Freeing email?

Spam, as an annoyance, is one thing. But, in part due to my own arcane and patched-together grouping of email accounts and filters, I am now missing email from people I shouldn’t. This does not occur often, but even once or twice is really bad. The idea that an email can be “lost in the mail” is pretty preposterous, and unacceptable.

There is nothing I like better than hearing ideas that haven’t already occurred to me. This is not an uncommon attitude, but I am so brilliant that it rarely occurs in my case*. I just read this plan to eliminate spam: charge for email. Every email you send to me costs you 10 cents. Every email I send to you also costs me a dime. We keep circulating that dime, and as long as we are not net sending or receiving to an extremely disproportionate degree, spammers are removed from the system. A charming idea, mostly.

Now, I would like to do this with tokens rather than cash–something like karma, etc.–to get rid of the bad taste in my mouth that comes with the cash, but really that is neither here nor there, since if I didn’t monetize it someone else would. (That is, spammers would buy surplus from those who aggregated it.) In fact, for it to work, the issuing authority would have to offer to buy back the tokens at or near face value, to keep the cost of email artificially high. That way, enterprising spammers couldn’t bid for discounted email vouchers.

The externalities of the system could potentially be really nasty. Do you still have comments on your blog, or do you make people email you? Do you post things publicly that are meant to tease out emails? As a professor, do I have to deal with phone calls and notes slipped under my door, only to have to pay to reply?

It’s a little like a perpetual motion system. It is only when you look at the friction, that you realize its failing. Picture an implementation. Frank, a grad student in Slovenia who is interested in asking me some questions about our grad program, sends me an email (oblivious to the fact that I am using DimeMail™) and gets a politely worded message back from my mail client instructing him to go to the DimeMail™ website and purchase a 10 cent stamp to affix to his request. At this point, he could do this, and after 5 minutes resend the email.

But what if the message came with a random, coded key, made relatively unique in format by each individual user. By including that coded key, the email would make it through to my eyes. Obviously, you wouldn’t want this query system for every email, but once you received it once, you could automagically add the correspondent to your “OK” list. Advantage: no cost, no centralized server.

Yes, if the world came to use DimeMail™, you could eventually remove the annoying nag autoresponders, but you could do the same by simply offering accounts that monitored for spamming. That is, the assumption that the system is (near) universal is not a reasonable one.

* Sarcasm only serious :).

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