Guaranteed delivery of email

Simply put, can't be done.

Even in the pre-spam Internet, SMTP was designed around the fact that email delivery is fundamentally best-effort. Back then it was more about handling network outages, but the fact remains that by design email is best-effort not guaranteed.

That doesn't stop people from demanding it, though.

More recently, with the Virginia Tech shootings a lot (I'd even go so far as to say most) of Higher Ed has taken a really close look at emergency alerting systems. WWU is not immune to this. We have an outside entity that handles this, and WWU upper administration has asked that such emails NOT end up in the Junk Mail folder (we also have an SMS alerting system to go along side this). This is harder than they think, which just makes my life less pleasant every time such a notice does end up in a Junk Mail folder.

With spam making up anywhere from 92-98% of all incoming email, email is fundamentally lossy these days. We LIKE it that way. The hard part is picking the good stuff out of the sea of bad stuff. And unfortunately, there is no one way to guarantee email WILL be seen by the recipient.

The most recent major junking event was because our outside mailing entity changed what servers they do their mailing from, which meant they weren't getting the benefit of the IP-whitelist. Either they didn't notify us, or the people who communicate with them didn't realize that was important and therefore didn't send the change notice to me. The fact that the message in question was a simple web-page copy with a lot of hyper-linked images just made it extra-spammy.

The WWU marketing department has been having their "WWU News" messages, emails with lots of links including mentions of WWU and links to WWU events, end up in Junk Mail about 80% of the time, even though the service they send through is ALSO whitelisted.

The one thing that makes my life all too interesting when attempting to guarantee email delivery? Outlook's junkmail filters. We can't do a thing with them, and Microsoft purposely makes them hard to predict. Nearly all of the junkings I end up troubleshooting end up being Outlook independently deciding it was crap and binning it. I can guarantee delivery right up to the point where Outlook analyzes new messages for spam-factors, but once it gets there all bets are off.


I can't guarantee email delivery. I never could, but it's harder now.