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Sihope Communications

Making the world safe from spam.

No matter how one might feel about Spam, the tinned meat that recently earned a museum dedicated to its history, it seems there are few nice things said about the unsolicited e-mail messages that share Spam’s name. Legislators, software makers and ISPs are all working to reduce spam, which eats up broadband and annoys users. At Sihope Communications, President Mike Davis explains that they’re working to ban the spam with the help of a someone named Marvin.

When did Sihope get started?

We were founded in 1994 and have 6 full-time employees. Our team is very close-knit and supportive of each other and the company. Being the size we are really works to our benefit, we treat each other as family and are all “lifers”.

Why did Sihope decide to go into the anti-spam business?

Our primary business is still Internet access. We pride ourselves on taking care of the customer, and the single biggest complaint we had was spam. We investigated a lot of options, but none of them seemed adequate, none of them had long-term viability that could cope with changing spammer tactics. We wanted the best, but the products that were available were barely mediocre. So we developed Marvin.

What does Marvin do, and why did you decide on that name?

Marvin is actually just a collection of programs that handle e-mail in different ways. There’s no AI or sentience, it’s not really a robot, it’s just software with a name. We wanted to give it a name to personify it. People deal better with things that have human names, and we wanted people to be comfortable interacting with it. It also makes it much easier for us, since customers call and ask about “Marvin” instead of asking about “that e-mail thing.” In fact, we’ve even had customers call and ask to speak to Marvin.

There seem to be many players in the anti-spam market now — how is Marvin different?

What makes our system unique is its adaptability. Spammers are continuously changing their methods, learning to get around today’s filters and anti-spam systems. Marvin was written to allow us to seamlessly add new tools on the fly. As spammers learn to bypass the current anti-spam tools, we can pop new ones in with just a few hours of work. As an example, a few weeks after Marvin’s initial release to our customers, we added a new tool — SpamAssassin, an open-source spam detection program — to the existing suite of anti-spam processes. If our customers still had spam getting through, they could simply go to the Marvin website and turn on SpamAssassin for additional protection.

With so many different e-mail options, how does Marvin handle multiple configuration options?

Configuration can be done at the individual level for each e-mail address, or site-wide for an entire domain. A residential user with a single e-mail address has complete control, as does the owner of a company with multiple domains, who can control settings for the entire company or allow individual employees to configure Marvin themselves. Marvin isn’t just on or off. There are settings for each tool that allow you to control how aggressive it should be when filtering your e-mail. This was a priority when we designed it, because we know that everyone’s mail is different, and what one person considers spam another person may not.

How is the current economic climate affecting Sihope?

It’s been great. The economy has definitely made it tough for everyone, we’ve all had to tighten our belts. This is really a cleansing period for our industry. We see a lot of smaller ISP’s fold because their income couldn’t support the size of their customer base. They’ve priced themselves out of business. We’re confident that our business model is solid. By not treating internet access as a commodity, and by pushing quality rather than price, we know we can stay in business.

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