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Current Events: 2021 Technology of the Year

Technology of the Year, 2021 Edition

🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrwfB4aAZZc.

“There were very few things people loved. That was one of them.” So said a dear friend and retired IT director, who introduced this year’s Technology of the Year to me many years ago. Oxymoron? No. Read on.

I assure you that this year’s Progressive CIO Technology of the Year will not be highlighted in any other similar column you will read this season. It’s unfortunate, and I can explain why.

(This is NOT a sponsored post.)


What if you could live in a world where you received no junk mail? Not occasional junk mail—no junk mail.

In 2003, Sendio Technologies introduced its “Opt-Inbox” technology, which was arguably the earliest implementation of a challenge-response technology (patented at the time) whose goal was to eliminate spam. Sendio’s earliest offering was an appliance that you would install in line with your email server. Here’s the Sendio user experience:

  1. Someone from outside your organization emails you for the first time.
  2. You do not receive that email.
  3. The sender receives a “challenge” email similar to the following:

Your email to John Doe john@doe.com is almost there!

We need to verify your email address. Click the button to instantly become a trusted sender.

✓ Verify me

John Doe’s Company is using Sendio’s Opt-Inbox technology to ensure they do not receive unwanted email. Verifying your email address will ensure that all future email from you will be delivered directly to John Doe’s inbox without delay.

Verification using the button above is instantaneous but if you prefer, simply sending a reply to this email will also work.

  1. If the sender reacts to the challenge, the email is delivered to your inbox.
  2. If the sender doesn’t react to the challenge, you do not see the email in your inbox. Automated email systems are unable to address the challenge to verify themselves. Additionally, in my experience, even human beings who receive the challenge emails don’t click on them, for fear they are phishing.
  3. As you desire, you can visit a web page that shows you a list of emails that were not verified. After a few days of doing this, this list is almost all unsolicited email, not deserving meaningful attention. (You will find this to be delightful.)

If, on the outside chance, a real human verifies their email and it arrives in your inbox, you can go back to Sendio’s web interface and block them from ever communicating with you again.

Sendio also allows administrators to configure a greylisting filter as well, which further reduces the amount of email that even invokes a verification process. You can upload your contact lists to pre-identify people you want to hear from. If you send an email to somebody before they email you for the first time, Sendio validates them automatically.

If you’ve read this far and think, “How is this net-net different from me properly marking email as junk and occasionally checking my junk email folder?” then you will begin to appreciate why you don’t see Sendio on any end-of-year technology lists this year. It’s very difficult to appreciate the difference between the predominant way of doing things and the Opt-Inbox way of doing things, in the same way it’s difficult to appreciate certain products (iPhones, Apple Watches, Rolexes, etc.) until you experience them first-hand.

I can attempt to convey the difference using these words: In the Opt-inbox view of the world, there is no need for Bayesian filters or machine learning — all of which are imperfect. In the Opt-inbox view of the world, there is nothing in your junk folder, ever. It’s a wonderful, and one of the few experiences that is truly remarkable. In the Opt-inbox view of the world, the only email you see is from people with whom you’ve definitively decided you want to communicate.

Refer back to my friend’s comment: “There were very few things people loved. [Sendio] was one of them.” Someone else once told me: “You should never love something that cannot love you back.” That’s good advice, but Sendio elicits a response in people that pushes those sorts of boundaries.

So what’s the big deal with Sendio in 2021? Sendio Opt-Inbox for Office 365 Exchange Online.

Whereas Sendio used to involve appliances and/or awkward cloud-based integrations — making it even more unlikely that you’d get a chance to experience it — in Q4 2021, Sendio made its product available to Exchange Online customers for the first time, and the implementation is brilliant. It works via Azure AD’s Application Registration system, and integrates with Exchange Online through a series of Mail Flow rules. Here are some remarkable things about this version of the product:

  1. It does not require any changes to your MX records;
  2. It plays well with Exchange Online Protection (all mail is still processed through your organization’s EOP rules);
  3. It relies on Azure AD, so it provides seamless SSO, supporting your MFA and other authentication rules, with no drama.
  4. It can be enabled for individual people or groups who need it, without needing to be introduced or trained to your whole enterprise for those who have less of a need for a product like this.
  5. It is decidedly inexpensive. It starts at about $56 per user per year, with a 10-user minimum.

Hey.com introduced a nearly-identical opt-inbox capability last year, their How It Works page probably does a better job of explaining how this sort of system works than either I or Sendio have done. But Hey.com is not something that integrates Exchange Online, making it a non-starter for most enterprises. Sendio also doesn’t try to reinvent your email experience with things like Hey.com’s “Feed” and “Paper Trail.” Sendio’s technology is simple, thoughtful, and completely, 100% effective at eliminating spam.

Hey.com and Sendio are pretty much the only two accessible, lucid challenge-response spam elimination products on the market. How many people do you know who use Hey.com? How many people do you know who use Sendio? Why do your answers contain such low numbers? Because it’s difficult to explain in words. It’s something that you have to experience to appreciate. And Sendio for Office 365 Exchange Online significantly reduces the barrier to entry for your organization to experience this first-hand. This is why it is The Progressive CIO Technology of the Year, 2021.

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