Opt-In Database Builder to Try Again

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It's been a year since Ian Oxman all but dropped out of sight after a pair of PR snafus caused Experian, Orange, CA and Harte-Hanks, Billerica, MA to pull their support from EHI, Oxman's joint opt-in e-mail venture with International Business Lists, Chicago.

Earlier this month, Oxman resurfaced at the fall DMA show in San Francisco pitching the press on ChooseYourMail.com, the new name for EHI.

"We reorganized at the end of last year, and from December through July we tested various versions of the Web site and different appeals [to Internet consumers] with a half dozen small ISPs," said Oxman.

ChooseYourMail.com's plan is the same as EHI's was: to build an opt-in e-mail database in cooperation with the Internet service providers.

Under the business model, supporting ISPs will help promote ChooseYourMail.com's opt-in Web site (www.chooseyourmail.com) where Internet users can choose categories of offers they're interested in.

ChooseYourMail.com will then send promotions on a marketer's behalf for about 30 cents each without sharing e-mail addresses and then split the list-rental income with the ISPs.

Oxman claims that so far he has signed about 20 small ISPs representing just over 100,000 subscribers. It's a far cry from last year when EHI's potential user base was 2.5 million as a result of support from two ISP trade groups and Prodigy.

Oxman also claims the support of list firms Direct Media Inc. and American List Counsel.

"If they develop a database, our clients will test it as long as it's opted-in in a way that we're comfortable with," said Eric Zilling, vice president of ALC Interactive, the online arm of American List Counsel, Princeton, NJ. "Not to minimize it, but all he's done so far is to convince a few ISPs to let him put his opt-in/opt-out program on their home pages."

Direct Media supports ChooseYourMail.com as it would any company's plan to build an opt-in e-mail database, said Regina Brady, head of Greenwich, CT-based DMI's interactive efforts.

"There is a dearth of opt-in e-mail lists so any good entry into this field will be welcomed," said Brady. "A lot of these supposed opt-in e-mail lists are not opted in, which is a danger," said Brady adding "[Oxman] is flying the flag."

She estimated that there are some 200 true opt-in e-mail lists (where consumers choose to be put on them) on the market representing a universe of, maybe, 10 million names.

Brady said there isn't "that much difference between testing and rolling out on a lot of the files out there."

EHI's problems last year began with unexpected consumer backlash when the firm announced backing from Experian. The credit reporting bureau had previously given itself a black eye by sending several credit reports online to the wrong people.

Then a clerical error resulted in the posting of a press release in which EHI wrongly claimed it had the support of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based consumer privacy watchdog group, a mistake that resulted in public sniping from EPIC director Marc Rotenberg.

The two incidents caused Experian and Harte-Hanks to pull their support from the initiative. IBL is ChooseYourMail.com's sole backer.

"I learned that the Internet community can be a very hostile place," Oxman said.

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