Category Technology

The Spam Solution – Premium Service Providers

Category: Technology

 No one likes Spam(citation needed).  It seems like no matter what countermeasures are employed, Spam is the inevitable result of owning an e-mail address.  I remember purchasing this domain name (www.stovercash.com), and creating a new e-mail with it, and being completely spam free for years.  In then end, they found me.  The bots, the spammers, the scammers, whoever they are.  I could try moving my domain name, my e-mail address.  Staying one step ahead of the shady underbelly of the prescription medicine advertising market, but what is the point?  So I decided not to run from it.

I could try to defend my domain, install more spam filtering programs, or filter my e-mail through gmail or other services.  They do a great job of catching the junk.  But even the best services leak a small percentage of junk through, and a small percentage of spam is still dozens of e-mails a week.  Let’s say the filter is able to catch them all, it will surely catch one or two legitimate e-mails, which is worse than letting through a hundred spam.  Especially for businesses that rely on e-mail communication as mission critical to replace all other correspondences.  The risk isn’t worth it. 

So how do we calculate what spam is worth?  Luckily, there are a considerable number of math nerds out there who love to analyze this exact problem.  So I will close the calculator app and warm up the copy/paste keys.  A few years ago in mid 2010, spam hit an all time high, with 225 billion e-mails sent per day.  Fortunately, that number has been reduced dramatically, and is now holding at about 40 billion e-mails per day.  The number is likely too large to mean anything tangible, so let me try to put it into perspective.  Let’s print each spam e-mail that is sent to paper.  It would only take 19 seconds before the paper stack reaches the height of Mount Everest.  If everyone has exactly 1 e-mail address and receives an even amount of spam, we are talking 6 spam messages a day.  Not too bad, but by looking at my inbox, I don’t think everyone is bearing the same load that I am.

So now we know how much spam there is.  What is the cost?  There are a few different ways to measure that.  First, let’s assume that every spam e-mail is trapped by the spam filter.  Problem solved, right?  Wrong.  The e-mail is still being transmitted across the internet.  Using routers, bandwidth, clock cycles, energy.  How much power does one e-mail use?  Not much.  How much power does all the spam in a year use?  Apparently enough to power 2.4 million homes all year according to this abcnews article (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/GlobalWarming/story?id=7343518&page=1#.UdoytEHkt2A).  Power isn’t free, and I am not talking about money.  The power used to send spam in one year can generate 17 million metric tons of CO2 emmissions, which accounts for 2% of the total global emmissions.  Unfortunately spam wastes more than just power, it also wastes our time.  The most recent estimate says the spam likely sucks about $50 billion dollars out of productivity.  That is the entire GDP of Guatemala.  Maybe the rest of the world can just hire the entire workforce of Guatemala to filter our spam for us?

I have another solution.  One that is simple, and will eliminate virtually all spam.  The reason spam is so popular is because it costs nothing to those who generate it.  This article (http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2138759/make-spammers-pay-before-you-do) suggests that the cost of spam to the sender is $0.00001 per message.  The spammer literally just needs one sucker in millions to turn a profit.  If each e-mail cost a fraction of a cent more, the profit margin would plummet, and spammers would have to find a new creative outlet.  This is not a new idea, but it is one that has not seriously been taken into consideration.  Instead of spending millions on government programs to track down spammers and shut down their operation, which never seems to leave a dent in the overall yearly spam numbers, we could eradicate all spam, and it would only cost a few cents to the individual.

Let’s talk logistics.  How do we begin charging for a service that is completely free.  One option is government intervention.  If lawmakers wanted to tackle this problem, or generate some additional revenue, they could pass an e-mail tax.  I imagine this would be very unpopular, but it would get the job done.  Another option is to have a company, someone established in the e-mail game, who wanted to take on the spam problem.  Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft come to mind as popular service providers that currently offer free e-mail services.  They could continue to offer their free e-mail service, but also introduce a new domain (@pmail.com, the p is for premium for example).  If you opt in to this premium service any e-mails that you send to an @pmail domain would cost $0.0001, or some other extremely small number.  Additionally, the owner of the e-mail account can “whitelist” e-mail addresses which will not be charged when e-mail is received from that address.  Let’s say an individual sent 50 e-mails a day to non whitelist addresses, which would be high for a non business account, the e-mail hosting would cost less than $20 a YEAR.  That is a manageable number for the services provided.  Since the fees are so low, there would likely need to be a minimum to manage the account.

How would users with non premium accounts get billed when sending e-mails to a premium account?  Again, if you are e-mailing a close contact, they just need to whitelist your e-mail and you won’t get charged the per e-mail price.  Otherwise, upon e-mailing a premium e-mail account, an automatic bounce back response would be sent to their e-mail notifying them that they need to register an account, linked to a payment method.  The user could register their e-mail, payment method, and information about their e-mail habits to prevent unauthorized sending (such as allowed IP address ranges, max e-mails a day, etc.).

What is the likelihood this will happen?  Probably not too good right now, considering the low amount of buzz on this topic.  But the plan above seems like it would be low risk for an established e-mail provider, such as Google to get into.  If the project fails, would it be any worse than Google Wave?  However, if the project takes off, a business like Google could find another avenue to monetize a service that is currently being funded primarily through unpopular obtrusive ads.  Being the first in the game would likely invite a huge number of new users and power in the next generation of e-mail communication.  Not to mention saving a rain forest or two and my sanity in the process.

