Weekly Review: Spam Spells Opportunity for ASPs

Back in May, I eagerly handed over $29.95 to sign up for SpamKiller, the anti-spam system that had been acquired by anti-virus ASP McAfee.com. I was drowning in a deluge of spam — dozens every day — mainly because my email address is readily harvested and then abused from this site and others where my details appear as a contributor or contact point.

I was heartened by McAfee’s addition of anti-spam weaponry to its arsenal, since it seemed to me that spam was clearly something that readily lends itself to the knowledgebase principles that McAfee.com applies to its anti-virus activities. By collating information in real-time from thousands or even millions of subscribers, it should become possible to build up a reliable and constantly updated database of known spam profiles, and thus easily eliminate the threat to our working lives that email spam has become.

Read and React
“Spam is a real problem for every active Internet user, and yet it seems no one is prepared to step forward and become the authoritative online repository of spam profiles that could so easily put a stop to this menace once and for all.”

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Unfortunately, SpamKiller did not live up to my expectations. My suspicions were aroused when I discovered that I had to install it myself, further confirmed when I went ahead with the installation and found that its spam profile database was maintained on my hard disk. After a few days of figuring out how it works, I went back to my previous method of manual filtering.

Spam is a real problem for every active Internet user, and yet it seems no one is prepared to step forward and become the authoritative online repository of spam profiles that could so easily put a stop to this menace once and for all. Instead, as past contributor to these pages Amy Wohl has discovered, the task has been left to a twilight fringe of blacklisters who often end up preventing the distribution of quite legitimate email.

Nothing would be a better and more popular demonstration of the power of the online service provider model than a world-class anti-spam service that could serve all the world’s email users. Yet no one in the ASP business has chosen to take on this much-needed task. I wonder why not?

Buying Dips on the Big Dipper
Early this summer, I was chatting to an American friend at a social event, and the conversation turned to investment strategies. He was ruing what had previously seemed a very sensible decision: He had bought Worldcom shares at the seemingly bargain price of $8. Having fallen some 90 percent from a high of around $80, the stock seemed pretty close to the floor at that price.

By the time of the conversation, of course, the price of the stock had fallen 90 percent again, all the way down to 80 cents My friend knew his shares weren’t going to recover their previous value, but he was hoping they’d finally reached their nadir. Unfortunately, that was before the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. The stock’s value was about to lose a further 90 percent as it plunged to just 8 cents, and has since become virtually worthless.

I mention the story because the directors of Cable & Wireless must have the same sick feeling in their stomachs now as my friend was experiencing then. Just a year ago, the company purchased the assets of bankrupt Internet hosting titan Exodus for the seemingly bargain basement price of $850 million. At the time, I congratulated them on their timing, since if they had listened to advice from some quarters they would have made the same acquisition months earlier for several billion dollars.

Yet the value of Internet hosting infrastructure has continued to plummet, and recently Cable & Wireless took the uncomfortable decision to close down many of the facilities it had purchased from the bankruptcy court (see C&W Cuts Jobs, U.S. Presence). With hosting prices continuing to fall, they were losing money and had become worthless to the company.

It must be absolutely gutting now for Cable & Wireless to see Level 3 last week pick up the remains of once-proud Genuity for just $242 million (see Level 3 Picks Up Genuity). While Exodus was the company that launched the Internet hosting boom in the mid-1990s, Genuity’s heritage dates all the way back to BBN, the company that in the mid-1970s created the forerunner of the Internet and instigated, among other things, the use of the ’@’ sign as a core component of email addresses.

Level 3, of course, is able to do this thanks to a characteristically shrewd investment from Warren Buffet, which just goes to show that if you really want to buy on a low, it’s best to take lessons from a master practitioner.

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