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ISSUE 487: The high tech office- Feb 23 1999

ALAN ZISMAN

Most spam may be bland or even tasteless,
but junk e-mail can also serve a purpose

How many e-mail message do you get in a typical day?

I get about 50, making me, by some estimates, a moderate-user. Most are one or another sort of mass-mailings.

That doesn't make them junk mail, necessarily. Some of those are news releases, from companies seemingly desperate for a mention in this column. All of those get at least a brief scan, and some get filed away for future follow-up. (A hint -- make your subject line count. Calling your message "Press Release" is unlikely to grab my attention. But don't call it "Free Sex" when it isn't. That won't get your message taken seriously.)

Many of my mass-mailed messages are from mailing lists to which I have subscribed -- a way that I try to keep on top of the ever-changing technology world to better serve you, dear reader. And while sometimes repetitive, these mailing lists are one of the most powerful tools of the Internet and one of which many of your businesses should be making use.

If your business has a Web page, if you have a product line, a customer base, a catalogue, if you ever have sales, then you should consider setting up an e-mail mailing list. This gives you a way to keep in touch with your customers regularly at far less cost then using traditional mail. The key to doing this successfully is to include information that your readers can use -- and make it voluntary. Always provide information about how a reader can subscribe to the mailing list and, most importantly, how they can have their address removed from the list. Let visitors to your Web page know about the mailing list and don't send more than a single message to anyone who hasn't actively signed up. (Assuming you want to mass-mail more than a couple of dozen ad-
dresses, talk to your Internet Service Provider about the actual mechanics of setting up and maintaining a
mailing list.)

About five to 10 per cent of the messages I receive each day can kindly be referred to as "unsolicited mass mailings." Junk e-mail. Spam, in Internet vernacular.

Surprisingly, spam seems to create more passion among many Net users than plain old junk mail or junk fax, perhaps because e-mail is a newer medium and most people don't yet take it for granted. Personally, I'm more offended by junk faxes, which force me to waste my (personal or business) money and resources printing out a copy of an unwanted message. Junk e-mail is relatively easy to delete from my Inbox, and dealing with it takes only a few seconds a day.

I haven't been deleting my spam-mail. Instead, since October, I've been saving it in a special folder, to see what I could learn from it. Not surprisingly, some of the messages are offering sexually oriented services, but more are about making money. Investment opportunities. Clean up credit histories. How to become a spammer -- I mean a direct e-mailer. In other words, offering to sell a CD-ROM with literally millions of guaranteed accurate e-mail addresses, so that I, too, can send unsolicited sales messages worldwide.

Some people suggest not replying to spam, that doing so merely verifies that your e-mail address is live and increases the amount of junk mail you receive. Recent U.S. legislation aimed at controlling junk e-mail seems, instead, to have "legalized" it. A few messages include a paragraph quoting the act, as if that makes them legitimate. Since that legislation, many message include a "you can remove yourself from this mailing list by..." note, but most of the Remove responses I've sent have bounced back with a failed delivery message.

Personally, more than anything else I'm more amused by this wave of junk e-mail. It certainly hasn't motivated me to buy anything. Would you invest in a stock based on a tip received from hkdeiruyjhgsald@
et.net
? On the other hand, wiggles
@mci.com
with a message titled "Watch me Wiggle" may have more credibility. Spammer promote4u@
canadianmail.com
suggests that "companies will spend over $2 Billion on Direct E-mail in 2001" but if so, I can't believe it will generate anything near that in income.

I tried a number of e-mail utilities promising to control spam and, frankly, couldn't find any to recommend. You can avoid listing your address in massive e-mail address lists like 411.com. And if you use Usenet message groups, set up your software to embed junk characters in your e-mail return address -- mine becomes azisman#
@#home.com
, along with an automatic signature line suggesting that readers remove the #'s if they wish to contact you. That way, the automated "bots" cruising the Net to harvest e-mail addresses just add
a non-existent address to their
collection. *



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan