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June 2, 2006

Time to Dump Email? And Use What?

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Kelly Martin, the editor of Symantec’s online SecurityFocus magazine, says the time has come to ‘ditch the ‘sinking ship‘ that is email, which over the years has become nothing but a ‘terrible mess’. Kelly advises users to admit defeat to the spammers who have turned email into a ‘dangerous, insecure, unreliable, mostly unwanted and out of control’ tool of mass destruction. Is that Symantec’s official stance?

Kelly calls for a complete abandonment of the current form of email because trying to fix the current system would be like’ rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’. What’s our other option? To jump ship? We saw how well that worked for Jack.

I don’t buy into Kelly’s the good-guys-can’t-win approach to email. Especially when he can’t offer up an effective alternative. Anyone can pick apart something; the difficulty arises when you try to create something in its place.

You can’t abolish email. Why? Because more than one billion people currently have an email account. Most have more than one. I don’t believe you can erase something that has been that well-adopted, that mainstream, and pretend it never existed. It would be like trying to deny me my morning coffee. You can try, but you may lose a finger.

Abolishing email just because spammers have found a way in seems harsh. There will always be individuals looking for loopholes. There will always be those looking to take advantage of the system. Scratching the old email system and creating a new one won’t end this phenomenon, and the entire idea is rather impractical.

But Martin is right. With reports that almost half of all emails coming in are considered spam, something needs to done. But, what’s the alternative? Should we start leaving each other Post its in offensively bright colors? No, they haven’t made that glue strong enough yet. Revert back to phone calls? Wrong; there are too many solicitors and too much actual talking to one another involved in that. Bulletin boards? Nope, spammers will just hit there too.

We need to step forward, not backwards. A company taking a large step forward are the folks behind the 1st Certified email system. 1st Certified is free to download and aims to help users regain their trust in email by automatically sorting users’ email for them. How does it do this?

Each time you send an email, 1st Certified makes a digital fingerprint, which is then verified and turned into a unique Digital Stamp. The stamp is then imbedded into your original email and used to certify messages from that address later on.

When you receive an email from another person who has 1stCertified installed, the "Digital Stamp" is examined and verified for authenticity. If both fingerprints match, the email is directed to the appropriate Certified mail folder. If it doesn’t, 1stCertified directs the email into the recipient’s regular Inbox. Emails coming from non-1st Certified users are automatically placed in a user’s regular inbox.

What separates 1st Certified from the array of other email programs out there is that 20 percent of their revenue goes to a user-selected charity. This includes large international organizations like the Red Cross to smaller hometown causes. With 1st Certified, everyone wins.

Of course, the more people in your network that download 1st Certified, the more useful the service will be. Unfortunately, 1st Certified and others like it may have an uphill battle, as getting the average user to switch email programs is often a struggle.

But it’s a start, and a free one at that. The ‘free’ is important as users have already proven they won’t take to an email tax (sorry AOL).

For all its flaws, email remains an effective and beloved form of communication. Today’s spam filters have become increasingly smarter and able to divert spammy messages before users even see them. Instead of writing off email completely, let’s look at ways to make it better. Let’s improve it instead of just scrapping the old.

Unless you want to resort back to smoke signals. And in that case, I am totally okay with that. Otherwise, I think email is safe for now.

(via Slashdot)





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