Happy 15th, Return Path!

Posted by Tom Sather on

Today, Return Path is turning 15. Remember what email was like 15 years ago?

Hotmail, the world’s first webmail service, was only three years old and had been acquired by Microsoft two years earlier and boasted a userbase of 30 million. The internet, and specifically email, was becoming an important part of lives allowing people to easily stay in touch with friends and family. In fact, there were only 147 million active internet users worldwide in 1999, and 80% of those users were using email on a daily basis. 1999 was the year e-commerce became a new buzzword as many retailers opened web-based store fronts, and we also saw the birth of Napster and Myspace.

Email marketing was still in its infancy. Web Bugs, or web beacons, were highly controversial at the time as they allowed user tracking on web sites and email messages which eventually led email providers to block images in HTML emails. HTML emails weren’t widely used yet though, mainly because most people were still on dial-up modems, and downloading HTML emails took too long to download, but broadband, specifically DSL, was also starting to take off this year. Email Service Providers started to crop up more and more, like Exactis, Digital Impact and Responsys.

There were no laws protecting users from spam despite 90% of email users receiving spam in their inbox on a weekly basis, so the “E-mail User Protection Act” was first introduced to the U.S. Congress, but it would be another 4 years before the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 was signed by then President George W. Bush. Email providers like Hotmail had crude spam filtering services, and relied on Real Time Blacklists (RBLs) and tools to allow users to block spam based on the sending address or keywords in the subject line. 1999 was also the year of the Melissa Virus, the famous winky faced email that quickly spread through email clogging email servers worldwide, and launched an FBI investigation that quickly lead to an arrest.

The world has changed so much in the past 15 years: we now have over 3 Billion users online worldwide, spam is still being sent in droves, but most is stopped from reaching our inboxes, and email marketing is now the most valued marketing channel for most businesses, and it’s hard to imagine any business being able to run today without it. Return Path provided the world’s first reputation based spam filtering service, the first email deliverability monitoring tools, and now offers tools to help stop email fraud like phishing.

15 years on, we’re just getting started here at Return Path. Hop on over to CEO Matt Blumberg’s latest blog post on our recent investment of $35 million to accelerate our growth in email fraud protection, data and analytics capabilities. Check out our infographic below to see some impressive numbers on how much email we analyze everyday and a fun look at the history of Return Path.

Happy Birthday, Return Path!

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About Tom Sather

Email data and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.

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