Tags: Trends

In 2004, Bill Gates announced that the global spam problem would be completely eliminated in two years as a result of new technology from Microsoft. The new technology he was talking about was basically a way to make email senders pay a small fee for each email message they send. Spammers would not want to pay exorbitant amounts to send email, and would therefore stop spamming the world. Many of us in the anti-spam community laughed at Bill's suggestion, because it seemed ridiculous that everyone in the world would ever "universally" participate in such a scheme.

But, in a way, I think Bill Gates' vision has actually come to fruition. If you're trying to send marketing email or transactional email, you will very quickly discover that it costs money to do so effectively. And now, if you use Amazon's cloud services for your hosting needs, you'll find it costs real money to send email from there as well - at least, if you want to send it reliably.

Amazon's Problem

Amazon Web Services, LLC, the subsidiary of Amazon.com that operates the formidable Electric Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), announced yesterday the availability of a new email sending service aimed at users of EC2 and Amazon's other cloud services. In my opinion, the new service, which is called (predictably) "Amazon Simple Email Service," aims to resolve a longstanding problem with EC2 - namely, that the spam problem in EC2 had ruined EC2's IP reputation and made it next to impossible to send email from Amazon's cloud.

The problem started in late 2009, when Amazon EC2 users started complaining in the support forums that their outbound email was being blocked worldwide by the Trend Micro MAPS blacklist service. Despite many appeals to Trend Micro, the blocking continued for a considerable time, causing Amazon EC2 users a great deal of "pain". Other blacklists joined in, including SORBS; and Spamhaus added Amazon's entire EC2 IP space to the Policy Block List (PBL). The blacklists had good reason to list EC2's IP address space: Spammers had gone literally nuts on the Amazon service, signing up accounts and sending spam indiscriminately and in very, very high volumes. And Amazon, despite tasking a team to deal with the problem, was basically unable to convince the world that its dynamic cloud could ever be trusted.

In response, Amazon created Simple Email Service. And now, if you want to send email reliably from the Amazon cloud, all you need to do is sign up for an SES account and learn to use their email sending API. Amazon has built a reputation system to track the content (i.e. spam) and complaint histories for each SES customer, with sending volume gradually increasing as an SES customer demonstrates its ability to send good email that the world wants. Messages cost $0.10 per 2,000 messages delivered.

Our Analysis of Amazon Simple Email Service

Amazon Simple Email Service will do very well, financially. Almost all EC2 users need to send email reliably, and I think a good proportion of users will opt to send via the SES service. Competitors like SendGrid and authsmtp.com will feel some pain, since many of their customers are frustrated Amazon cloud users; however, the more innovative providers (like SendGrid) will prosper as a result of their much richer offering, servicing customers who need much more than just email delivery.

Spammers will abuse the service, of course. I fully predict that spammers will sign up for SES accounts, using credible "front" companies to obtain accounts, and patiently build up their sending volume until it is "ripe" for a bulk email blast. This will repeat and repeat endlessly, with offshore "mechanical turks" (another Amazon innovation) cranking out new SES accounts daily to feed the beast. At the end of the day, whether Amazon SES succeeds in providing truly reliable email delivery will hinge on how good their outbound spam filtering technology is, and how quickly they act when an SES account starts to go bad.

I'm guessing that Amazon will invest enough to do a good job, and that SES will emerge as one of the largest email senders in the world by the end of 2011. After all, they're being paid to do a good job, which provides just the kind of incentive Bill Gates was talking about.

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