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 Post subject: The death of email as a reliable communications media...
PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2006 4:15 pm 
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... or how to shoot yourself in the foot.

Up until recently spam hadn't been much more than an *extremely* annoying inconvenience. Unfortunately this situation seems to be changing rapidly for the worse, and it's not the disease that's killing the patient, but the cure!

Email always was a reliable means of communication, in which you knew for sure that if a message could not be delivered you would at least get a bounce back message informing you of the problem.

With the increasing amount of spam chances that your message was confused by the human receiver as spam and deleted without being read increased a little bit, but the odds were still meaningless.

Then people and ISPs started fighting back, people mostly with spam filters and ISPs with spam blacklists. The problem is that spammers were now spoofing return email addresses, so bouncing back the message to the 'original' sender was considered pointless and didn't accomplish much more than just creating large amounts of additional traffic. The result is that a message interpreted as spam (or coming from a domain known to generate spam) now gets 'swallowed' into a big blackhole.

This would be all fine and dandy if spam filters and spam blacklists were 100% fool proof. But alas, they are anything but! Consider this:

My ISP is, the larger provider of broadband in Portugal. They offer fixed IP addresses within their allotted domain IP ranges to companies who need it to run their own email servers, etc... The problem is that some of these companies leave their email servers configured as open email relays. Spammers take advantage of this and use their email servers to relay spam to the whole world (thus making it look like the spam originated from that particular IP). Users on the receiving end complain and the whole domain gets blacklisted!

To compound this problem, there are several spam blacklists out there. Some ISPs use blacklist x, others blacklist y, others none at all and so on. My ISP's domain might be blacklisted in list x but not in y. The maintainers of these lists aren't exactly fast at fixing problems like this on their end either, which is understandable in a way given the flood of email they must get every day.

The end result of this is that when I send an email to a customer, if their ISP is using a blacklist in which the domain has been flagged as a source of spam, the message is swallowed right there and then with no indication of failure! The customer is unaware that I sent them a message and I am unaware that the message never got to them!

Now take the personal spam filters. Most people install them and leave them at their default settings... Not being technologically minded, they couldn't care less about what is actually happening, they just feel very happy that the amount of spam they received has decreased exponentially and leave it at that. Unknown to them, larger and larger amounts of legit messages are also being blocked by their spam filters.

They then get very upset with the software vendor when they fail to get their order notification and registrations keys (which are actually sitting right there in the middle of all those blocked messages) and even more when their complaints seem to be ignored (I reply to them, but they never get my replies because, once again, my replies are being blocked by their spam filter). I have no practical means of communicating with these people because they effectively managed to block me off - I can't even tell them to go to my company's message board instead. They actually shot themselves in the foot and don't even know it!

So, email is now turning into a very unreliable means of doing business. I can never be sure if a customer got my messages or not, unless he actually gives me some feedback. This of course, ends up hurting all of us. The customer is upset, with nothing to show for his money, and we become frustrated because all our attempts to communicate with him end up in nothing.

It really can't get much worse than this... The ultimate result of spam is the death of email as a reliable communications media and all the consequences that will come from this. And it couldn't be more ironic that it is actually the cure that is giving it the final blow, not spam by itself.

Jorge Coelho
Winstep Xtreme - Xtreme Power! - Winstep Software Technologies

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2006 11:55 am 
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Joined: Tue Jun 28, 2005 10:35 pm
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Location: Australia
Very good points. It's easy to assume that your email was received and ignored. From a user's point of view, I'm also guilty of being glad my spam filters have reduced the amount if mail I get.

I think personal message systems on forums like this and websites like deviantART and Skinbase etc are great ideas. Less convenient, but at the moment more reliable.

Because skinning should be fun!

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