“Since you have now abused the trust I placed in you when I subscribed to your newsletter by using my address for unauthorized purposes (e.g. marketing), please unsubscribe me from your mailing list.” — From a now-former KJR subscriber, in response to the recent e-mail promoting our upcoming seminars.
By registering at ISSurvivor.com and providing your name and e-mail address, you give IS Survivor Publishing blanket permission to send you occasional e-mails describing new products, services or other offerings available from IS Survivor Publishing. That’s the price you pay for getting Keep the Joint Running for free. If you don’t like it … heck, tell us what you’re willing to pay to get KJR without our exercises in self-promotion. We’re open-minded about such matters.
We won’t sell or rent our list to anyone else. If we change our minds about this we’ll notify you and give you a chance to opt out.
I’m not feeling particularly apologetic, having sent a mere two promotional mailings in the past eleven months. Still, the half-dozen or so complaints I received got me thinking about spam, how it’s defined, and what to do about it.
The common definitions of spam include three characteristics: It’s e-mail that’s (1) unsolicited; (2) sent for commercial purposes; and (3) transmitted to a large distribution list. The common definitions are worthless. Here’s why:
If all unsolicited e-mail is spam then all e-mail is spam. What are you supposed to do — only send e-mail after a friend has spoken to you on the telephone requesting it? Every e-mail thread begins with an unsolicited message. That’s the nature of communication.
If all e-mail sent for commercial purposes is spam, then no vendor is ever allowed to send an e-mail to a client. That serves nobody’s interests.
Now about that mailing list bit. That doesn’t help either, or Keep the Joint Running, and every other e-mail newsletter received by people who chose to subscribe, would be considered spam.
So it’s a Boolean “and”: All three criteria must be present. Except for this: More recipients registered for my seminars than complained, even though it was unsolicited, commercial, and sent to a list. (There is, however, still room — feel free to register!)
If the standard definition is wrong, what’s right? When I talk about spam, it’s about the collected mass of all e-mails I receive that I don’t want, not the individual message. It’s the clutter that makes it spam, which is what makes this a hard problem to solve.
Spam is a bit like a bunch of men crowding around a beautiful woman, asking her for a date. She finds most to be drunk, obnoxious, and disgusting, and the group as a whole to be offensive. But she does date someone, and eventually most of these guys find a woman who wants to date them. Which is to say, no matter how obnoxious or disgusting each spam message you receive is to you, someone somewhere wants to buy what each seller has to offer. And it’s possible that among the mass of messages are one or two offering products and services that are of interest to you.
If ISPs charged by the byte — if there was a cost for the stamp — spammers would start targeting their lists. It can’t happen. Without legislation it would be collusion and a violation of the antitrust laws. Presumably, in these anti-regulatory times, nobody wants legislation requiring it. And even if Congress were to pass such a strange law, all that would happen would be that spammers would sign up with ISPs in Bulgaria or the Caymans that aren’t subject to U.S. laws.
The magical curative properties of the marketplace, too-often espoused as the panacea that will cure all ills, are what cause this problem. The marketplace can’t solve it. If that isn’t clear, read Garrett Hardin’s classic paper, The Tragedy of the Commons. Spam is a perfect example.
How about a legislative solution? The CAN-SPAM act, whose double entendre of a name is entirely apt, isn’t going to fix very much, although I hope it puts a dent in the now-popular practices of spoofing and system hijacking.
So if neither the marketplace nor legislation can fix the problem of spam, and unit pricing, which could, will never happen, what’s the solution?
Nothing. There is no solution. Spam is a problem that will be with us for a long, long time.
I hope you have a good spam filter.