I just did some quick and dirty tests on the 150,000 or so email addresses that are subscribed to the hundreds of email lists that we host. Somewhere between 30 and 40% of these email addresses end in either: hotmail.com, yahoo.com, aol.com, or (increasingly) gmail.com. Four providers - which happens to be consistent with the presentation that Chris at Democracy In Action gave at the AdvocacyDev conference.

If I were to place bets, I'd bet that the percentage will raise to about 50% in the next year as gmail really starts getting on a roll.

For many of us, this development is frightening in a rather abstract anti-corporation type of way.

However, considering the way spam is being treated, this development also happens to be frightening in a very specific and concrete way as well.

Many email administrators (including May First/People Link) rely on a tests to determine if a message may not be wanted by the recipient. We use a variety of tests against the body of the message and we check in with a couple databases on the network. If we think the recipient might not want it, we change the subject line to say SPAM so they can filter it out (but they always receive it).

AOL and Hotmail, however, are promoting a reverse approach. They are setting up preferred sender systems. In other words, if you pay money to a third party "certified email" company, then your email will be untagged and delivered to the user's inbox regardless of any other checks.

AOL now has four ways to get your email delivered to their users. Their whitelist and enhanced white list are part of their old strategies and are (at least for now free). Goodmail (which many people may remember from the Dear AOL campaign) is still there. Good Mail is one of several Certified Email vendors. You pay them to certify to the world that you are not sending email. Anyone who pays GoodMail (and passes whatever checks they do to ensure you are not a spammer - whatever that means to them) will get their email put straight and center into every AOL inbox they send to.

In a bow to nonprofits, AOL also offers a similar deal via Habeas and ISIPP to do virtually the same thing, but for free if you are a 501(c)(3).

Meanwhile, Hotmail has its own methods which include Sender Score Certified, yet another Certified Mail provider.

Granted, at this time, we activists without the budget to pay for these services, are, for the most part, still able to get our messages through. However, consider the Internet down the road, as spam proliferates and the big four continue dominating the percentage of email addresses in use by the people we are organizing. If just one or two of the big providers flipped a switch preventing mass email being delivered without certification it could effectively cripple political organizing on the Internet.

Sadly, this change is not happening due to big bad government stepping in a regulating an industry to benefit corporate America or even some kind of power move by a dominate company. This change is happening for two main reasons: * We are being seduced by "free" services * We are not applying any kind of critical thinking when it comes to the Internet in general and spam in particular - they way we do with other large scale social phenomenon.

If there is ever a time to start thinking politically about how we use the Internet - the time is now! More food for thought is available at our Spam Campaign page.