Stopping spam (in our lifetime)

In a turnabout, the Wall Street Journal today decided that spam *is* a problem, and outlines the way a few companies are trying to put together systems to stop it. I’m up to about 100 a day, so it’s certainly not going away.

But maybe there’s a different way to think about the problem. Legislation, as we all know, is a double-edged sword, and clever server-based solutions seem to be porous to ever more clever spammers.

What if AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo and MSN got together and announced the following policy:

We are now charging one-tenth of a cent for every incoming email we handle and deliver to our users.
Every sender is entitled to $2 a month in free email (which means an individual address can send 2,000 emails to various Yahoo accounts, for example, every month before it costs anything).
If you send more than your quota to our users, we start charging you. If you don’t have an account with cash in it set up with us, we bounce the rest of the email you send us. (yes, the spammers could start using lots of accounts, but it could move to a domain-based system instead of individual accounts).

What do these services get? Well, they cut down the spam received by 90% right off the bat.
Second, they make a bit of money on the legitimate newsletters and such.

What do users get? Less spam.

And what about the legitimate services? Well, if they are sending users an email every day, that’s 36 cents a year. If the email they send is worth less than that to either side, they probably shouldn’t send it.

By monetizing email, these big services create the friction that’s currently missing from spam. Without friction, it spirals out of control. With friction, on the other hand, mass mailers make intelligent decisions about what’s worth sending and what’s not.

Just a thought.