Re: Bring back the return address

From: Glen Perkins (
Date: Wed Jul 16 1997 - 15:16:53 EDT

Peck, Jon wrote:
> I liked it better the old way too, as my mail system has a filtering
> scheme that allowed me to put automatically the Unicode mail into a
> folder. Now I can't do that, since the rules engine doesn't see the
> entire header.

and Steve Bossie wrote:
> I agree. I also use a filter that worked nicely before but now > doesn't.

Yes, this brings me back to an idea I have for smarter email. It would
solve this problem, mostly solve the problem of spam, and give users a
lot more control over their email.

I'd like to see an email server protocol that gave mail clients a
standard way to maintain a list of valid "access keywords" on the mail
server. (Thanks to Harald Alvestrand for suggesting that this could make
use of the "+convention" in email names.)

It would work this way. Email addresses would use "+" extensions, such
as "", where the access keyword is
"rosebud". Email clients would have the power to maintain a list on the
server of which +extensions were to be considered valid. Messages sent
to the address with a valid extension would be accepted. Those with an
invalid extension would be returned as undeliverable. The user could
decide whether the case of "no extension" would be considered a valid or
invalid extension. Any desired change to the list of valid extensions
could be made by the user himself in the mail client, and it would be
sent to the user's mail server via a standard protocol, where the server
would implement the change.

For example, I could post a question to,
telling my news client to use the access keyword "rosebud" It would post
my article with the reply-to: set to
"". I would go to my List of Access
Keywords in my mail client's, or news client's, preferences/settings
dialog and add a new keyword "rosebud" to my list of valid extensions. I
would also put a checkmark in the checkbox that said something like
"automatically expire after..." and fill in "2 weeks". When I hit the
"OK" button, the "rosebud" extension would be sent to the server, where
it would be added to my list.

There would be no need to discuss this with the system admin. The
control of access keywords would be in the hands of the user (who could
use it or just leave everything at the default settings.)

For the following two weeks, anybody who sent mail to me using
"" would have their mail accepted.
After the two weeks timed out, my mail client, remembering its
instructions for this keyword, would send another message to the server
asking that "rosebud" be removed from the list of valid access keywords.
Simple as that. From that point on, anyone who sent a message to
"" would have their message bounced
back as undeliverable. After two weeks, after all, most responses would
be from spammers, but the timing would be entirely up to me. I could
leave "rosebud" active as long as I wanted and manually remove it when I
didn't think it was worth having any longer.

Each time I posted something publicly, I could use a different
time-limited access keyword. The spammers' databases would fill up with
useless mailing addresses because most people would be likely to time
out any extension used in a public posting. I know people who keep
changing email addresses after they attract too much spam, or they have
a "public" email address and one or more "private" email addresses. This
always requires the assistance of the sysadmin, which sometimes costs
money. My proposal would eliminate the need for this, and put the power
of access control into the users' hands directly.

The mail client would then, of course, use these access keywords to sort
the mail. The advantages over the current "sort by From: or Sender: or
Reply-to: or Subject:" methods include being able to sort people's mail
on the basis of who they are to you, not what there current email
address is, and not having to convince a list maintainer to "do things
my way" with the headers.

The way it would solve the Unicode mailing list dilemma is that you
would subscribe to the mailing list using an access keyword you, the
user, chose to mark mail from that list. I could sign up for the Unicode
list, for example, and tell it that my email address was
"". Then, it wouldn't matter what
the headers were in the message, except for the "To:" header, of course,
which the subscriber could completely control.

You could create access keywords for your family members, for close
friends, put a general business keyword on your biz cards, etc., and
your mail would be sorted accordingly. You wouldn't have to keep a
database of all the return addresses of everyone you'd ever given your
card to (and maintain it as they changed jobs) in order to correctly
sort messages from them. Anyone whose mail you wanted instantly
delivered to you could be given a "better keyword". You could change
those keywords any time you wanted, without having to ask the sysadmin
to do it for you. Mail from your spouse marked "urgent" could interrupt
you in the middle of a meeting, no matter what account it was sent from,
and if somebody else somehow got hold of that keyword, you could quickly
change it, like changing the locks on your house with the click of a

Since "no extension" was just one of the extensions, you could also
choose whether you wanted mail with no access keyword to be bounced back
by the server as undeliverable (which eventually gets it off the spam
lists) or whether you wanted it let through. Your email client could
them put it in a "general delivery" box that you could skim through
every few weeks, in case an old friend was trying to contact you. You'd
make that choice by clicking a checkbox in the "Preferences..." on your
client, so you could change your mind any time.

Some people are already using the "+ convention" to their advantage, but
this is a very small percentage of the market and almost requires that
you run your own mail server to do it, because it's not controllable
from the client. It seems to me that if a standard protocol for access
keyword-based acceptance or rejection of mail, and maintenance of the
list by clients were introduced, it would be a big hit. People are sick
to death of spam, tired of worrying about the consequences of publicly
posting their email address when they really have questions they'd like
to ask, looking for ways to sort their business mail without maintaining
long lists of addresses (that frequently change), and annoyed by issues
of how to get list administrators to do things "their way" so that they
aren't overwhelmed by their email.

This scheme wouldn't replace the current sorting methods, it would just
be a great additional method that included access control as well as
allowing useful sorting based on the "To:" header.

Anyone who finds this suggestion interesting and enjoys the process of
formal standards proposals is more than welcome to take it, modify it,
claim all credit for it, or do whatever else it takes to make it, or
some superior version of it, a reality.


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