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BlueWolf's Howl

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July 13, 2002

SPAM

Spam is fun to hate and has been the brunt of many jokes. In fact, the name “Spam” comes from a joke (an old Monty Python skit). Since I’ve always had an unlimited access account, it hasn’t bothered me. I simply delete the unwanted mails and continue reading my email. For those who pay by the minute for access over their basic time allotment, spam can be costly. It also eats up quite a bit of backbone bandwidth to reach that elusive 1/10 of 1% that will actually click on the link or commit to a purchase.

I’ve been on both sides of the counter regarding spam. I worked for a company with a department that sent email to various lists for customers. At first glance, I was concerned about the ethical dilemma that this posed. Then, as I learned more about the process, I came to a more acceptable position. There’s quite a bit of difference between sending out a mailing for IDG (the producers of the “Dummies” series of books) or Veritas (a reputable software company) and sending out a mailing list for some schmuck with a porn site or some quacky get-rich-quick scheme. The reputable companies use a double opt-in list (and properly maintain that list) whereas the companies of ill repute buy lists of addresses harvested from the web and other places.

In the early 90s, I created a Hotmail account. A few years later, someone that wanted to have that address contacted me. I politely refused. The amount of spam immediately rose to insane proportions. It seems that this person didn’t want to take “no” for an answer and therefore started signing me up for every mail list and product info list on the Internet. I cursed a bit and just reverted to using the address provided by my ISP. The Hotmail Inbox would reach its limit and I would occasionally log in and clean it out. Then there was my recent “transition” period where this Hotmail address was my only address. It was unusable and I found myself needing to clear it out at least twice a day to keep the mail flowing. Now it’s become a matter of principle to me. I should be able to use that address the way I want to (within the provider’s Terms Of Service) without worry that the Inbox will fill and bounce a wanted email. So I began a personal spam campaign with my Inbox.

For a few weeks, I monitored the amount of spam to get a clear indication of exactly how much I was receiving. At that time I was getting about 70 emails a day (around 500K). Some of these were emails from individuals sending personal email incorrectly addressed to my mailbox. I wrote these individuals and most stopped emailing. There were a few that required me to block their address in order to prompt them to remove me from their personal mailing lists. (Oh, this is kewl…let me send it to everyone in my address book! What? This person doesn’t want it? Are they crazy? This is good stuff. I’m not going to remove them. Oh shit, it’s bouncing. I better get rid of that address.)

The next phase of assault on the spam was directed at the professionals. In order to have this campaign cost me the least amount of effort, I only used the links at the bottom of the emails to remove my address from their lists. Most responsible mailers provide a link to “opt-out” of a mailing list. For those companies with educated administrators, this works well. Unfortunately, not all companies have administrators that know how to properly run a marketing list.

A few weeks later, I started a two-pronged attack on spam. I clicked the remove link at the bottom or followed the instructions to reply with “remove” or “unsubscribe” in the subject line. I spend about 30 to 45 minutes on this twice a week. I am starting to get results. I’ve lowered the number of emails to 60 emails per day which saves me 200K per day in space. It’s now to the point where I don’t have to clean my Inbox daily to prevent a bounced email. But there has to be a better way.

There should be some way to cooperatively share email addresses to block and URLs to visit to unsubscribe from these lists. From what I learned at my former job, there are contacts to reach that have the power to remove you from multiple lists. So, starting tomorrow, I will be building those lists. And I will definitely share them with anyone interested. It will probably take a while to build a good database, but I’m sure it will be well worth the effort.

I have created a mailing list to distribute this information. If you would like to join, email me at: webmaster@bluewolfspirit.com. Together we can conquer the Spam Monster.

Posted by BlueWolf on July 13, 2002 05:15 PM