Isabel Maxwell, president of Commtouch Software, thinks she has something better to offer the Internet than the free email companies such as Hotmail and RocketMail. Her company will allow any Web site to offer its own free, self-branded email.
Companies would pay for Commtouch to build branded email that would be free to the customer. Maxwell said the idea is for companies to be able to offer free Web-based email from their own sites that customers would, in turn, visit daily to retrieve their email. Customers also would be able to download Commtouch's email client.
In any case, the company offering the free email would have greater access to its customers, either by advertising directly inside the email or by routing customers to their Web page. The company also would get a form of free advertising every time its domain name went out in the form of email, according to Maxwell.
Free email is one of the hottest commodities on the Net these days. Companies offering it have found it to be an ideal way to deliver ads to customers. Netizens otherwise resistant to email advertisements will accept them in return for free email.
Some experts have predicted that every commercial Web site soon will offer free email, just as many now offer internal search engines.
In fact, Commtouch is not alone in offering a product that will allow companies to build their own free email.
Industrial Imagination, a company based in Blacksburg, Virginia, has been offering such a product for several months, and recently released version 3.0 of its product, NetRoamer.
John Dudly, executive producer of NetRoamer, said the company has about 38 customers running the software, 28 of which are inside corporate networks.
However, free email is not without problems. As with anything free, it is not 100 percent reliable. Some Netizens complain that their mailboxes become cluttered with ads, and others claim that junk emailers have used free email accounts to send out unsolicited junk email.
All that aside, companies are likely to jump at opportunities to offer their customers email addresses.
Maxwell said that Commtouch already has formed several partnerships with companies that have brand names on and off the Internet space.
Unlike search engines, which will build branded sites, Commtouch would stay completely hidden, keeping its brand off the email.
Maxwell said: "Everybody wants an email solution. The big corporations coming in want an email solution. Email is where everybody comes back to every day. All these major companies have realized they want an email solution. Why should they give that up to a Hotmail or RocketMail when they can have that same end user?"