Back in the days of old on the proto-internet, each major manufacturer had its own variant of “email” which were largely incompatible. Passing messages between two users of the same system was easy and not much of a problem if everyone was on the same system. But everyone wasn’t on the same system and eventually an “open” standard was declared so messages could be exchanged with users of different software.
To simplify things, just imagine for a moment that your email address wasn’t always “JoeUser@domain.com”, but could have also been:
The standardization of email addressing allowed a wonderful thing: people using different systems could place emails in each others’ inboxes.
As I’ve mentioned before, each invention is an opportunity for someone to get ahead. Usually the first people to explore this are scam artists.
With the invention of email, scam artists realized that by addressing items to JoeUser@domain.com, it would eventually end up in Joe User’s inbox. This inbox is a place that Joe User expects to find relevant information and pays a lot of attention to.
Unfortunately, the only protection on this inbox was security-by-obscurity which is only slightly better than asking nicely. In essence, email’s greatest asset was also its greatest liability: Joe has no control over what gets put in his inbox!
With relatively simple “keys” (the short set of letters before the @ symbol), absolutely ANYONE in the world can put something directly in your field of vision.
GAME OVER. Protect your email address like you’d protect your PIN number because nothing can save you from the teeming masses who want to cram your inbox with crap.
Over time, slowly but surely, spam has decreased the effectiveness of email. What used to be a pristine environment composed of only content that mattered to you, is now a place where you can get “no relief”.
But then along came Facebook, and the net-generation decided that a spam-free, protected “Inbox” was better than a public “admit anyone” inbox.
The older generation HOWLs that these kids don’t know what they’re doing! We gape at astonishment that they would rather use a PRIVATE system available only on the web! Don’t they know better?
But the more you think about it… isn’t it kind of silly to have an inbox that just ANYbody can post to? No wonder why we get so much spam, we’re just sitting there collecting dirt.
Of course, this will all get built into the system just as JoeUser@domain.com was a simplification of“@donald.mit.edu,@mail.mit.edu:JoeUser@domain.com”.
As the concept of creating a maintaining a “friends list” becomes more mainstream, we have already pre-populated our whitelist of email addresses. Before, maintaining a whitelist of accepted senders was a tedious process few people had the time and energy to pursue. Now, we’ll simply suck that whitelist from a small collection of network utilities like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and maybe even eBay.
The greatest aid to adoption is to recognize and reuse effort that people are investing anyway. Don’t push to change behavior, deliver value from what people are already doing.