I’ve run a small e-mail server at airs.com for many years, providing POP and forwarding services for friends and family. In the early days of the net several people found it useful to have a fixed e-mail address which they could forward to their ISP. Later on commercial services appeared, like pobox.com, and these days there are many options available.
The spam wars have made running a small e-mail server steadily harder. I’ve had to change a number of characteristics about the system over the years. One aspect that is difficult to change is that since the server forwards e-mail, in some cases it forwards spam which get through my own spam blockers. That spam is sometimes picked up by the system to which the e-mail is forwarded. When that happens, my server can be marked as a spam source.
When this has happened in the past, it’s been ISPs marking my server as a spam source, and they’ve always provided a way for me to tell them that my system is OK. This has always worked fine (it does require updating in the rare cases when I change the IP address of the server).
Recently I’ve been seeing something new: spam blocking networks which are shared by various recipient systems. What is interesting here is that these spam blocking networks make at least some of their money by charging people to send e-mail into their network. So, for example, returnpath.net decided to block e-mail from my server. They don’t provide any information about why they’ve done so, which makes it hard for me to fix the problem. I can enter the IP address to temporarily remove my server from their blacklist, which of course I have done. But what they really want to do is charge me $200 to have my server listed as a valid e-mail sender. Shortly after signing up with them for the sole purpose of removing my server from their blacklist, I got an e-mail from one of their sales reps offering to sell me their services to ensure that my e-mail messages got delivered. So far I have declined to pay, and some of my e-mail, e.g., to John Levine’s compilers list, is getting blocked.
In other words, what we have here is a spam blocking network which makes money by charging people to send e-mail messages through their spam blocking services. It’s an interesting little low-key protection racket. They have to keep it low-key, since they have to provide a decent quality spam blocking service; otherwise, people won’t use them and they will have nothing to sell to e-mail senders. They have to limit the spamminess of their customers, since otherwise, again, people won’t use their blacklist and they will have nothing to sell. Unfortunately, small e-mail servers like the one I run are caught in the middle. I can hardly pay off every spam blocking service. I don’t want to have to pay off any of them, merely to run a forwarding service.
I’m sure things will change again, but the current situation is not a very good one.