Editorial: Sweet Irony

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Who says the Internet media have reported only negative stories lately? Just check out Dean Tomasula's report that anti-spam group Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC, keeper of the Realtime Blackhole List, has laid off half its staff.

The RBL is a list of more than 4,000 networks that MAPS considers to be friendly, or at least neutral, to spammers that use these networks either to originate or to relay spam. The service claims to block about 40 percent of all suspect e-mail.

Normally, I would never be so presumptuous as to try to speak for the marketing community as a whole, but on the heels of MAPS' layoff announcement, I think I can safely say that most in e-mail marketing share the following sentiment:

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!! WooHoo!!! ClapClapClapClap!

Unfortunately from the marketing community's perspective, MAPS laid off the wrong half of its staff. The layoffs reportedly affected mainly an outsourcing division after a deal with a big client fell apart. The core zealots are reportedly still there, ever vigilant and ready to hold any marketer hostage who stumbles into MAPS' gun sights and balks at MAPS' usual ridiculous demand to decimate a money-generating asset (an e-mail list of customers) by attempting to re-opt-in the entire list.

However, there is beautiful irony in these developments.

MAPS, Redwood City, CA, has a well-earned reputation in marketing circles for icy cruel efficiency. Remember when MAPS threatened to RBL e-mail list firm YesMail over a single errant commercial e-mail message? And remember how it demanded that YesMail go back and re-opt-in its entire database of more than 12 million e-mail names?

Or how about when a freelance writer mistakenly sent MAPS a blank e-mail that included promotional copy in its signature line? Remember how MAPS sent an e-mail to the ISP of the writer's publisher that included the writer's e-mail and a message informing the ISP that it hosted the site accused of spamming MAPS? The e-mail also advised the ISP to "educate or terminate" the account.

Educate or terminate. These are the types of phrases used by people who like to set up camps.

As noted in this space several times, anti-spammers perceive themselves as crusaders in a holy war. The folks at MAPS think nothing they do is wrong, and they have often shown little regard for those who get trampled by their efforts -- a classic case of a group whose behavior has become at least as reprehensible as the behavior it organized to fight.

Fortunately, the market is just as cruel. On the surface, the shuttering of MAPS' outsourcing division would indicate that there's simply no demand for the service outside what the group can fund on its own.

However, a well-placed source familiar with MAPS said there certainly is a market for such a service, and that MAPS was inches away from inking the deal that would have made its outsourcing service viable. What killed it? According to the source, it was MAPS' reputation. The group's would-be sugar daddy balked at being associated with such zealotry.

Ain't capitalism grand?

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