Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

‘Usage-based charging would add up to a massive effort and distraction’
By Dave Crocker
August 6, 2003

Vipul Prakash shows excellent insight into the topic of spam control. In particular, his post stresses three concerns that are not given enough attention in the dialogue about spam.

The first is that each spam control approach has significant, inherent limitations and will not “solve” the problem on its own. The second is that combining techniques is likely to make them far more effective, notably by applying relatively marginal techniques in constrained situations. This lets us obtain their benefits without seriously increasing false positives or false negatives.

Prakash’s third notable insight is that the 30-year history of Internet mail service entails some key features we want to avoid losing. His list of three rules for anti-spam software should be a cornerstone to serious discussions about spam control mechanisms. It does not matter whether one agrees with his specific list. What matters is that serious discussion about mechanisms must seriously consider both the impact on the nature of e-mail and the limitations of the mechanisms. At the least, his list should prompt us all to approach changes tentatively.

We need to be particularly careful that changes implemented to control spam do not have catastrophic side-effects on the beneficial nature of e-mail. Those proposing changes often do so cavalierly, either dismissing the likelihood of the change, or the seriousness of the damage from it.

Barry Shein provides us with an excellent example of this error. In his latest post, he gives us the usual lecture about e-mail not being free. Prakash meant that there currently is no incremental charge for e-mail, and that that affords some very important benefits to the interpersonal and intercompany use of e-mail. With the movement of other communication services toward flat-fee (rather than usage sensitive) charging, it is strange to see anyone blithely call for moving in the opposite direction.

The underlying costs of doing usage-based charging for frequent communications, such as telephone calls or e-mail, are astronomical. The negotiation, infrastructure, data transfer, computation, and administration all add up to a massive effort and distraction.

“Negotiation” refers to the small matter of deciding how much to charge and how to distribute the proceeds. Besides the very legitimate question of what is a fair distribution, there will be an absolute feeding frenzy as folks jockey for position at the money trough.  We saw it when charges were first imposed for DNS registrations; the potential revenue for usage-sensitive e-mail charging is vastly larger.

Previous entries:
Prakash (July 23)
Crocker (June 20)
Shein (June 20)
Shein (June 16)
Crocker (June 16)

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Business, Communications

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me