Mailbag: Fighting spam on the front lines

* Your tricks for fighting spam

Antispam software makers have nothing on the readers of this newsletter. The suggestions I received for fighting spam were creative, yet practical. Frankly, I think frustration gives birth to imagination and that's what we're seeing with our overloaded in-boxes.

One reader offered up a tremendous solution that seems a no-brainer if the time and liability you are suffering because of spam is getting too costly. "How about restricting receipt of e-mail to those addresses that are in my personal or a corporate e-mail address book?"

He adds: "It would eliminate most spam and refocus e-mail usage between people that have business or personal relationships." His idea of the perfect spam-fighting tool would also feature a way for e-mail senders to apply to be part of his address book.

Another reader suggests something along the same lines: an e-mail service that requires membership. "What about creating a parallel, moderated e-mail system that would only accept e-mail from members?" he asks.  "Membership applications would be handled at a domain level (e.g. acmeproducts.com) based on a no-spam agreement. Members who violate the no-spam agreement would be kicked out (and possibly [have] a forfeiture of an application deposit)."

I, myself, like the idea of a system that requires you to "know" who is sending messages to you. I think a bit of both systems would make for an excellent tool. However, the management headaches could become quite enormous as you're dependent on users deciding who is an "acceptable" member of the e-mail community.

Another reader suggests a minimal fee for sending e-mail. "I think that snail mail might actually provide a useful framework for thinking about this problem," he says.  "For example, if the Postal Service would deliver for free any type and amount of marketing material, we would obviously get tons more junk mail than we do now. The fact that junk mail senders have to pay a certain amount of money serves to limit what they send.  It's basic economics: as long as e-mail is a free good, with zero marginal cost, there is a compelling rationale to send ever more spam." 

He goes on to say that companies should be willing to assume a minimal cost for sending e-mail so that they can regain productivity levels lost due to spam. "Again, it's basic economics: a price of 0 for e-mail shifts all of its costs onto users, and the solution lies in coming up with a way to shift some of the costs onto senders."

Finally, my favorite comment is from a frequent respondent to this newsletter. He recommends highlighting all of your messages for deletion and then checking off the ones you want to keep. He claims this goes much faster than trying to figure out which ones to trash.

What do you think? Let me know at sgittlen@nww.com

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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