||The World Wide Web, with elements such as Internet email, websites, and
online databases, has been blamed (or credited, depending on one’s view of
the press) for reducing the media’s role in public relations. From the
standpoint of a technology vendor, the principal element in this
disintermediation are news distribution services such as Business Wire, PR
Newswire, and some newcomers. Besides delivering press releases direct to
the desktops of hundreds of trade editors and potentially thousands of
business editors, these services also provide content directly to over 1,000
databases and wire services such as DowJones, Bloomberg, Lexis/Nexis, etc.
Now, a reader can find a company’s release regardless of whether any
publication picks it up.
At a cost of less than $200, depending on word-count and creative use of
distribution circuits, these extra-media services can be an important and
cost-effective supplement to the direct approach; indeed, issuing a release
formally, using a distribution service, gives the release an air of
authenticity…whether deserved or not. After all, if we’re saying we are
issuing a press release, most media would expect a vendor to use a more
institutional mechanism than a direct email.
All my past and present clients have used Business Wire with varying
degrees of success. It can both enhance the likelihood that a release will
be used by traditional media and play a role in delivering news direct to
potential customers. It can also be the fastest route to getting news into
readers’ hands, as the appearance on a database is instantaneous, and is not
delayed by any publications’ deadlines or editorial schedule.
A friend of mine says that the media are dead. I disagree, but it’s sure
a different world from when I joined Computerworld in 1969, and the fastest
way to get something into my hands was a Teletype message.
Is There Really Such
a Thing as Free Speech?
Should there be?
The security risks of
unwanted commercial email (a.k.a. spam) are well-recognized, and more and
more vendors are coupling anti-spam with anti-virus and other protections
into their wares.
It’s no wonder: recent statistics say that as much as 90percent of email may
be unwanted and/or malicious. Some of these messages, admittedly less than
one percent, incorporate viruses that have been modified to elude the most
current of anti-virus products, according to MessageLabs.
While these combination products are catching on, they
have a long way to go before users are protected and spammers are
discouraged. Suggestions to ban or control spam are spot-on, although one
wonders how long we'll need to wait before the legislators get it right. The
efforts to date certainly have not worked; indeed, from all appearances, the
situation is worse than ever now. While we're waiting, I have another
suggestion: institute "email postage" for each message that is sent.
I've had more than my fill of spam, both the dirty
kind and the merely annoying kind, and it's about time we dusted off an idea
that has been frequently proposed and all-too-swiftly dismissed. Spam wastes
my time, clogs the arteries that are my Internet connection, clutters my
garbage can, and prospectively endangers my system. And, as a person who
uses email in his business, I'm willing to pay a small postage fee if it
will cut down on the incoming messages.
Here's the deal. Suppose every addressee cost the
sender, say, one cent. Would legitimate businesses be willing to pay this,
in order to increase the likelihood that recipients would read their
missives? I believe the answer is yes. The ISP could collect the fee, keep a
small portion for its accounting service, and remit the remainder to Uncle.
The proceeds might not retire the national debt, but they could fund an
Internet fraud squad.
The Internet is no longer a research-oriented network
for academics. It is part of the business landscape, and postage is part of
the cost of doing business. Why should email be free?
This idea has the benefit of not tampering with free
speech, not controlling content. It just changes the economic model for
If a million-message-a-day spammer had to pay to
distribute its messages, some of them might actually go out of business, or
at least refine their lists and cut down on the instances of unwanted
commercial email. If the marketing companies are paying a bounty to
third-party mailers for delivered messages, make the postage exceed that
delivery bounty. Make it financially difficult, if not impossible, to make a
profit by spamming.
There have been suggestions to require ISPs to inspect
each message, to make sure it's not illegal, immoral, or offensive. This is
virtually impossible, there aren't enough humans to take on this judgmental
work. And, ISP-enforced censorship can be a slippery First Amendment slope,
asking humans to approve others' messages one-by-one. First porn, then
sexual-enhancement drugs, then lower-cost prescriptions, home
refinancing...where is the line that one should not cross?
There have also been suggestions that senders must
provide a valid address, which is a worthy objective, but not easy to
accomplish, technically. They’re working on it, but it’s a way off, and you
can bet the bad guys will figure a work-around.
The do-not-spam registry is a nice idea, just like the
do-not-call registry. But people can run from ISP to ISP, spoof their
identity or create a new one, all without fear of detection. The experience
so far is not very convincing.
Hiding behind the right of free speech and the reality
of free email, they send their messages willy-nilly. Make them pay, and
they'll think at least twice about the number of messages they are sending,
and that is a big step in the right direction...without trampling the First
Legitimate mailers, including vendors sending support,
warranty, or product-update messages to customers, could institute an opt-in
service that could be exempt, as exists with the do-not-call registry.
The only argument against this is whether we want the
government messing with the Internet. And I say this: it's better to have
the government enforcing a realistic business model than messing with
content. We already have laws against solicitation, child porn, etc. They
are not working, in the Internet environment. Messing with the bottom line,
now there's something that will get people's attention.
And that’s also the irony of ironies: perhaps speech on
the Internet, the bastion of free speech, should not be free.