Spam turns 30, The eCheck is in the eMail


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.

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.)


Was unaware of the pending birthday. Worked many years ago on The Clipper Chip lobbying Capitol Hill on releasing DoD encryption technology.

Who termed the coin SPAM? I know I should know this. It just feels like one of those terms that's been out there forever and falsely maligning the food product, cannot even type that with a straight face, but you know what I mean....

Plan to publish an article next week on the big event. Keep up the good work!

Denis Campbell
Managing Editor

“The Cheque is in the Mail” became known as one of the 3 great lies.

OK, what are the other two. I seem to recall a documentary about a
hard-rock or heavy-metal group, perhaps Krokus, which mentioned the
other two being "We'll fix it in the mix" and "I won't come in your
mouth". At least in the rock'n'roll world, I guess those are the
other two.

The three lies is a well known joke. You start with 2 standard lies and the 3rd is a punchline lie like the ones you name above.

The main two are usually "The cheque is in the mail" and "I'm from the Government, I'm here to help you."

Any festivities planned for Spam's 31st.

I would be interested to hear your input about how relevant SPAM has been in the Internet world for 2008. People have seem to have forgotten about SPAM and are satisfied with status quo of filtering. Most blogs that used to cover Spam are no longer being updated.


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