Email-Expiration Idea Old, Useless: Expert
By Ken Magill
While many in email marketing are apparently warm to the idea of their messages’ headers containing an expiration date, at least one expert says the idea is 20 years old and as useless now as it was two decades ago.
“It's been around in usenet for 20 years, and even back before there were mountains of hostile messages and it was only used in plausible ways, e.g., FAQs that were updated and reposted every week, nobody used it,” wrote John Levine in an email exchange with The Magill Report.
Levine is a frequent speaker on Internet-related topics, a respected anti-spam expert, and author of Internet for Dummies, among other things.
Joshua Baer—founder and CEO of OtherInbox, and an email expert in his own right—has been calling for marketers to include expiration dates in their emails’ headers. He believes if he can get enough marketers to include the line of code, he may be able to convince ISPs to take action on emails that are past their expiration dates.
After the emails expired, the receiving ISP would ideally take some sort of automatic action, such as delete the expired messages or put them into a special folder, according to Baer.
Baer contends email with expiration dates would be especially useful for marketers who send out daily deals. However, he added, the mechanism would contain benefits for all marketers.
He also contends it would create a better user experience.
Levine says, however, that acting on emails with expiration dates in their headers is not a trivial exercise for the receiving ISPs.
“The amount of effort required to go through a mail store and expire based on the headers is substantial.,” he wrote.
Baer is aware of the cost-to-implement issue and has addressed it in a thread in his discussion group X-Expires:
“Right now, most mail system do not have a process that scans the inbox for messages to act on. Often the inbox can be quite large,” he wrote.
“One option would be to scan the mailboxes once per day. That sounds really expensive to me though,” he continued.
The discussion is ongoing.
In another criticism, Levine added that an email expiration mechanism could easily be exploited by spammers.
“It'd be a swell way to game spam filters based on complaint ratios, as most of them are,” he wrote. “Send out a spam run with a four-hour expiration, collect the orders and a few complaints, then expire the rest before anyone else can complain about it.”
The idea also drew criticism in the comments section of The Magill Report.
“Great idea. Please implement this on outbound marketing mail as soon as possible so I can use that X-header to filter that crap out of my inbox,” wrote someone posting under the name Jaeson Schultz.
“It's obvious how this idea benefits marketers, and if I squint my eyes and tilt my head for a while I can maybe come up with a way it benefits mailbox providers, sorta. What about users? How does Josh's idea benefit them, outside of the marketing context?” wrote someone posting under the name J.D.