ZoEmail – The End Of Spam?

By | February 6, 2004

ZoEmail has just been launched [ZDNet article], and could change the way we send email. But is that a good thing?

ZoEmail uses a special system to authenticate email. It works like this:

  • When I, a ZoEmail user, wants to send you an e-mail, the system selects a unique “key” – a special word and number combination — and makes the “key” part of my e-mail address for you.
  • You treat this “keyed address” as you would any regular e-mail address. The “key” gives you the permission to have your e-mail received by my inbox. No key, no entry.
  • If I decide I don’t like you any more (or the email address falls into the wrong hands), I simply disable the “key” by clicking a button and switching it off. You can no longer send me stuff.

It’s a simple way of keeping spam and whatnot out of your inbox: The only way a virus (or spam) can find their way in, I guess, is if one of those people with your trusted email key (i.e. you) either sends it, or gets their email address book plundered by a virus, or if the user (i.e. me) gets the email addresses plundered from my email program. ZoEmail costs about $12 a year.

I think it could work. But as far as I can figure out from the website there might be problems:

  • A lot depends on the recipient (you, in my example). You’ve got to change your address book(s) to match the new unique address I give you, or you’re not going to be able to communicate with me without some fiddling.
  • Gone will be the days when you remember someone’s email address, or guess it logically based on where they work.
  • It is possible, ZoEmail says, to have normal email addresses that can be put on namecards etc. But while ZoEmail aren’t clear about how this works, one can only assume it’s some sort of challenge/response thing, where the sender has to jump through some hoops before the email reaches its destination. User patience with this sort of thing has been rather low, unsurprisingly.
  • Ease of use: What concerns me most about this kind of thing, is, while it is ingenious, it requires both sender and user to be a bit more tech savvy than a normal email user. Is that the direction that email should be going in? The reason email is so darn popular is that it’s very easy to use. The only problem I have seen in casual users (read: my mother) is handling email addresses. This bit, in my book, should be getting easier rather than harder.
  • Lastly, I think the best solution to spam, viruses and email authentication (did this person really send this email?) is an industry-wide one. In the meantime, there are services that don’t alter email addresses but do keep out spam and viruses, and these are good stop-gap measures. Most importantly, they don’t require folk fiddling around with their address books.

This all said, ZoEmail sounds like it’s worth a spin.

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