Curious what spam looks like? Read mine!

I have spent countless hours working on culling the good mail from the junk, and after way more effort than I should have had to spend, it’s paying off. I am now seeing upwards of 400 messages each and every day (yes, you read that right, that’s one message every 3.6 minutes throughout the day) of which I estimate 80-90% are unsolicated, usually commercial, email.

My solution has involved using SpamAssassin, which is a lot better than the wacky little ninja characters on the page would lead you to believe, a program called procmail for redirecting all tagged spam into a separate folder, and a separate program I’ve written called showspam which is a highly customized mailbox viewer for spam mailboxes. It’s about 100 lines of C coupled with about 75 lines of HTML/CSS.

But what’s most fun is that you can now sneak a peek at my spam mailbox – unless I’ve just emptied it, that is. It’s a live display of what’s in that mailbox, and you can get to it by clicking here to view my spam and using “demo” and “demo” as the account and password pair.

If you do check out my spam mailbox – and mornings are a good time to see what the cybercat has dragged in – realize that by dint of where and how my address has shown up on the Internet (I’ve been online since 1980), the character of my email is going to vary somewhat from what other people might receive. Of course, that’s from the smart spammers (and if that’s not an oxymoron, I don’t know what is): most of what I get is more characterized by things like:

  • “88% of men achieved erections in 30 minutes”
  • “Save 79% on printer ink”
  • “Singing mice? Already sold out in stores!”
  • “You can Get MUCH Bigger Breasts, want it? Try now”
  • “This email filter really works formant”

Depressingly, even shunting off my spam into a separate mailbox was still insufficient to meet my needs, yet I cannot just blindly trust SpamAssassin to do what I want: “false positives” still get through occasionally, legit email from friends or colleagues that are classified as spam for one reason or another. So I added a second type of filtering within the showspam program, and that’s what you can turn on and off with the “filter message list” option. On a typical mailbox, it’ll shield 60-75% of the junk there, allowing me to glance through, say, 30 message subjects to verify that nothing in a 110 message spam mailbox is legitimate.

But this all begs the question of what we should do about spam. According to a recent article in BusinessWeek, 7% of people admit to buying something based on unsolicited commercial email. That’s bad. Read up on spammers and you’ll find out that most believe that one response in 100,000 is pretty good, and that’s 0.01%. Imagine if there really is a holy grail, a combination of product and pitch that could garner significantly higher results. It’d only take about a week for every spammer to be using it, and we’d be even worse off.

So my suggested New Year’s resolution for everyone: if you are tempted by a product that you learn about through unsolicited email, do what I do: call the company up and say “I would have purchased your product except for how you informed me about it. Now I will not.” We might be surprised at the results.

2 comments on “Curious what spam looks like? Read mine!

  1. Good morning.
    Picked up your fascinating site (Global Software) from a friend of mine.
    Would loved to have read your spam emails, but the
    demo + demo didn’t seem to work!
    I agree with your last sentence about spam.
    Oddly, my email boxes hardly ever see any now. Aren’t I lucky? Or else I have a very low web presence…

  2. Not sure why the “demo” and “demo” isn’t working: it works for me when I test things, Howard. And aren’t you just the slightest bit anxious when you publicly announce that you’re not getting lots of spam? 🙂

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