One thing many folks don’t seem to fully grasp is that if you want to be available, that is to say, if you want people to contact you, then you must allow spam in your life. I hate these Russian-originated stock quote spam emails as much as you, but it is a necessary evil in order that people can conveniently have an email address.

Often, I’ll see blog postings and various tech magazines give a list of dozens of ways to control spam. It is quite often more time-consuming and frustrating to implement those ideas than it is to just let spam take its course.

One idea I see frequently is the idea of posting your email address in cryptic terms. Instead of simply posting my email as a standard hyperlink - as I do on every page of my blog in the right-hand column as lawrence@salberg.org - they suggest doing something tricky like lawrence @ salberg . org, or maybe lawrence AT salberg DOT org. My problem with that is two-fold. First, most harvesting bots are growing wise to this sort of thing and it is only slowing them down just a little until they catch on. Second, it is confusing, possibly, to the people that I DO want to contact me - some of whom may not be computer-savvy enough to figure it out. And even when they do, they now run the risk of a spelling error as they retype it in their email program. Not everyone uses Ctrl-C (copy) and Ctrl-V (paste) as many hundreds of times per day as you or I might. This also goes for suggestions about turning your email address into a graphic.

If you are running a business, or are a key-player in a business, it is especially important you keep your email address very public and accessible. No one wants to be seen as a shirk, and you’ll have to spend a lot of time, and possibly some money, to go through a bunch of hoops. It is usually easier for you, and more preferable for people who have good reason to contact you, for you to just put your email as a standard hyperlink on your website - or other sites where you maintain a presence.

I currently have 25 email addresses (personal and business) that Thunderbird (my email client) checks about every 30-60 minutes (depending on the address). Out of those, at least five are fairly public email addresses - posted on various websites. I also manages about 70 additional email addresses for clients and others, so I’m used to dealing with spam. Quite frequently, I get the same spam email in four or five boxes in a single download of email. And Yahoo and Gmail have their own spam filters which are inconsistent at best.

Thunderbird does an okay job of filtering the spam. With Thunderbird, I appreciate the lack of false positives - when an important email goes into a spam or junk folder. I would rather have more spam, than worry about an email from a client or friend disappearing into my junk folder. I rarely check my junk folder - and I have it set to dispose of all emails over 30 days old.

And of course, the spam plug-in Akismet helps to keep my blog here free of spam comments. After switching to Wordpress back in February 2006, I’ve received over 1,700 spam comments.

My strong feeling, unfortunately, is that to combat spam more effectively, website owners and hosts are going to have to make some tough decisions about allowing inbound traffic from certain foreign IP addresses. Nearly 99% of my blog comment spam comes from out of the United States. And I’m pretty sure most of my regular email spam originates from outside the U.S. as well. IP addresses are assigned in ranges based on country - and I particularly have no problem blocking certain countries as Pakistan and Russia. While there is a slim possibility that good folks or U.S. soldiers might be trying to access my website from some such country, there really isn’t anything that important (or useful) on any of my websites for people living overseas.

Although these folks do take over U.S.-based computers for zombie attacks, this is decreasing and becoming less rare. But computers in other countries still running Windows 95 with no firewall or spyware detection programs are an easy target for these spamlords to initiate their spam - or their email harvesting bots.

The bottom line is this. Before you go sweating your “12 Steps” for reducing spam, seriously consider how much time it takes for you to delete (or “mark as junk”) those emails every day. If you are spending less than two minutes per day as I am, most of the techniques will cost you far more time than you’ll save in a year - and spammers will just change their techniques anyway. You’ll be revisiting those tips and tricks every three to six months anyway. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for a very long time. And time is all I’ve lost - and the occasional important email - but not spam. It has been with me all along.

Technorati Tags: spam - email - blogging - comments

Posted in: Blogging & Small Business