Been getting a bunch of calls from reporters this weekend. Our good friend spam turns 30 in a couple of days, and a few years ago I did some research and became an authority on the history of the term and the phenomenon. Since everybody else is doing it, I though I should point to my various articles on the history of spam, as well as some updates I just wrote for the 30th.
- How the word “spam” came to mean Junk E-mail.
- The first spam, from May 1978 and the reaction to it. Look in particular for Richard Stallman’s defence of spam.
- Reflections back on the 25th anniversary along with new thoughts on the 30th.
- My collection of spam essays including my best plans to defeat spam.
If you’ve seen all this before, you can mostly focus on the new thoughts where I talk about the rise of Botnets — which may negate many of the best anti-spam solutions, and the flight to Facebook from e-mail by the younger generation.
Update: I’ve done a bunch of press interviews on spam this week, and was on May 3’s “Weekend All Things Considered” on NPR as well. I get in quite a few words, especially for radio.
Spam Filters and the degradation of e-Mail.
And now this new thought. Spam filters are working better, but content filtering means false positives. Curiously, this has brought an unreliability to e-mail which parallels the famous (but mostly false) unreliability of the postal service.
In the old days, the widespread belief in the poor quality of the postal service was a popular excuse. You could always tell somebody you hadn’t received his letter, or that it had been very slow in arriving, or that you had sent your letter but it must have gotten lost or delayed. And people would either believe it, or feel they had to pretend to believe it. We dubbed the system “snail mail” to reiterate this, and of course “The Cheque is in the Mail” became known as one of the 3 great lies.
For a while e-mail was good enough that you couldn’t use this lie so easily. And it was too fast, as well. The only question was when you would get around to reading your mail.
But now we’ve got a new excuse — your mail got trashed by my spam filters. Oh, wait, I found it, in my spam folder. A nice and convenient lie that the other party can’t quite call you out on. Likewise, now, when I send a mail and don’t hear back, I always have to wonder if the mail has been caught in the filters.
(More often than not, non-response is due to another e-mail phenomenon: the growing stack. If I can’t answer your mail right away there is a danger it will move down the stack in my e-mail box, and soon be lost to attention, even though it’s there and I read it.)