November 18, 2006

Spam Killa

When I was in college, many years ago, email was fresh and new. Angry or bored people would sometimes “mail bomb” or “megamail” unsuspecting users on the system. They would send tons of nonsensical emails for the purpose of inconveniencing their intended target. It was mildly funny, but supremely annoying. Friends don’t do that to friends anymore. That’s because we have a whole class of people out there who do it to many of us, a lot of the time, for profit. These “people” (to apply the term loosely) are called spammers.

I want to tell you how much I hate spammers. And then we’re going to have a fun little poll.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a spammer is one who generates spam. Spam is internet lingo for unsolicited and impersonal bulk-generated electronic communications. Usually, these are emails, blog comments or posts on forums. Usually they are associated with promoting something.

Spammers are usually hired by someone to try to get replies from suckers who might buy their products, or they are trying to blanket the internet in an attempt to raise the search engine page rank of their client’s website. But I’m not much interested in their motivations. Suffice it to say, they are motivated by greed.

But my problem with spammers is their effect on my life. Let me list some of these effects.

  1. Over the years, I’ve had to waste a lot of time deleting spam emails. It takes some of the fun out of talking with friends, and it makes working in an email-heavy environment that much harder.
  2. I’ve had to spend time seeking solutions to some overwhelming levels of email spam. Running various spam filters, using disposable email addresses and trying to recall their passwords.
  3. Since I’ve had my blog, I’ve been plagued by spam more and more in the comments. I intended my blog to be an easy place for my friends and readers to comment and have fun, so I’e tried to keep the bar low for commenting. That’s also left the bar low for spammers to jump over. I am constantly spending times deleting spam comments. If you let spam sit on your site, it attracts more spam. You ought to delete it quickly.
  4. I’ve spent lots of time looking for better ways to capture spam. If I didn’t, I’d spend all my time deleting it instead of only 6 times a day. Since I am going to be away from a computer for a few days, I need a better solution. I wasted hours today upgrading my blog software and trying to get an elegant solution working.
  5. Some people dislike spam so much that they place all the burden of handling the problem on their readers, making the readers jump through hoops to prove they’re humans. I’m stupid enough to comply because there are blogs I am unwilling to give up commenting on.

You might say “spam is only annoying” or “spam only wastes some of your time, it’s not so bad.” The way I see it, your time is your most valuable possession. You can never go somewhere to get more time. Dealing with spam steals your time, and it steals enough of that time that I consider spam unforgivable.

Another quick comment about #5 above. I hate those CAPTCHAs. The little tests that make you prove you’re a human. I think I am particularly bad at typing nonsensical strings of characters. Some blog software even makes you prove you’re a human after you’ve already logged on. That’s ridiculous, but it’s an indication of the lengths people are going to to block spam. (And what people will put up with. Can you imagine if you had to pass a stupid test every time ordered a hamburger, or made a phone call?) Never mind the obvious problems for people with certain disabilities, there is something, well, rude about CAPTCHAs.

Recently, Blogger has added an audible CAPTCHA in an effort to make them more accessible. I actually don’t mind those as much, because I find it easier to type numbers that are being read to me rather than to have to discern and type an obfuscated nonsense string of characters. But it’s still annoying.

While I wouldn’t rule out using CAPTCHAs myself, especially if I were blogging more casually, I find the visual ones pretty obnoxious. Add that to my already strong resentment of spammers. Because bloggres are between a rock and a hard place.

I had a day alone today and plenty of things to do. But because I don’t want my blog taken over by spam during the holiday when I will be taking a break from blogging, I had to spend literally hours fiddling with blog software. Time I should have been spending reading, seeing a movie in the cinema, splitting wood, picking up the kitchen, working, writing, cleaning out the Jeep, working out… any number of useful or creative things.

I did get some stuff done after wasting enough time with the blog software.

