I just sent the following to an email list that has recently been discussing various anti-spam technologies:

Spam is fundamentally a social problem, not a technological problem. No amount of clever technology can end spam as long as there are still significant numbers of people out there who indicate through their purchases that they want to receive spam. The BBC reports: According to a survey conducted by security firm Mirapoint and market research company the Radicati Group, nearly a third of e-mail users have clicked on links in spam messages.

Imagine it costs $100 to send a million spam messages (though it doesn't cost nearly that much), and each message is selling a product with a $20 markup. Only six of those million messages need to get through to a willing consumer to keep spam profitable. And those six people will never be using Bayesian filters or whatever other nifty tools we can come up with, because they don't even recognize a problem with spam. And those six people will also never self-identify, because they are embarrassed about their purchases.

So spammers can only reach them through mass emailing, and the rest of us suffer the consequences. I don't know of any current anti-spam technology that does anything to deal with those six people.

I'd like to see more economists and sociologists look at changing the factors that make spam the most desirable way to purchase certain products. Why do people buy propecia via spam rather than at their local pharmacy, and what could be done to change that? I think that's a more useful question to answer than how to quickly recognize "v14gr4" as a variant of "viagra."


Earlier this month, Phil Rignalda wrote a post titled "Planetary Damage," the damage being that individuals like Danny Ayers don't feel the need to write about things that show up on sites like Planet RDF. I, like Phil, read Danny and Shelley Powers but not Planet RDF, so if Danny or Shelley don't write about something in the world of RDF, I don't read it. Planet sites run the risk of forming closed communities in which the only people reading about a technology are those already using it. And that's one form of planetary damage

I experienced another sort today when something I wrote (which I thought was about screencasts) made its way onto Planet Lisp. My comments on Lisp weren't altogether positive, and that brought the fanboys out to tell me how evil I am for hating Lisp. The thing is, I don't hate Lisp. I don't even care about Lisp. I know next to nothing about Lisp. I certainly don't belong on Planet Lisp. Planet PHP, maybe. Planet JavaScript would be a stretch. But Planet Lisp? That's just ridiculous. In this case, I wish the community were a bit more closed, with the only people writing about a technology being those who are already using it.