Yahoo! and AOL Sneakily Selling Our Attention

(Let me start this with a disclosure:  I do not like AOL.  I don’t like their walls, which they finally took down recently, and nickel-and-dime attitudes.)

NY Times reported Sunday that Yahoo and AOL are planning to roll out a paid email service that will charge emailers to send email to their members and be assured of delivery.

I think that’s bullshit.  So far, I have tolerated Yahoo’s occasional filtering errors that resulted in legitimate email that I’m expecting to fall into the spam folder.  Mostly, I thought, that Yahoo’s making an honest effort to identify spam, and it was human (or in this case, of Bayesian filter) nature to err.

Now they are selling a bypass to that filter to anyone who’s willing to pay to get to me.

First, I pay AOL and Yahoo to provide me with the service.  In the case of AOL, it’s dollars, and in the case of Yahoo, it’s my attention to the ads.  That’s our deal.  If they will further pimp out my attention, then I deserve to get most of that money (BTW, this is where Root Markets will come into play, eventually).  Tom Evslin makes a strong argument for this point.

Second, this is a dangerous nod to spam, as long as spammers are willing to spend money.  Brad Feld and Matt Blumberg (who’s another player in the email business) addresses this point effectively in their posts on the topic.

One interesting idea that has developed in the virtual discussion surrounding this issue is that this points to the eventual success of RSS.  Steve Gillmor states:

"Who do you trust? My bet: those who shift the profit from the Spam Flag to the [users]-in-charge. "  Read: RSS

I thought it was interesting that on the heels of this news came first the scoop, and then the announcement that Fred Wilson’s USV made a catch up investment in Feedburner, an ambitious RSS player, after they had apparently passed on the Series A round a few months ago.

UPDATE: Seth Godin disagrees with me (and other linked to in this post).


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