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In the past, the majority of anti-spam solutions have been client-level programs designed for the individual user fed up with spam; these are the desktop solutions.

But spam is growing into a corporate problem, and consequently many new products coming to market are server- or gateway- level programs that let you protect entire email systems. Another enterprise option is he

 
service/outsourcing vendor who handles your spam problems for you.

The desktop model lets users select and edit filtering lists that rejects unwanted email at the client. The nice part of this strategy is that users have a say in what gets through to their email inbox, rather than having to follow a company wide blanket policy.
 

 
 
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The assumption is that your users have a better knowledge of what should get through to them, and by letting them control filtering, you have a more customised, granular filtering system. Also, many individuals are wary of handing over control of such a personal tool as email.

The disadvantage of this approach is that by the time spam gets to the desktop, the cost of downloading it to your email server and through your network has already been shifted to your organisation.

In addition, there's the traditional administrative burden of installing and supporting products at the client level, which can also affect the scalability of the solution.

Finally, the filtering system is only as good as its filtering lists. So you'll have to judge whether updated filtering information is implemented fast enough at the client level to combat new forms of spam effectively.

The server/gateway model filters spam at either the mail server or between your Internet router and your mail server. Obviously, gateway filters let you avoid transporting and housing spam in your internal network, while the server products stop spam from entering your network further.

Both types of products let you set corporate policies on what information gets into your email system. Also, such products are easier to install, manage, and update because you have a more centralised point of administration.

A disadvantage with this model is that users lose some control over their incoming email, although some packages offer features that let users turn certain filters on or off.

Also, with a blanket filtering policy, there's a better chance that legitimate email might be filtered out because of keyword used in the headers or body. Such an event is known in the industry as a false positive. (I should mention that this is a danger inherent to filtering in general, regardless of where it takes place.)

Service and outsourcing solutions require you to contract with a third party vendor who filters your organisation's incoming email for spam. These vendors have full-time spam staff that usually operate 24-by-7.

The benefit of this approach is that the vendors are spam specialists with expertise in spam tricks, keywords and phrases, and identifiable behavior patterns and text blocks.

In addition to being more knowledgeable about ways to identify spam, third party "spam bureau" can provide administrative relief by maintaining and updating your spam defense for you. Much like virus developers, spammers are constantly changing and evolving their tactics to avoid the latest defenses.

Third party spam specialists are charged with identifying these new tactics and entering them into your filtering system as quickly as possible.

 

When considering the outsourcing option, however, keep in mind that control over email is even further removed from end users. Again, some companies let users deactivate specific filters. Overall, however, whenever you start with a blanket filtering policy, there is the danger that the blanket will not fit all your users equally.

All of these solutions are predicated on the effectiveness of filtering as a means to stop spam. But filtering, by nature, is a reactive mechanism, and spamming products and services mature, a more accurate analysis of the success of these solutions should develop. Most vendors suggest a 90% success rate as the standard that solutions should meet.

More ideas on how to stamp out spam  click here

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THE REAL email MESSAGE
By Lee Chae is a business and technology writer in the USA


The product mentioned here are only a sample of the anti-spam solutions in development and on the market. They should give you an idea of the types of features and approaches you can use to combat spam at your organisation.

Remember: When shopping for a solution, you must weigh how much responsibility you want in configuring and updating filters against leaving it in end users' hands, or in the hands of a third party.

Also, when narrowing your list of products, test them to evaluate how effective they are at stopping spam without causing a lot of false positives.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to filter out unwanted email while allowing the passage of legitimate email. With a solid technological solution and a strong stance by either the US Congress or the courts, you'll be able to relieve users- and yourself-of the need to deal with unwanted email.

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email: TOO HOT TO HANDLE

email is becoming one of the more popular communication channels Web Sites use to communicate with customers and prospects. But customers today are frustrated with companies that fail to promptly respond to online inquiries.

Intelligent Enterprise speaks to five companies in highly competitive industries to find out how they're satisfying customers--By Isabelle Chan And Gigi Onag

CUSTOMER satisfaction has always been the goal companies work hard to attain. Now that the level of personal and physical interaction is taken out of the loop with the proliferation of Web storefronts, companies must learn to address the issue of customer service in new ways.

