Monday, August 3, 2009

Zero Spam

Zero has a nice sound to it, doesn't it? This is especially true when it comes to e-mail. Michael Hyatt is a big fan of a zero inbox. So am I, but that isn’t the zero I’m talking about today. For several days now, I’ve been enjoying zero spam. By this I mean that I open up my inbox and there is nothing there but e-mail that I want to be there. Considering that my inbox represents five e-mail addresses, all of which I readily give out over the Internet, this is no small task, but it is do able.

Spam is a numbers game. Spammers make money by sending out billions of copies of an e-mail, knowing that only a few will produce results, but if they can get a few thousand to respond then it makes it all worth while. They prey on the weak and greedy. Apparently, the people who respond to spam are interested in cheap Viagra, foreign lotteries and widows who want to give them millions of dollars, or we wouldn’t see so many of these things. It is a waste of spammers’ resources for them to include me in their mailing lists, since I delete it all and worse, I black list them.

A few weeks ago, the people who have been spamming me must have updated their systems or something because I began getting a ton of spam. Prior to that, it wasn’t so bad that I cared to do more than just delete it and go on, but the number spam in my inbox got to the point it was unmanageable, I decided that I needed to be more diligent about filtering it out. One way to do this is to do what I used to do, which is to create a folder in Microsoft Outlook called Unknown E-mail or something similar and create a rule that dumps everything that comes in into that folder except for those from people from a list of e-mail addresses that you choose. This is a quick and easy method and you need only scan the Unknown E-mail folder every few days to see if you have received a non-spam e-mail from someone who isn’t on the list. Each time you do, simply add that person to the list and you won’t miss that person again. This works well for most people, since we seldom receive e-mail from people we don’t know, but it isn’t such a good idea for writers, since they hope to receive fan mail from people they haven’t met yet.

My solution has been that each time I receive a spam message, I look at the e-mail address to verify that it hasn’t been sent as if from an e-mail address of a friend and I add the sender to the Blocked Senders List. The immediate effect of this is that the next time I receive an e-mail from that e-mail address (which may or may not be an e-mail address owned by the spammer), it goes to the Junk E-mail folder. This keeps it out of my inbox, but it doesn’t reduce the time required to download e-mail, since I am still receiving spam, I just don’t see it. To solve that problem, I periodically export the Blocked Senders List to a text file and I add the addresses to the blocked e-mail addresses on the server. Since I manage e-mail accounts for other people as well, the effect of this is that if you spam me, you will be black listed not only for my e-mail accounts, but for the e-mail accounts of several other people.

Black listing e-mail addresses doesn’t completely solve the problem. For the remaining spam, I create rules that search for specific key phrases. For example, if you are selling Viagra, you probably don’t have a chance of getting in my inbox. If the to and from e-mail addresses are the same, the e-mail will not make it into my inbox.

Spam only works because people are greedy. If everyone would strive to get their spam to zero and would refuse to respond to spammers then spammers wouldn’t make enough money to pay their expenses.