Thursday, December 07, 2006


A recent article said that about 90% of the world's email traffic is now spam.

That's too modest a figure.

In my case, I probably receive anywhere from five to ten legitimate emails per day-- from family, friends, Smoo staffers, and sundry readers of this blog. That's not much email-- a modest trickle at best.

But the spam...

I probably get about 400 spam mails a day. The problem doesn't worry me too much because I've got Satan, my lovely spam filter, which operates according to the following rule:

"If email subject line DOES NOT contain phrase 'HAIRY CHASMS,' send to trash."

I had the same rule on my old Hotmail account, and it worked like a charm. Hotmail was actually more ruthless than Google's Gmail: a trashed email simply disappeared (whether Hotmail still operates this way, I don't know), and the above-quoted rule was applied the way I had hoped it would be: the sender needed to include the exact phrase "hairy chasms" to get through the filter.

Gmail is more lenient. First, a trashed email isn't automatically deleted. You can sift through your trash to find emails mistakenly sent by friends who've forgotten to include the magic words. That's a blessing and a curse-- a blessing in that I'm happy to rescue that friend's email, and a curse in that it's a minor pain to root through hundreds of chunks of crap to find one or two salvageable items.

Second, Gmail's interpretation of the filter command is what I believe to be a Boolean "OR." A person sending me an email can get past my spam filter by writing any of the following phrases:

hairy chasms

So an invisible "and/or" lurks between "hairy" and "chasms" in Gmail's mind.

Luckily, almost all the spam I receive contains neither "hairy" nor "chasms" in the subject line. I've used Gmail since June 3, 2004; during that time, only two or three pieces of spam have ever managed to find their way into my in-box. That's 99.99% effectiveness.

But if my trash is filled daily with 400 pieces of junk, and I receive an average of 7.5 kosher emails a day, then the percentage of spam, for me, is:

400 divided by 407.5 = 98.2%

So-- 98 percent of my mail is spam. Luckily, thanks to my spam filter, almost none of it (that is to say, only 0.01% of it) reaches my in-box.


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