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A new genre: Real Tech

Category: BooksTechnology

If someone were to ask me what genre the Algorithm Trilogy falls in, I would say Sci-Fi.  When I submitted the book to a publisher for consideration, I started with publishers who specialize in Sci-Fi, which in retrospect was likely a problem.  The first installment, The Human Algorithm, was submitted to Kindle with that genre.  I would prefer to use a different genre, though, but I have yet to hear of one that fits.  Until then, I will just refer to it as Real Tech, for realistic technology.

I wanted to stay away from the label of Sci-Fi.  What is the difference between genres of Sci-Fi and Real Tech?  Nothing, because I just made it up.  But when I think of Sci-Fi, I think of a galaxy far away, aliens, time travel (stay tuned for more on that), lasers, space, and pushing the limits of physics to their theoretical boundaries in the name of literature.  I didn’t want to go there with this book.  I want it to be futuristic, but realistic.  There are definitely areas in the book that will stretch the imagination, but the technology is all real.  In fact, every piece of hardware or software, building or vehicle are all based on theories being worked on today.  Not just theories, but realistic projects that we will likely see many of them become physical manifestations within our lifetimes.

The problem with writing about realistic technology, though, is that I can barely get through a single revision without the ideas in my book becoming outdated.  The first iterations of The Human Algorithm were written before any of the new generation tablets had reached the market.  I say “new generation” because Apple didn’t invent tablets with the iPad, they have been around for a while, but were definitely popularized by Apple.  I didn’t even know anyone with an iPhone when the majority of the plot was taking shape, and Android was still a promise, not a movement.  Now the concept of a PED is a logical next step, not a forward thinking notion.  Maybe that is why people prefer the far out Sci-Fi style, because it is a lot harder to be disproven until the work is a classic.  In one of the many revisions of the book, I had to add more features and devices to keep the book futuristic, rather than a relic of the past.  It’s apparent that the ideas I have added to the Human Algorithm will likely be old news much sooner than I had hoped.  I am fine with freezing the story, however, and calling it a period piece.  Letting the plot drive the interest with technology as the accents along the way, rather than a traditional science fiction endeavor where the technology plays center stage.

Or we can just say it isn’t even Earth and then I don’t have to answer to anybody.  But that is the Sci-Fi way out, and I promised you a Real Tech book.

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Kindle Publishing: The Algorithm Trilogy

Category: BooksTechnology

Write novel, check.  Edit novel, check.  Edit novel again, check.  Edit novel a third time, check.  Continue editing, check.  Somewhere between the editing and the continued editing, I had to find the time to prepare the book for publishing.  I decided to go with Kindle publishing for a number of reasons.  I have been on board with the Kindle devices from the first generation.  You know, the device that was shaped like a doorstop, had a removable battery that was prone to removing itself, and the page buttons placed precariously near where a normal user would place their hands.  If you have no clue what I am talking about, you were probably smart enough to be a second generation adopter, and I envy you.

Why Amazon?  The obvious reason is that Amazon dominates the eBook market.  Amazon has an absurd marketshare of not just eReaders, but also number of eBooks sold.  Beyond that, I have also followed Amazon’s publishing strategy closely over the last five years.  Personally, I agree with the Amazon business strategy.  There are two main topics that most people take issue with.

First, the book format on Kindle is proprietary, instead of using the widely accepted and open ePub format.  How does the file format affect 99% of all consumers?  It doesn’t.  Which is why this is a moot point.  The proprietary format is Amazon’s way to force users to buy books from their online store instead of getting their eBooks from other sources.  It is still possible to use other eBook formats, they just have to be converted.  The majority of consumers will find this too time consuming and would pay the premium for convenience.  I am a firm believer that ease-of-use and user experience deserves a monetary premium.  If it didn’t, the iPad would have been extinct within the first year.

The second issue that many people have with the Kindle has to do with royalties, pricing, and treatment of publishers.  To simplify a complex problem, Amazon has instituted policies that drive down book prices, such as the famous $9.99 price point.  The publishing industry claims that the price point that Amazon is trying to reach is unsustainable.  To be honest, the publishing industry is correct, the prices that Amazon wants to reach cannot support publishers, editors, agents, cover designers, promoters, and the rest of the entourage.  This is not an accident.  It is Amazon’s intent to remove everyone but themselves and the writers from the equation, because it is a lot easier to split the money two way.  Personally, I think that old way of publishing won’t die anytime soon, but a lot of the business will transform to match the new technology.  Instead of publishers and agents being the gatekeepers to the community, books will be offered up via self publishing, and the user rating system will tell the public what is worth reading and what isn’t.  The better the internet becomes at delivering relevant content from originator to user, the more we will see the middle men industries decline.  If we extrapolate that idea to the extreme, you can see how easy it was to even brand the government as a “middle man” between citizens and their laws and taxes, which could be replaced by the “Algorithm of Mass Opinion” like in the Algorithm Trilogy.

Without going into too much more detail, I feel the need to answer one more question that is fairly obvious at this point. Why did I choose to self publish instead of trying the traditional route.  In full disclosure, I did send the book to a major Sci-Fi publisher, and received a very heartfelt formula rejection letter that I fully intend on framing and hanging on the wall.  I didn’t think I would be lucky enough to get picked up on my first try.  I actually just submitted the book to follow through with the entire book writing process.  I could continue to submit to publishers but decided against it for a few reasons.  My main goal is just to get published, by any means.  Finding a publisher or an agent that fits into my unique genre is incredibly tough, and finding one that accepts open submissions is nearly impossible.  And, lastly, after reading horror stories of extremely talented writers being rejected dozens of times by publishers, I realized that my chances of getting struck by lightning are looking much better than being chosen by a publisher.

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