Outsourced E-Mail for Everyone

Founded in San Jose, Calif. in 1998, Everyone.net is a lot more than basic outsourced email. The company promises that rules and folders created on one computer will be immediately available on all computers used to access that email account—simply by applying the IMAP protocol.

The company says that IMAP provides additional benefits:

  • Messages stay synched, so users don’t have to manually sync up their laptop before they go on the road.
  • Messages stay safe, as the email server keeps a backup copy, so users won’t lose mail if their own hard drive dies.
  • Messages appear quickly, because the protocol downloads a list of message headers, allowing users to delete messages they do not want without downloading them. This feature also allows users of PDAs and cell phones to download only vital messages on devices that lack processing power.

Josh Mailman (that’s really his name), Everyone.net vice president of marketing, said that the key benefit of his company’s service to ISPs is simple. “We eliminate the maintenance costs and software costs of email hardware,” he said. “We allow service providers to reduce their costs while actually improving service. Our economy of scale allows us to negotiate cheaper contracts, such as for anti-virus software, for example.”

The company partners with Sophos for anti-virus, and uses Cisco, Sun, and Network Appliance hardware. Its mail management tools are proprietary, and take advantages of recent improvements in mail protocols, especially IMAP, as described above.

The company started out, during the boom, as a service that would increase the stickyness of websites. It was intended to be free and ad-supported, and although the company still runs an ad-supported service, Mailman said its future lies with a subscription service. “It made more sense for us to be subscription based,” he said.

The company claims over 25,000 clients with over 600,000 paid mailboxes (plus over 100,000 domains that use the company’s free email product to increase customer stickiness). Mailman said its infrastructure handles over 500 million messages each month.

With a user base this large, the company has had to be on the forefront of abuse prevention. It offers a comprehensive variety of mail protection services.

The network boasts automated abuse prevention, preventing users from sending thousands of emails in one day from a single account. It also blocks directory harvest attacks.

The company uses compression on mail viewed with their Webmail interface, which Mailman said should be particularly useful for corporate road warriors, as it speeds up email interaction. In addition, since the company’s paid Webmail portal has no ads (the free portal does have ads), it will be much faster than any Webmail portal that does have ads.

The company’s best mail protection features are bundled into a service the company calls SpamShield Pro (but it blocks much more than spam).

Everyone.net maintains its own black list, blocking obvious spammers. Mailman said his company’s RBL is a sophisticated tool, not a brute force blocking tool that will also block legitimate senders. “Some IPs send only unsolicited email,” he said. “Many RBLs will block, say, all of EarthLink. We block only those IPs that send only spam. We do work with direct marketing groups that, like Digital Impact, are legitimate. On the other hand, IPs sending only messages with forged headers get added to our RBL.”

SpamShield uses a heuristics engine to judge whether or not a particular message may be spam. Users can adjust their preferences to create a spam folder, not receive spam above a certain threshold, and can create their own personal blacklist. All of these settings can be changed.

Users can also choose to not view images in messages. Many spammers (and legimitate marketers too) use a 1 pixel by 1 pixel image, known as a Web bug or Web beacon, to check whether a message has been viewed (or previewed in an email client that has a preview pane). If your email client loads the tiny graphic, you are identified as a spam destination and are likely to receive more spam. Blocking images in email prevents that (when your friends send you images, they’re usually attached to the email, not embedded in it).

Those who are overwhelmed with spam can choose to allow only those on their whitelist to get through.

Overall, this adds up to an impressive set of features. As with every outsourcing relationship, though, ISPs will have to contact the company and see whether or not they are comfortable working together. Local businesses, especially those near the company’s base in San Jose, should find the possibilities particularly attractive.

Mailman said that ISPs that are switching from their own email system to that of everyone.net will find migration smoothed. The company allows users to keep their email, passwords, and users names. “Usually, they just give us a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of passwords and user names,” he said.

In addition, the company has APIs for provisioning, account creation, and interaction with billing systems. For ISPs or webhosts who have reselling customers, or for ISPs with business customers, the company can create “control centers” for resellers or corporate administrators that will allow them to control their own mail.

We spoke to one ISP customer that is very happy with everyone.net. The company, Lighthouse Communications, considers itself an NSP (Network Services Provider) rather than an ISP. The company has offices in Minneapolis, Kansas City, Omaha, and Des Moines. It has over 1,000 business customers.

Randy Califf said that everyone.net (which he calls “everyone”) has given his company the tools it needs. “We offer a broad package of business networking and email services,” he said. “We provide gateway services, SMTP relay services, all on a very individualized basis. We needed to be able to answer our customers’ needs. They’ve built tools to give us control internally and to allow us to pass some control on to our customers. We built a customer portal on top of the everyone platform that allows customers to simply go in and add and delete accounts. It’s very easy, even for a non-technical person.”

He added that the Lighthouse has no problem being two time zones away from everyone.net. “We had discussions with everyone about things like maintenance windows and customer service desk hours,” he said. It seems that everyone.net agreed to run maintenance and service according to Lighthouse’s business hours.

“Outsourcing is a big decision,” Califf said. “We looked around for a long time, and we’re very pleased with the relationship we’ve developed with everyone.net. We needed a provider that would listen to our needs.”

Pricing and availability
Mailman says his company’s infrastructure allows it to deliver economies of scale, and that shows up here, in price, the bottom line. Pricing starts at $0.15 per mailbox per month for Web, POP, and IMAP functionality. SpamShield Pro and Sophos anti-virus software add $0.30 per mailbox per month for a total of $0.45.

The minimum monthly fee is $100, and volume discounts are available for subscriptions as small as 5,000 users.

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