Date: Fri, 06 Jun 1997 17:02:41 -0400
From: Charles Brewer
To: MindSpring User Community
Subject: MindSpring Announcements, June 6, 1997

Dear MindSpringers,

From time to time I send out a letter to all our MindSpring customers with news on topics we think may be of interest. I hope this one finds you well, and pleased with our service. Here is the list of topics for this letter. Please feel free to skip ahead to the ones that are of interest to you!

* Capacity Issues
* Operational Report
* Our new Anti-spam product - the Spaminator
* Newsgroup Reorganization
* MindSpring Customer Homepage Directory
* Our job - to do the Basics Extraordinarily Well

CAPACITY ISSUES

By far the biggest customer affecting problem we currently have is capacity related issues in some POPs outside of the Southeast This is important enough that I'd like to spend a bit of time explaining the situation. A POP is a "Point of Presence", a local dial-in point that lets customers connect to our network with a local phone call. In 41 cities in the Southeast MindSpring owns and operates its own POPs. About two-thirds of our customers connect to us through these POPs. One of the things that we have done extraordinarily well in our history is to maintain these POPs well, and stay ahead of capacity issues. The result is very few problems with things like busy signals, dropped connections, and other connectivity related problems.

Since last fall, we also offer service to customers who connect to MindSpring and the Internet through 200+ POPs that are owned and operated by PSINet, Inc. PSINet sells capacity in this network of POPs to MindSpring and some other companies on a wholesale basis. The problem is, so far they have not performed up to our standards in managing these POPs and staying ahead of capacity issues. The result has been busy signals and other connectivity problems in some cities. We track this very carefully. Our reports show that there were at least some busy signals in between 48 and 78 POPs each day in recent weeks. In 28 POPs the problem is severe enough that we have declared a moratorium on adding any new customers.

As I'm sure you know, problems like busy signals are very common in our industry, and have been for a long time. But, they have been rare at MindSpring - until this. We are extremely frustrated and embarrassed by the whole problem. The explanation above is not meant to push off the blame to anyone else. This is MindSpring's problem, it affects our customers, and we will fix it. Here are the steps we are taking:

I'm sorry for this long-winded explanation, but this is one of the most vexing problems we have ever faced at MindSpring, and I wanted to provide a complete explanation.

OPERATIONAL REPORT

Other than the capacity problems mentioned above, things are going very well for us operationally. Wait times for help in customer service and technical support are the shortest they have ever been, with *average* waits for technical support around two to three minutes, and average waits for customer service around one minute. Of course, this means that often there is no wait or a very minimal wait, and at times a surge of calls will move the wait up well above those averages. Our tools and training continue to improve, also. In both our Atlanta and Harrisburg call centers we are now using Aspect call center gear which has helped us become more efficient. In addition, the Atlanta call centers have moved to our new roomier facility on Peachtree Street.

Our servers and our own network continue to perform extremely well. You probably did not notice, but over the last couple of months we have completely relocated our network hub to our new facility in Midtown Atlanta. This was a major undertaking, and our engineers and network operations group pulled it off in spectacular fashion, with essentially zero downtime or customer noticeable difficulties. You old-timers might recall that this is a wee bit better performance than in previous moves :)

OUR NEW ANTI-SPAM PRODUCT - THE SPAMINATOR!

We have a new filtering service that is designed to keep you from getting unwanted email in your in-box. The goal of mail filtering is to eliminate incoming mail that has a very high probability of being unwanted commercial email (SPAM) without affecting legitimate mail. Mail is filtered using the headers in the message. A "known SPAM site" list is maintained by our Abuse Department, and is regularly updated. Of course, no list is 100% effective in eliminating unwanted email. We think this is an excellent first step, and we will continue to develop anti-SPAM machinery for MindSpring customers. This filtering is optional, and the default setting for our customers is "off". If you'd like to find out more about this service, and perhaps turn it on to serve your account, go to:

Our mail system will also be examining the "return address" provided with each message. This address identifies who is sending the message, and how to reply to the message. Internet mail standards require this to be a legitimate email address. We've discovered that almost all mail with an invalid return address is unsolicited commercial email. Our mail system will now reject mail that does not contain a valid return address, in compliance with Internet standards. Customers who have modified their return address on their mail client to be invalid will need to use a legitimate email address. This is different from providing an invalid email address for news postings, which are a prime source of addresses to bulk e-mailers. Rejection of mail with invalid envelope addresses is not part of the Spaminator mail filtering service. This will be a change that affects all incoming and outgoing mail.

NEWSGROUP REORGANIZATION

If you don't use Internet newsgroups (also called "Usenet"), I'd like to encourage you to give them a try. Our MindSpring news servers are some of the most reliable and best performing in all of the Internet. Also our local MindSpring newsgroups have recently been reorganized and revamped. So, refresh your list of newsgroups and check them out. If you need help getting started with newsgroups, try our help page at :

Pick "general" as your operating system, pick "Usenet" for your topic, and pick "general" as your document. That will give you a good place to start.

MINDSPRING CUSTOMER HOMEPAGE DIRECTORY

In response to customer requests, we have created a directory of our customers' homepages. There are sections for both business and personal pages. You can search by business type, by name, by location, or by topic. It is actually pretty amazing what you can find in there! If you'd like to get your page listed, or search the pages that are already there, go to:

OUR JOB - TO DO THE BASICS EXTRAORDINARILY WELL

Many analysts and members of the press seem to think that ISPs today need some secret trick to be successful. For example, some proprietary technology or some proprietary content. We think that is absolutely wrong! We think the best thing we can do to achieve our goals this year is to deliver the basics in our business extraordinarily well. According to what we hear from you, there are three basic things that our customers, and our prospective customers, care about most.

The first basic is what we deliver to our customers to get them started with MindSpring. Our starter kit should install easily and reliably. We should provide state of the art software, and an intuitive interface that helps our customers have a good experience on the Internet. This is basic number one.

Basic number two is the network itself. It must be available, reliable, and high performance. Crucial network services like email and news must also be reliable and high performance.

Basic number three is customer support. Even if we were absolutely perfect in everything else (which is impossible), we'd still have a very heavy demand for technical support. That is because computer hardware, computer software, modems, the telephone network, and the Internet itself are all dramatically imperfect. And when something does go wrong with one of these things, it is often very difficult to tell what the problem is. Our customers just know that it is not working, and they need us to help them. This is a crucially important part of our job.

We are going to continue to focus on doing these basic things better and better. We think that is what our customers care most about, and we think it is what will drive the success of our business. Our formula for success in this very competitive business is to offer the best service in the industry. That helps us keep our "customer acquisition costs" (the costs of getting new customers) down as referrals and word of mouth work in our favor. It also keeps our customer "churn" (the number of customers who leave us) down. Both of these are key drivers of profitability.

Many thanks to those of you who participated in our recent customer survey, which has helped sharpen our insight on questions like this. If you have other ideas on what we can do to serve you better, please send them in to suggestions@mindspring.net.

Oh, by the way, MindSpring employees are now using "mindspring.net" email addresses so you can tell us from your fellow customers with "mindspring.com" addresses. Our old mindspring.com addresses still work fine, though.

Thanks for being a customer!

Best regards,

Charles Brewer
MindSpring Founder and CEO