January 11, 2008


We have a word for unsolicited emails that advertise products and services: “spam.”

But I get a lot of emails that aren’t spam, but aren’t as interesting as an email from any of my friends. These are emails that may or may not be solicited, and even if they are things I signed up for, they may not be something I want to read every day. For example, email from lists that I only want to read infrequently, alerts on deals, alerts on news, alerts on Google searches, semi-work-related newsletters, etc.

Some of these are time sensitive, some are not. Most of them, I have learned from experience, will either interest me right away, or will never be read. Often, saving them means just cluttering up my inbox, because I will never go back and read them. I call this larger class of non-interesting messages “cruft.”

Spam, of course, gets deleted right away. Cruft may linger, but when I’m busy and get that urge to skim my inbox, I resist the urge to ignore it and take some satisfaction in just deleting it outright, watching the signal to noise ratio in my inbox rise.

Netflix DVD sent notification? Deleted. (The message is all in the subject already.)

Notification from Facebook or MySpace? Deleted (They never contain the actual message anyhow — I’ll have to log in to read it and so I’m not deleting anything useful.)

Blog Comment notifications? Deleted (The actual comment is already on my blog.)

Notes from John Kerry, Move On, Howard Dean, the DNC? Deleted. (Sorry, guys, but I pretty much know what the message says and I don’t have time to read it.)

Really, almost anything that isn’t personal, work-related, or of future reference value could be considered cruft, but some mail is cruftier than other mail. Or it becomes obvious as cruft sooner.

Months ago, I went on a spree and unsubcribed from a large number of little notifications and things. It’s really cut down on my cruft. But I kept a few. it’s partly because they are useful. But I also think it’s partly because I get some satisfaction deleting the cruft. Work-related email is often such a drag that I enjoy seeing I have three messages, none of which are at all interesting and can immediately be deleted.

I remember a time when I was practically overjoyed to get a couple of electronic messages in a day. That time was called “1985-1991.” Is it a message from my hot girlfriend, some gossip from a friend, a joke from BITnet, or something else entirely? I can’t wait to read it!

Today, I don’t mind spending time away from email… or I would if I could get away with it. I shudder to think of having to go through days of work-related email. No wonder people set up vacation responses.

Do you mentally separate your email into categories? I’m not talking about just sorting the mail with a filter in some application, I mean have you named the different mental categories of email, based on your attitude toward those messages? Do you have your own concept and/or name for cruft?

Posted by James at January 11, 2008 12:39 AM
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The tech world has dubbed signed-up-for SPAM as BAC'N.


(link is for Buzzwords from NYTimes Week in Review 12/23/08)

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at January 11, 2008 6:22 AM

I get a ton of spam from people who insist "it isn't spam" because they're in my industry and signed me up to their constant-contact list. Like some new wedding planner or videographer who will send me "newsletters" or "happy holidays" messages or something else in a blatant attempt to "network" and get me to recommend them.

Somehow because they took the effort to manually add my name to their list and aren't advertising cheap viagra, that it isn't spam.

Posted by: David grenier at January 11, 2008 10:29 AM

I unsubscribe from cruft, and I set up rules to automatically funnel baby photos, glurge, jokes and group letters from my aunt to the Trash.

Posted by: Mike at January 11, 2008 10:39 AM

Ditto what Mike said. The only cruft I welcome, maybe, is when my credit union lets me know that my paycheck has been deposited.

I get a few newsletters from websites I like that don't have RSS feeds, so that I don't have to keep checking the website to see if there's anything new that interests me. This is sort of cruftish, but I don't mind it much.

And I have a handful (grand total maybe five) of google news notifications and amazon notifications that almost never get triggered - I set those up to track things that I otherwise would definitely not find out about otherwise. I am usually glad when these show up, even if they turn out to be false alarms.

I don't consider blog comment notification emails to be unwelcome, because I don't visit my own blogs very often. :)

But all other non-social, non-work email is unwelcome. I avoid signing up for anything else and opt out whenever possible.

I don't need a notification that an electronic copy of my bill or statement is available online - I know that and in most cases prefer to get that stuff on paper anyway. But I still get these notifications. And there are a couple of things I signed up for a LONG time ago that I can't figure out how to unsub from, like Classmates. (Forgot my password, don't care enough to try to log in and ask them to email it back to me.) I have a filter that sends that crap straight to the trash.

And I have a folder called "killfile" (not a true killfile) in Yahoo. I filter all forwarded emails, and all emails from certain people, to that folder so I can review the subject lines before I delete them. Sometimes I still read the forwarded stuff and emails from certain people, but going to the killfile folder first seems to prepare me mentally for the eye-rolling that may ensue.

Yahoo's spam filter works pretty well, fortunately. Unfortunately, it can't filter the stuff that I grab from my verizon account, which is constantly receiving spam, despite verizon's overzealous spam filters that sometimes block legitimate mail.

Posted by: Julie at January 11, 2008 11:15 AM

MJ - that's a great link. I ought to have included it in this week's shotgun post. Maybe I'll save it for a whole blog post, just commenting on the words. Thanks!

Posted by: James at January 11, 2008 1:20 PM

I remember bitnet! *sigh* Good times.

Posted by: briwei at January 12, 2008 12:45 AM

Because It's Time!

Posted by: James at January 12, 2008 1:33 AM

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