(formerly "A Clue...to Internet Commerce")
by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume II, No. XXXVI
For the Week of September 7, 1998

This Week's Clue: The Revolution Called Unity Mail 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)  

Patent Schmatent 

Free Email: Wake Up and Smell The Coffee 

Political Handicapping 

Some Wisdom from Larry Lessig 

Clued-in, Clueless

This Week's Clue: The Revolution Called Unity Mail  

Revnet's UnityMail Pro  is among a new class of programs  redefining e-mail marketing. By fully integrating e-mail delivery with ODBC databases, and by using in-line HTML as its default, these programs make many new things possible. The list prices on UnityMail, which was released in March, range from $5-7,000, says Revnet's Walter Thames, but a lot of customers are buying the unlimited license for $25,000. 

What's surprised me so far, in researching a story on UnityMail for NetMarketing, is how little this power is being used. I think it reflects how long it takes to think up and implement new applications, not cluelessness on the part of anyone. The Clue here is that imagination, management, and technical time are all needed to take advantage of revolutionary capabilities - budget for all of them. 

Among the early users of UnityMail are two baseball teams, the San Diego Padres  and New York Yankees

Padres director of publications John Schlegel admits he's still filtering messages based only on those who joined his "Frequent Friars' Club" (Great name for regular customers, John) by mailed invitation. He's basically sending all messages to the whole list. "We were leery about asking too many questions, discouraging people from giving answers," he admits. "I've always been conservative with the site." 

His counterpart at the Yankees, Kara McGovern, has gone a bit further. An invitation to join her list, the "Yankee Fan Club," pops-up when new users enter the site (that's cool) and the pop-up collects some important demographic data (that's cooler). She admits, however, that most messages go to the whole 50,000-name list, although "if we want to send to the Tri-State area we can do that, if there's a promotion for kids" she can send e-mails only to people with kids. 

As Kara's list grows, of course, it becomes increasingly important for her to use the database capability. E-mail exhaustion, even to lists you trust, is a real risk, and the best way to fight it is with notes that have value. The staunchest Yankee fan in Wisconsin may not care if David Wells is doing a card show in Atlanta, even if he brings his Babe Ruth hat. But Yankee fans in Georgia will care a lot. So here's a key Clue. The more fields you can get filled-in on a UnityMail profile, the more value you can provide to each e-mail recipient. 

Some more Clues for UnityMail list owners. While the program can co-exist with current data warehouses, be careful. The most important fields are the e-mail address and permission fields. The best way to get customers to give you this data isn't through e-mail, but through paper mail (or whatever means was used to get the first fields filled-in). The best way toward success in that effort is to get e-mail responses to a snail mail, and to emphasize in that mailing the value you're going to give in return. Let them know you're collecting data in order to filter-out irrelevant messages from their stream. This bears repeating - the more data you collect from those on your list, the less-often you'll e-mail any list member. That's a key value that will motivate people to be straight with you, if you have credibility and are straight with them. 

Which leads to another very important Clue. Once you get the filters, use them. Resist the urge to send any message to every member. For the Yankees, add fields to the database which ask members to say whether they want to know about spring training games, personal appearances by team members in their area, or last-minute promotions and changes in game times, for instance. If you're running a special on single-day tickets, don't send it to season ticket holders. Another example (and I don't know if these folks have UnityMail), but what if QVC could e-mail only those members subject to a recall on a product they purchased months ago? I believe this is the next-step up from an e-mail newsletter - e-mail targeted specifically to those who can use the information, based on database profiles. 

As you can see, getting a program like UnityMail, even at $25,000, is just the start of a journey in database e-mail marketing. It can be a worthwhile journey, so long as you remember these important Clues. Every e-mail you send must earn its way to each user's attention. The more data you collect, the more closely you must target. Finally, take the time to use that database capability, and think before you send. You can make a ton of money while reducing your e-mail traffic. 

One more point. This is a work in progress. If you've got UnityMail, if you've used UnityMail, and if you've gotten a lot out of the program, I would very much like to talk with you. 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion) 

Thanks to you, A-Clue.Com now goes to over 900 Clued-in subscribers each week. Thanks to Multimedia Marketing Group, a UnityMail customer, it's now an in-line HTML file (no more annoying Web codes). Besides A-Clue.Com, I contribute regularly to such publications as Net Marketing, Boardwatch, Datamation  and Atlanta Computer Currents . Your magazine can join the list - send me an e-mail and let's start the ball rolling. 

You can subscribe (or cancel your subscription) to A-Clue.Com automatically by emailing us at a-clue@list.mmgco.com or (if you prefer the .txt version) aclue_textonly@list.mmgco.com. Just put the magic word "subscribe" (or join, if you prefer) in the body or header. If you don't get service, of course, feel free to drop me a note at dana.blankenhorn@att.net. And we want your feedback  as well, always. We're still looking for an advertiser (http://www.adniche.com) to defray our higher costs. 

Remember that it's Journalism -- checking the news, calling people, listening carefully, writing on deadline -- which keeps the Clues coming, although I also handle consulting and commercial writing (ask about those rates via email). If you're looking for excellent work, give me a call at 404-373-7634. 

And now back to our show... 

Patent Schmatent  

There's some incredible Cluelessness going on regarding this issue of patented business models . No one seems to have a Clue about the subject, so let's get Clued-in. 

