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October 13, 2003

Signal to Noise

I get a lot of spam, which is the result of having my e-mail address out there on the Internet. And I was wondering just exactly how much spam I get, and how it compares to actual e-mail (that is e-mail from real people and/or companies with which I do legitimate business). So for fun I've decided to do a little experiment. At 12:03 am this morning I cleared my e-mail of random crap; between now and next Sunday at 11:59 pm I will store rather than instantly delete every piece of junk mail I get. We'll see just how much actually piles up in a week. My guess will be somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 pieces of spam.

(this little observation will not include the AOL addresses I have, which at this point are used strictly for business relating to the By The Way AOL Journal)

As a point of reference, between 12:03 and 6:38 am today, I've already accrued 117 pieces of spam -- and two legitimate e-mails, which means I get one piece of "real" e-mail for every 58 pieces of spam. This ratio, I'm willing to bet, will drop somewhat over the week, but it's still going to remain rather high. I used to get more e-mail from people, relative to spam, but three things have happened over the last several months: One, the amount of spam has increased somewhat. Two, I've added comments to the Whatever, so much of what would come to me as e-mail is now left as comments. Three, I've noticed that many of the people I know appear to be e-mailing less. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, although I do assume it's not just that I've suddenly become personally unpopular. I'm wondering how many people are simply just giving up on trying to fight through all the spam to reach people by e-mail.

The one bit of good news here is that dealing with spam has become slightly easier recently; the e-mail program I use has a reasonably good spam filter which catches 98% of the crap and 98% of the rest of the time I can tell from the subject header whether it's spam or not. So the time I spend clearing out spam has gone down rather a bit in the last few months. I suspect at least a couple of e-mails from real people have gone down the spam trap tube; I check addresses and subject lines before I delete, but you never know.

I think this will become a convenient excuse for people who choose not to answer e-mails; I think "it must have gone into my spam trap" will become the e-mail version of "my answering machine must be broken" or "I'm entering a tunnel" on the phone. I don't use it that way, however. Honest.

Posted by john at October 13, 2003 06:56 AM

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