A Glimpse Beneath the Kimono

For all of the vast resources the big four free inbox providers (Yahoo!, AOL, Gmail and MSN/Live/Hotmail) have expended over the decades to tweak, test and improve their filtering and delivery processes, they’ve been remarkably quiet about it. But their reticence is for good reason; if they were to publish the juicy details, they’d be undermining their own efforts, as spammers would surely make use of the information to evade filtering changes almost as soon as they are implemented.

So when a major inbox provider actually publishes specific details about how they make delivery decisions – as Gmail recently did in a paper explaining how Priority Inbox works – it creates a splash in the deliverability pond.

In January, Google posted on one of its research blogs a four page document containing the mathematical algorithms Gmail employs to decide how important any particular message is to its recipient by gauging the probability that the recipient will act quickly on the message.

It’s nothing short of a mathematical model of recipient engagement.

The real utility of the paper, in my opinion, is that it gives senders a clearer picture of what engaging e-mail looks like to the ISPs. I propose that Priority Inbox is a reasonable proxy for any recipient domain where it comes to measuring engagement. Senders who test and optimize their mail for preferred placement in the Gmail Priority Inbox should see gains in deliverability most anywhere else.

So what does engaging e-mail look like to Gmail? I’m not mathematically savvy enough to evaluate the algorithms in the paper, but the author provides some useful narrative:

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I are a e-mail ninja?

I’ve never been accused of being a ninja, and I certainly would never adopt the title for myself, but Andrew Bonar over at emailexpert.org hath proclaimed it so; therefore it must be true. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to be being a bit flattered. You’re a silly man, Andrew, but thanks.

Andrew recently published an interview I gave to him: The ESPs’ Dirty Secret. I thought it came out well.

Reply-All: The Short-Week-Following-the-Long-Weekend-Edition Edition

A blogger for computer and Internet security giant Sophos sounded the red alert Tuesday, announcing that a “primary WHOIS registry” (huh?) had been hacked, and records of  sites belonging to Microsoft and Google had been vandalized.  Indeed, a WHOIS search on a UNIX box returned some uninteresting DNS performance art. The author of the blog post didn’t realize he was using, essentially, a modified substring search, so he was seeing a variety of  inexact matches containing records from a mess of DNS servers – all unrelated to the companies in question. The original post was replaced with an apology and redaction within a few hours, but not before a standard complement of rotten tomatoes had been tossed in their general direction.

Marketing industry reporter extrordinaire Ken Magill serves up another scoop: after fewer than five days in the saddle, the new CEO of Lyris is reportedly ready to lay off about 15% of it’s work force (somewhere between 40 and 45 jobs). The downsizing is apparently part of a shift in corporate strategy away from small business senders in favor of larger companies that send in higher volumes. Some within the company are reportedly wondering (out loud, to Magill) whether the job slashing is part of a move to make the company appear more attractive to a prospective buyer.

Microsoft cut the legs out from under the Waledac spam ‘botnet by seizing 276 domains used for command and control. Microsoft filed a suit against Waledac operators, in which it sought an award of the c&c domains. The botnet operators have 14 days to appeal the default judgment (thereby revealing their identities), which no one really expects they’ll do.  Unlike previous attempts at take-downs, it looks like this one is sticking.

“Houston, we have a problem … it’s called ‘spam’,” tweeted NASA’s Lunar Science Institute, as the “here you have”/VBMania e-mail trojan spread like wildfire across the Intarwebs Thursday, choking and overwhelming e-mail servers and stealing user passwords as it went. Various media outlets reported that the worm has hit NASA, Google, Coca Cola, Comcast, and ABC/Disney, and the Department of Homeland Security.

And to kick your weekend off with a smile, here’s a chuckle from cartoonist Brad Colbow about opting out of retail e-mail campaigns. Remind you of any clients you know?