To recap, a number of Internet businesses, including Priceline, CyberGold  and Netcentives, have recently gotten patents from the Clueless U.S. Patent Office covering the way they do business. CyberGold says it now owns the idea of paying people to read ads. Netcentives claims it owns the idea of giving shoppers points that can be redeemed for rewards. Priceline claims ownership of systems in which buyers name their price and sellers decide whether to meet it. 

What's wrong with this picture? For starters, CyberGold says it may charge Netcentives with violating its new patent. Rather than fight in court, of course, CyberGold figures it can get rich licensing the patent. Its rivals insist the patent doesn't cover them. Lawyers must be falling all over themselves looking to represent these bozos. 

Beyond the idiocy of patenting how you do business (and expecting others to license the patent) lies the idiocy of depending on patents at all. I well remember the chuckles at the 1993 Fall Comdex after Compton's New Media claimed its patents covered all multimedia. (Compton's went under within two years.) Reporters spent hours joking of having patented this-and-that, and as we all know the patent didn't, in the end, amount to much. 

And this is the most important point. Even in areas of technology the Patent Office often issues different patents to ideas that are, on the surface, twins of one another. You can get a new patent on a patented idea just by tweaking it a little and improving it slightly. (Patent protections are most worthwhile in chemical formulae and machines, and even here each improvement or near-analog can get a separate patent.) In the end it's the market that decides whether an idea is worthwhile, not the U.S. Patent Office. Internet companies should keep that in mind. 

Still, it's obvious we're going to now face a host of lawsuits (and counter suits) covering business practices on which patents are claimed. Open Market  has done poorly despite basic patents on payments , digital certificates and shopping carts . Many patents, and their claims, will eventually be shown to be over broad, say if NetDelivery  were to claim we were violating its patent on embedded URLs in e-mail . That would be like patenting the Web. 

Let's summarize these Clues. Lawyers are going to get rich, and the rest of us will be terribly slowed-down. Sounds like the Clinton Administration in a nutshell, don't it? 

Free Email: Wake Up and Smell The Coffee  

I'm not a big fan of "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger. But sometimes you do wish people could be made to accept some responsibility. 

An example involves free e-mail systems  and the spam flood. While much attention has been paid to these services' technical security holes , their use as spam conduits is far more dangerous to the Web's health, and frankly the services are doing little about it. You can demand proof of identity before granting new accounts. You can pool the real names of known spammers and refuse, as a group, to do business with them. You can even sue those who use your services for spamming, not just for actual damages but for damages to your firm's reputation. (That's already happening in domain names, why not e-mail services?) It's expensive, but it should be viewed as a cost of doing business. It's called protecting the brand. 

Worse, the refusal of such companies to clean up their own pollution, placed alongside the profits generated by the services, leads to more trouble. I'm talking here of Fortune 500 companies building services that are easily abused, then walking away from their responsibility for dealing with the abuse. So watch carefully what happens with the Lycos-AT&T Chat 'N Talk  service. When real people get really hurt, watch how fast these rats scurry. Now here is a place where lawyers should get involved. 

Political Handicapping  

Those who are looking for the impact of the Internet, and Internet issues, on this year's political races would do well to carefully examine the race for New York attorney general . The primary will be September 15. 

The Republican incumbent, Dennis Vacco, has gotten tons of face time the last few years, leading the charge against Microsoft, against Internet fraud, and against other high-tech crime. That's the record Evan Davis is running against. He says Vacco is anti-Internet. Among his competitors for the nomination is Eliot Spitzer, who is apparently trying to win office the old-fashioned way, with money. Davis, meanwhile, has been a client of DoubleClick  for six months, and has deliberately kept his other buys low to claim campaign finance reform as an issue. 

If Spitzer wins big, it'll be seen in Washington as a victory for old media and the old ways of doing political business. If Davis wins the nomination and provides a scare to Vacco, it'll derail Vacco's larger ambitions and show the Internet's power to shape political events. (It will also show that the public agrees with the industry's contention that government should keep its hands off the Net.) 

Some Wisdom from Larry Lessig  

Harvard law professor Larry Lessig is best known for having been attacked by Microsoft after he was named a special master in its anti-trust case. But speaking truth to power always deserves some notice, and that's what he did at the fifth Progress & Freedom Foundation conference

Specifically, Lessig said the policy debate is not between regulation and non-regulation of the Net. It's between regulating with technology or law, and about choices concerning what will be regulated. Lessig says technology will work to enforce regulations that evolve from consensus. In saying this he's agreeing with Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow that extra-governmental groups like the Internet Engineering Task Force play a key role. 

The Clue here is that's how valid government regulation originates. It's in the nexus among interested and impartial parties that government learns what it should, and should not, do. Let the debate over whether the Internet will be regulated end now. 

Clued-in, Clueless 

Clued-in is Network Associates , co-winner with the Internet Software Consortium of a $1.4 billion contract aimed at fixing holes in the Domain Name System that allow one Web site to masquerade as another, a process called "spoofing." Success will make Network Associates a key player in all forms of Web security. Anything it learns along the way will do the same thing. 

Clueless is Beyond.Com , formerly Software.Net . The company changed its name and URL, then launched a huge branding campaign, claiming it will become the world's largest software reseller in five years. New CEO Mark Breier claims the old name is "bland," but plenty of folks are much better positioned now to take this market, especially given the fact this company's starting over. Anyone who buys Breier's take without demanding he show some new, patentable technology that blows rivals out of the water is...well, you know what they are. 

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