Web Informant #220, 19 October 2000:
When you really want to read this email


Spam is a way of life these days. And while most of us can't do much about it, I recently ran into the opposite problem: when you really want to get particular messages, you might not be able to because of anti-spam measures and other new "improvements" that various email service providers have implemented within the past year. Ironically, those of you that have this problem won't be getting this message telling you about it.

You see the Internet providers are desperate. Spammers clog up their disk storage, their tech support lines, and their bandwidth. The providers try all sorts of ways to cut it off, but the spammers continue to find ever-cleverer ways around the various blockades. The result is our inboxes continue to be plagued with offers to get rich, get Viagra, and get porn. (Although I have to say the porn proportion is dropping lately, not that I am really keeping score.)

Hotmail calls its service "Inbox Protector"; Yahoo call theirs "Spamguard" and Earthlink has trademarked "Spaminator." These are filters that try to catch mass spam-mailings and send them to a special folder that you can view and delete all of them in one shot. This keeps your inbox nice and spare and ready to receive the real stuff you need to act on.

The trouble is when email you actually want to receive ends up in these spam-boxes instead of going directly to your inbox. In tests that I did this week using both eGroups (the service that sends these lovely essays out to you) and Topica (a competitor), some of my messages ended up being caught in the spam filter and never arrived in my inboxes at various test email accounts that I had setup at several different providers. Some got through just fine to other email accounts.

Sometimes there wasn't any simple pattern. For example, Hotmail let the initial "welcome" message through to my inbox (the one that gets sent when a new email address is added to the mailing list), but the actual content messages were directed to the bulk mail folder with the rest of the drivel. Yahoo and Earthlink's Spamguard filters didn't touch messages transmitted by eGroups and Topica, and let them pass through to my inbox.

Now, this wasn't a comprehensive test, because I didn't have the time to sign up with tons of other email accounts and do lots of testing. I did notice, though, that Hotmail has a very nice set of configuration screens that allow mail from certain domains through to your inbox and not be considered as spam. Too bad they actually didn't work: when I specified "topica.com" as an allowable domain, the messages still ended up in my bulk folder.

And curiously some of you who have Hotmail addresses report you are getting your essays from me without any problems. I didn't do a comprehensive survey of everyone on my list who has a Hotmail account.

It is ironic that trying to receive wanted email is now a problem. And now that everyone has an email address, even The Phone Company is getting in on the act: for an extra fee, they will gladly list one (or several, for even more of a fee) of your email addresses next to your phone number in their white pages. (As a side note, Verizon continues to be Most Clueless, confusing an email address for a web address in their latest advertisements. Sigh.) This can only encourage further spam, it seems.

I have noticed that the two worst places to get spam are with Netscape.net and with Concentric.net. Dozens arrive daily to these email addresses, even though I never use them for any correspondence with anyone, have never entered a chat room with these addresses, and they can not be found in any public directory or on any of my web pages. My Yahoo email box is starting to catch more and more spam, while one of my Hotmail accounts has been clean. Oddly, my MSN.com mail account was virgin territory, unknown to spammers, until a few weeks ago, when I switched its service over using new Microsoft software called MSN Explorer (more on that in a future edition). Now I am getting tons of spam there. I am at a loss to explain all of this, just to let you know.

Spam is with us, I am afraid, for the time being. There are plenty of clever ways to eliminate it (or at least reduce it) from your lives: Marshall Rose wrote a description in our email book about the custom system that he built for screening his own email. But for those of us who don't have the talent or the time to design something, we have to put up with these messages. Try not to get too steamed and just keep on hitting that delete key. And if you know a friend who has a Hotmail account who likes to receive these essays, find out if s/he has some other email address before forwarding the message. They may not get it.

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David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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