A group of high-tech Luddites have come up with a blinding answer to the problem of spam and viruses. Instead of using public email, use "dmail" - a private system that no one else can send messages to. They have an answer to the obvious objection, that this system wouldn't actually be much use: "It's intended for niche markets."
Dmail stands for "digital mail" of course, and is "the next evolutionary step for electronic communication, effectively eradicating the inherent spam, virus, security, privacy, speed and storage problems" according to the company's press release, which was sent to us by post (of course), but can be admired here.
The service, whose slogan is, aptly enough, "A world of your own", seems not to be a spoof. The release describes a server-based system in which users leave messages for each other at a password-protected website. There are three options, a £15/year "Wide World" subscription allows you to contact other dmail users on that scheme, a £25/year "One World" scheme gives your family dmail addresses, and a £75/year "Corporate World" option gives you 25 addresses for your company.
"It is just like email when it first started off," says the scheme's promoter, Michael Hardware (his real name) at PR firm Chelgate, promising Techworld a free trial account. "Or actually, I'll give you two, so you can send dmail to yourselves." When we get those accounts we will report here.
For those of us with long memories, it sounds very much like the pre-history of email: the proprietary bulletin board systems of the 80s, all of which withered or became email providers, once public email took off. Only this time, the bulletin board is implemented using today's technology as a conduit.
"Dmail's functionality takes it a long way from the bulletin boards," says its inventor, Peter Jackson. It is based on a closed e-commerce system that he delivered to a company in the oil industry last June, he says, and XML format messages in a SQL database. Users can therefore share big files quickly, says Jackson.
"Being realistic, I don't think it will sound the death of email," he says. "But then email didn't kill faxes or mobile phones. It's another tool in the bag." If Bagel or Mydoom kicks off next week, he reckons terrified users might flock to dmail.
Hardware accepts dmail is not an "alternative to email" as the release claims, and cannot therefore eradicate spam. "I have a dmail account, but I could not do without email," he says. "I still get about 200 spams a day." The promoters at Chelgate do use dmail to share files between offices in London, Warrington and Brussels: "We send 200MB files around, which tend to snarl things up." Instead, those files can be viewed on the central dmail server, he says, or downloaded - although he admits that negates the virus protection claimed for dmail.
He reckons the system could find niche markets in education, where schools want to keep communications under control (though any students with web access could carry on chatting to friends through hotmail), or in exceptionally close-knit families.
Surprisingly, there already is product called Dmail, a conventional email server from New Zealand developer NetWin, but Jackson does not expect any trademark troubles. "Theirs is an email server program, ours is not email," he says. "It is dmail. And they spell it with a capital D."
The release makes a claim that others are entering the dmail market, saying that Google's gmail is a digital mail service, based on the fact that it stores messages in a database. "gmail isn't a closed system," admits Jackson. "It does have an email interface. It is the closest you get to us - it works on a back-end database."
While it is possibly these people are just charming eccentrics, we keep trying to see some longer term game. Hardware says there will be a "new angle" to the selling of dmail in future, and Jackson expects to get a patent on the dmail idea, claiming to have one pending on "the use of a database for communications".
Jackson has not bet his house on this bonkers scheme, but says he has a business plan and others have invested. We can only imagine there is another revenue stream, and it might have something to do with those pending patents. Could they be squaring up to sue Google?