Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dumpster diving

Do you ever check your spam folder? Most of us have set up some kind of protocol to protect ourselves from spam. You probably have a folder into which suspected spam gets diverted by your email app. Do you ever check what's in it before purging it?

I have found that, in between the offers for viagra and various other products that promise to enlarge a body part I don't possess to begin with, a few other fish have been caught in that net.

Of course, there is junk mail that comes from various suppliers who have my address because I am their customer. Not strictly spam, but I'm usually happy for those to get dumped.

But occasionally, just occasionally, an email of consequence will find itself peremptorily identified as spam and sectioned off within my spam folder. I recently rescued an invitation to tender out of my spam folder.

Let's face it, whatever algorithm is being used to identify spam isn't going to be 100% accurate. So it's worth just checking what's in there before hitting 'empty spam folder'.

There was an occasion a while back when I felt I had something deep and meaningful to say in response to one of Stephen Downes's blog posts (in as far as anything I say is deep and meaningful, of course), but when I hit 'submit' it told me that I was spam and I should go away... literally. He has genuinely set up a response along the lines of "That's spam. Go away." Quite restrained, I thought.

I tried wording my comment slightly differently, with the same result. I ruefully decided to take it as a 'Sign' and backed off. Presumably I had used a word that had set the alarm bells ringing. No big deal: if what I had had to say had really been deep and meaningful, no doubt I could have contacted Stephen some other way to say it. The point I am trying to make is that no automated screening process is flawless.

It's worth bearing in mind that our sophisticated systems are still not quite up to the vagaries of human communication, and not to abdicate all responsibility to the automated process.

Of course, what you don't want to do is go opening those messages that have been set aside as spam. But it's worth just checking the senders and subjects before emptying the folder... just in case!

It'll be interesting to see if the repeated use of the word "spam" in this post brings your system's virtual bouncers down in it... although I can't imagine that real spam admits to it. That would be a bit like a peeping Tom wearing a sandwich board advertising his hobby.

No comments: