intriguing post of yours dated March 2003. It's about "Identity Circles": . Put it today, it would still be ahead of its time. It's quite amazing that you had this vision back in 2003.

I'm curious if that was your wishes at the time or you actually worked on it to realize this vision. Any company that you are aware of which has achieved a good part of your grand vision? It would be interesting to know. Do you have any plan to have a follow-up post on the current status for this space?

Thanks and best regards,


Thank you Joshua! Sometimes we need reminders. I believed then in the core ideas for Identity Circles and have been working on in this area although I'm learning there is still a long way to go. I'm going to give some thought to your request for a follow-up post. In the meantime I thought I'd just republish a segment of it.

IDENTITY CIRCLES enrich and enhance life's many connections. Whom you know has never been so important. Professional, Business, Community, Friends, creating circles of trust that you control. Now you can be more connected and share what and when you want. In CIRCLES you can discover a whole new range of connections, intersections where you connect for fun, influence, advice, learning. Today's world is connected. Sometimes for fleeting moments or maybe for a lifetime. We move, we change addresses, our contacts change from year to year. Yet serendipity still strikes.

We meet friends in unexpected places, and find old work or college colleagues when we least expect them. CIRCLES let's you grow and learn from whom you know. So together we travel many different circles and through many different roles. Collectively we learn we have a lot more to offer, when we don't always know what we can do for each other. Cooperatively we learn together, individuals can create more value from their profiles than they can individually seeding them at many different destinations. There are valid reasons for public and commercial interests. Under Circles you control access.

So what's different? Safe and secure in your circle, you are part of a many circles environment that makes up many trusted circles. CIRCLES guarantees your privacy and the privacy of your friends. Under Circles there is no more spam. The information is yours alone to share and trade as you wish. Circles is merely a commercial and public broker of information. Tomorrow's Post Office. How is it done? see the extended entry....

You begin by building your profile with your own circle of trust. This P2P based component puts your profile on your PC or personal mobile device (on or off whenever you like). When you open your account you will be required to find three friends to secure your profile and join the network. The friends provide backup (secure keyed) in case your encrypted data is lost. They can't see your data, however their systems can broadcast for you should you be offline for any reason. (We see something similar in music with Kazaa). READ MORE

What I still believe is the control must rest with the individual. That we must own our own identity, that it must be both private and secure. It won't happen without open standards.

Perhaps in this last line "Circles creates a valuable economic asset, that grows with the collective value of shared information assets in the community. Circles aims to "connect" everyone on earth digitally, just like the original post and telephone, but this time for free."

This partially serves to highlight why I thought Skype was such a big thing when it launched. Yet today the world of networks and communications is many times more complex. Identity Circles will only emerge when we have an abstract identity layer in place. When you and I can have one name for all communications with complete control over what we share and who has access. So in a way nothing has changed, we still need this.

About Digital Post

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Unbound Spiral in the Digital Post category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Digital Identity is the previous category.

General Interest is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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