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Will certified e-mail catch on? How will it affect my business?

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Answer: With GoodMail Systems now offering a certified e-mail solution that will be recognized by AOL, the era of certified e-mail may have finally arrived. While many businesses aren't yet sure what they think of GoodMail ("I have to pay for e-mail postage?"), end-users are sure to enjoy the benefits: certified, permission-based e-mail delivered to their in-boxes with a special visual indicator that proves it isn't spam or a phishing attack.

It is these user benefits that lead me to believe certified e-mail may be a hit with e-mail receivers. E-mail senders, on the other hand, are justifiably skeptical, and few want to start spending money to send e-mail they've always sent for free. But merely sending the e-mail isn't what counts—it's the delivery that really matters. And without some sort of e-mail certification system in place, your organization's e-mail, no matter how legitimate, may end up buried in the spam folder. Paying a penny per e-mail (or less, if you send a lot) is cheap delivery insurance.

As certified e-mail catches on, I suspect you'll see more e-mail software and services companies announcing their support of this certified e-mail technology. While there are significant questions that still need answering—such as whether nonprofits should be charged the same for e-mail postage as for-profit businesses—what we're seeing today is the beginning of an experiment that could ripple through the world of e-commerce, forever changing the e-mail landscape and creating a two-class system: first class e-mail (postage paid) and bulk e-mail (free).

The success of such a system is certainly not guaranteed, but it's important enough to watch closely throughout 2006 to see how it unfolds. If it does gain traction, your organization will first need to determine whether your list has enough e-mail addresses at "cooperating" ISPs such as AOL to justify pursuing certified e-mail delivery. Next, there are technical hurdles to overcome, which may include switching to GoodMail-compatible software or SMTP mail servers. Finally, there are financial considerations: Is it worth spending a penny per e-mail to reach your subscribers? And how might this new cost alter the frequency of your e-mails?

Now is the time to start considering these issues.

Mike Adams is president-CEO of Arial Software (www.arialsoftware.com ), provider of e-mail marketing software.

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