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Dec. 26, 2013 9:30 am

JustMailTo prevents inbox spam by verifying e-mail senders

Never again type out e-mail addresses using "AT" and "DOT."

Three-fourths of Foxtrot Media, and the hackathon team that built JustMailTo: Sean Kellner, Brian Singer and Allen Robinson. Photo courtesy of Brian Singer.

You’ve seen it before, the “name AT website DOT com” online writing of an e-mail address.

Internet users sometimes purposely spell out the “at” symbol and the period that goes into their e-mail addresses, lest some marketing company scraping websites for e-mails adds them to a mailing list they didn’t sign up for.

One way businesses got around this was adding forms to their websites. But Owings Mills-based web development firm Foxtrot Media thought there had to be a better way.

“Everyone has started using forms, which is fine on desktops. On mobile it’s a nightmare,” said Brian Singer, founder and owner of the decade-old company. “We’re building these expensive websites for people, and their whole goal is to engage the customer. But then when the customer goes to engage them, they have to fill out a form.”

That left Singer and his full-time staff of three with a nuisance worth looking into: how to allow the simplicity of a clickable e-mail link on a business’ home page without said business getting spammed.

Enter JustMailTo, a workaround Singer and his team built during an in-company hackathon one late night:

  • E-mail addresses are displayed on websites as normal links without the need for AT and DOT.
  • When a web page loads, Foxtrot Media’s servers are pinged with a request for a unique token assigned to a particular e-mail address. So, for example, a person clicking the e-mail link to request more information from a business will be able to send an e-mail without problem.
  • When the e-mail is sent, JustMailTo verifies the token and delivers the message.
  • Spambots, on the other hand, won’t be able to ping Foxtrot’s servers for a verification token, and therefore won’t be able to clutter up an inbox to which they weren’t invited.

Watch a video for more on how JustMailTo works:

“It’s intended for mobile,” said Singer, 35. “When you click the link it opens your e-mail program. It’s practically like a text message.”

He filed a provisional patent for the idea about two years ago, but started working in earnest on JustMailTo about eight months ago.

“We just work late at night and drink beer and other types of spirits, order pizza and just try to hack through these problems,” Singer said.

A handful of Foxtrot Media’s current clients, including the Johns Hopkins University and Chesapeake Contracting Group, are now using JustMailTo. But JustMailTo is now available free for anyone to use.

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Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia and the former lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. Before moving to Philadelphia in June 2014, he was a contributing writer to Baltimore City Paper and a Tech Check commentator for WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore city’s National Public Radio affiliate. He has written for The Atlantic, Outside, Richmond magazine, Washington City Paper, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Style magazine, Next City, Grist.org, The Atlantic Cities, and elsewhere.

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