AOL buys Mailblocks

Time Warner subsidiary America Online, Inc., announced today that it has completed the purchase of Los Altos, Calif.-based Mailblocks, Inc., for an undisclosed amount of money.

It’s an interesting buyout because it makes sense for AOL’s long-term strategy of enhancing its web-based services and getting away from its “walled garden” Internet service. Mailblocks’ award-winning “challenge/response” technology for blocking unwanted e-mail should complement AOL’s e-mail service. As well, as AOL said in a press release, they plan to redesign the web-based user interface of AOL Mail to make it more streamlined, faster, and easier to use (similar to that of Mailblocks). The improvements will be phased in over a short period of time and will also enable AOL members to control the “challenge/response” technology, which works by requiring all senders of e-mail messages to answer a question only humans can answer (since 99% of spam is automated and sent by machines) unless they are on the customer’s pre-authorized “whitelist” of senders, through AOL “Mail & Spam Controls” but also through their webmail service. Parents can also control their kids’ spam through AOL “Parental Controls”.

I must say, I’m a Mailblocks paid user and have been since December. Unfortunately, with the advent of Gmail, I have hardly used my Mailblocks account. Nonetheless, it is disheartening to learn AOL will only continue the Mailblocks service “for the time being”. It’s also unclear whether or not AOL will be redesigning its free Netscape web-based e-mail service and boosting its storage capacity to compete better with MSN Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and of course, Gmail.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to note Mailblocks was founded by Phil Goldman, one of pioneers of the WebTV service (which is now owned by Microsoft and rebranded as MSN TV). Unfortunately for the Mailblocks team, Phil died last year. Mailblocks is less than two years old and has already won accolades from the likes of Dow Jones & Co.-owned The Wall Street Journal and Gannett-owned USA Today. It’s also received the PC Magazine “Editor’s Choice” award, as well as PC World’s “2004 World Class Award” and “Best Buy” award.

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