This column is not about Gmail filtering. Really, it isn't. It wasn't going to be about filtering at all, but as I was working on another topic the news that Google plans to "kill" Postini crossed my desk and I couldn't ignore it. As I read the article I experienced a range of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Having considered the announcement I'm still rather conflicted, hence the conflicted title to this column.
Google acquired Postini in 2007. It seemed like a good fit. Like Google, Postini was known for relying heavily on algorithms to make decisions rather than people. Also like Google, it was known for believing it was the smartest "person" in the room. Instant synergy. A key question in such an acquisition is what would Postini's future be? Would it remain a separate product or be integrated? At the time the messages from Google were mixed and things went pretty quiet.
Fast forward to today and the answer is clear. Postini is going away as a separate entity. My first thought was "thank goodness" (or words to that effect). Over the years I've had plenty of experience trying to work with, or more accurately around, Postini's spam filtering. I never like to work around spam filters. They're there for good reason and perform an important role. Unfortunately, with Postini there was no working with it and when a client was using Postini the only option was to work around it.
When I say there's no working with Postini, I tried. I tried really, really hard. I have experienced multiple situations where we had common customers who were unhappy with how Postini filtered their email. I escalated the conversation about these problematic filtering decisions as far as possible. Postini told me that it didn't care to make any changes, it had no desire to work with any email senders, and that there was nothing for it to learn from email senders. In Postini's view, its filters were the best in the industry and customers upset enough to leave usually returned because Postini filters were so superior to the competition.
The result of this intransigence is that I've spent many hours explaining to annoyed Postini customers what their very limited delivery options are. I've spent many more hours explaining that there's nothing that can be done about Postini's delay or blocking of their email to any third parties.
So the news of Postini's demise had me reaching for the champagne. But then I began considering the knock-on impact. Could this be a case of "better the devil you know"? My own parent company uses Postini quite widely. We've spent a lot of time training them on how to work around Postini. I know that the learning curve on whatever replacement they choose will be significant and there are no guarantees that the alternatives will be any better.
More importantly, I read the updates on the article and became concerned that perhaps this won't be as clean as Google killing Postini. Two updates in particular were not clear.
"Google PR also told us that it doesn't consider this transistion [sic] to be the same as killing the service. 'Now that there is essentially feature parity, we will be transitioning existing Postini customers over to the Apps infrastructure over the course of the next year and a half or so.'"
"Google PR told us, 'even after the transition, customers are welcome to continue using the email security features (for the same price) with their on-premise email systems such as Exchange or Lotus Notes…So, saying we're killing a service isn't quite accurate. It's more that we are consolidating the service onto the Apps infrastructure, where we'll continue offering similar features for the same price.'"
Does this mean that companies will continue to use the Postini functionality with its limited visibility and non-existent sender support but within a Google Apps environment connected to their existing Exchange environment? It certainly sounds that way. Google has been moving Postini functionality into Google Apps for some time now. Does this mean we could end up with the same Postini problems for Google Apps or even Gmail users? I certainly hope not.
If I put my slightly optimistic, but still realistic hat on (yep, it says that right on it in very small letters), here's where I think we'll end up:
It remains to be seen how this plays out but I'm quietly hopeful that this will work out for the best for email marketers.
Until next time,
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Derek Harding is the CEO and founder of Innovyx Inc., a member of the Omnicom Group and the first e-mail service provider to be wholly owned by a full-service marketing agency. A British expatriate living in Seattle, WA, Derek is a technologist by background who has been working in online marketing on both sides of the Atlantic for the last 10 years.
March 19, 2014