As I was out back at the woodpile, swinging a maul and splitting logs, a poll occurred to me and I wanted to share it with you all. So here it is. Vote and discuss:

If you had a button that silently and secretly killed a spammer every time you pressed it, how many times would you press it?
I’d only press it once.
It’s press it a few times.
I’d press it once every day.
I’d press it every time I got an email or blog spam.
I’d press it 10 times every time I received an email or blog spam.
I’d press it until my finger got tired, then I’d switch fingers until I ran out of fingers. I would repeat this exercise if I ever got spam again.
Never — I’m no killer. But I might substitute it for the “automatic door” button at the Mall at Xmastime.
Free polls from
Posted by James at November 18, 2006 9:40 PM
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I feel your pain, JP. I blogged about seeking a solution recently. I haven't found a solution. Even using Askimet and other Word Press plugins I find myself deleting between 75 and 150 spam comments and trackbacks each day. Very frustrating. There is a plusing to block IP addresses I want to use called A'po spam, but I can not for the life of me get it to work. :(

Posted by: leslie at November 18, 2006 11:55 PM

Thank you for not using the CAPTCHA things. I hate those. People with cognitive/visual deficits have a hard time using those. Until about 6 months ago, I could not figure out those strings of letters at all, not uncommon for people with brain injuries. If spammers had half as much trouble with those as I do, it might be worth it, but I don't think this is the case.

As for spammers, I chose the door button at the mall. After all, why do I need carpal tunnel?

Posted by: Cindy at November 19, 2006 2:28 AM

OMG... DYING laughing at what a bloodthirsty lot we are!

Posted by: pippa at November 19, 2006 8:19 AM

I hate spam so much I've fantasized about a device that can trace spam backwards through the 'net and cause the computer of origin to fry it's motherboard.

Thanks to CAPTCHAs and the fact that my blog doesn't get read much, I don't get much comment spam. But I do get SCADS of trackback spam. So nice to find spammers posting trackbacks to porn sites on articles where I talk about the death of a family member.

Posted by: Chuck S. at November 19, 2006 10:45 AM

BTW doesn't the little blurb under your blog title come from a spam e-mail? Or something like that?

Posted by: Chuck S. at November 19, 2006 10:46 AM

Yes, sort of. My tagline comes from the email that accompanied a Klez email worm I was sent back in 2003.

It was something like "This game is my first work. I hope you would enjoy it."

For some reason, that cracked me up.

Posted by: James at November 19, 2006 11:06 AM

I wouldn't press the button, because

  1. I'm no killer and
  2. antispam research is my work; spammers' existence gives me job security.
Anyway, I detest the CAPTCHAs too (and also challenge/response systems for email; I will not respond to the challenges). I used the CAPTCHA feature briefly on my blog and then took it off, finding that I get few enough spam comments that I can deal with them by rejecting them before they're posted (I use comment moderation, and I can approve or reject comments from my BlackBerry).

Trackback spam seems to be a worse problem than comment spam, and since Blogger doesn't support trackbacks I guess that's keeping things under control.

Can you imagine if you had to pass a stupid test every time ordered a hamburger
We might have fewer obese kids....

Posted by: Barry Leiba at November 19, 2006 1:12 PM

Anti-spam research is your biz? Thanks for your service toward our continued sanity.

I wanted to have a sign-in system via TypePad here, and give people a choice between that and moderation.

Either you log in and have your comment appear immediately, or don't log in and be subject to a delay because of moderation. However, my MT installation doesn't seem to like the TypePad integration. It doesn't give the logged in people the privileges they were supposed to have. So that went out the window.

A combination solution has the advantage of giving people some choice in the matter. And if I could get that to work without spending even more time on it, I would.

Posted by: James at November 19, 2006 6:57 PM

Chuck, I have had the exact same fantasy. :-)

Not being a killer either, I've decided to multitask those mall door buttons. But I don't see any reason to limit it to Xmas.

Posted by: Julie at November 20, 2006 9:52 AM

I would rather press a button that caused the spammer pain. I think people have the ability to reform (well, most people) and if you press the button that causes the spammer pain and said spammmer knows this is why he/she is being caused pain, that's fine.

1. The spammer "spams."
2. I press a button that will cause said spammer pain.
3. Said spammer feels pain and also receives a message from me explaining the pain he/she has just felt is because of the spam he/she has distributed, and that the pain will increase each time he/she sends forth spam.

See? A chance for the bad to reform and I get to punish without killing.

Posted by: Patti M. at November 20, 2006 10:42 AM

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