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06 Feb 2007

Is it too hard to get e-mail delivered? Email

In the latest round of AOL conspiracy nonsense, a friend commented that getting mail delivered is too hard.

That may be true, but I'm wondering if the problem isn't at least as much that people's expectations are unrealistic, due as always to the way that computers seduce us into analogical thinking that doesn't work.

If I had a mailing list of 3000 paper addresses, and I sent a mailing to that list, it would be a lot of work, addressing the envelopes or postcards, sorting them into batches to get the best postal rates, etc etc. Anyone who's worked on political campaigns knows all about it. Part of the job happens after you send out the mail, when the "nixies" come back with yellow post office stickers or scribbled complaints from the recipients, you figure out what each one means, and you update your list for next time. If you have a little list you do it yourself, if you're a giant mailer you contract it out, but either way you do it.

The magic of networked computing has made the sending part of list e-mail totally automated, you write the message, type the name of the list on the To: line and blammo, out it goes.

Analogical thinking makes us want to believe that the return part is just as automatic. But it's not -- in the paper world it requires collecting and interpreting failure reports from all over the place, and the situation in the on-line world is no different. The situation is not aided by the coincidental fact that everyone has software that automates the outbound, but most people don't have software that automates even the parts of the return that can be automated.

So the real answer is that communicating effectively with a lot of people is hard, and the fact that one part of the process can easily be automated doesn't change that.

posted at: 11:53 :: permanent link to this entry :: 1 comments
posted at: 11:53 ::
permanent link to this entry :: 1 comments

comments...        (Jump to the end to add your own comment)

John -- that's a really good point, well articulated. Bounces and list hygiene have always been noise in the system that's comparable to a lot of the work you mention with postal mailings. Other deliverability challenges just add to the noise. The reality is that all of it can be managed to near 100% delivery rates with enough work, and mailers need to be patient enough and willing to put in the effort (and sometimes money) to get there. That's a long way of saying that I'm not sure the issue is unrealistic expectations of outcome so much as unrealistic expectations of (still wildly profitable) effort to get there.

(by Matt Blumberg 08 Feb 2007 12:05)

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