Today, email is one communication channel many Web sites use as their point-of-contact to their customers. However, pull the Web covers off and there lies a sad state of affairs;

 

Companies fail to respond to email inquiries. At least 50% of email inquiries are left unanswered, according to senior analyst Drew Ianni of Jupiter Communications.

When a company states: "We'll get back to you as soon as possible", what they should really be saying is "Thank you for the feedback, but we won't be getting back to you."

Today, Web sites are getting more colourful, attractive and informative. Unfortunately, not enough importance is being put on customer service. Several companies have underestimated  the popularity and power of the 'Feedback' facility available over the Internet.

They remember to give customers or prospects the ability to submit their questions or mail electronically but forget that the feedback often requires a response. And not just any response but a prompt response with the right answers.

"I remember when I forgot my password for my Hotmail account two years ago, I wrote to them asking for information so that I could access my account, but I didn't get much help.

They only told me that I would have to wait for three months for the new password, or something ridiculous," recalled Faith Sarmienta, an expatriate working in Hong Kong.

She has been a regular Internet surfer for more than four years and and occasional online consumer who buys multivitamins from US based Web sites because they are 50% cheaper than in Hong Kong.

"I shop at www.vitamins.com for overseas purchases, the only way to find out the total amount to be debited to my credit card is to inquire via their feedback @vitamins.com. If I make an inquiry today, I get an answer the next day. Considering the time difference, I think it is a reasonable response time."

Sarmienta has also found that the speed of response to email inquiry varies, depending on whether one is a paying customer in an e-commerce Web site or just a surfer availing of a free service over the Internet.

"I have fooled around and written letters to 'experts' in one of my favourite sites like www.ivillage.com which is targeted at women, just to test if they would reply and often they do.

I ask questions mostly mostly about health and sometimes I get detailed answers. In other times, I just receive brief messages saying that there are simply too many letter so I have to wait in line," recalled Sarmienta.

Sarmienta's experience is not uncommon. IE picked different Web sites at random and tested to see how quickly companies would revert with a reply to a sales inquiry.

The speed and nature of the response varied. Some gave an automated email reply acknowledging receipt of the email, but followed up with a phone call after 48 hours. Others simply send brochures via traditional mail to the address given- they never followed up or responded via email. And, not surprisingly, others failed to reply at all.

Industry consultants confirmed that this 'no response' is a common experience. Few companies have seriously considered the need to give customers prompt email responses.

"This is a big problem because a lot of companies give customers an option to ask questions, but fail to build the right back-end support infrastructure to handle email inquiries," said Walter Lee, country manager, e-business, IBM Singapore.

"Often, companies assign staff to look at email inquiries but do not have a way of tracking them. And if the Web site is successful, i.e. it attracts a lot of people, the company receives a lot of email inquiries which they have no ability to adequately respond to and handle."

This is not a new problem that just cropped up yesterday. And it is a problem, said Lee, because "people treat the Web site as a separate infrastructure from the internal messaging system".

Craig Ower, an associate director for Arthur Andersen's Integrated Customer Solutions practice, too regards this as a big problem which few companies have realised. "Many organisations take at least 24 hours to turnaround a response which could take two forms: an acknowledgement to the email inquiry and a response to the question," said Ower.

"Many companies, however, do not even acknowledge receipt. And the reality is that most organisations haven't placed importance on it. Only those in highly competitive industries, such as utilities and telecommunications, are starting to address this issue," he added.

According to Jensen Koo, business development consultant , Magnus Management Consultants, this problem is not only an issue in Asia.

"This is a big problem not only on Asian Web sites but also on more established Web sites in the US. The main problem is the lack of integration between the front-end and back-end software," said Koo.

"Firms typically have a generic email address, such as info @abc-company.com and this would be a generic address used for all inquiries that potential customers might have. I, myself, have had this unfortunate experience, especially with an important query.

This could be potentially damaging to the firm, as this could cost them potential customers in the near future and damage their reputation as online retailers."

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