Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This Eagle Feeds On Spam

When I got to Brown, I felt a grand opportunity to reclaim my mailbox from spammers. My Rice email address was all over the Internet, and this was in the era before even decent spam filters. So at Brown, I began to hand out unique addresses (using plus-addressing). At last count I had handed out over 202 distinct addresses, until I ran into too many sites that refused plus-addressing (and I stopped worrying so much about email in the first place).

Well, boy, was that a failure.

Over time, only one email address has ever been abused, and that too, only once. By corporations, that is. On the other hand, one group of spammers has made my mailbox hell by treating each of these addresses as distinct and sending me multiple copies of the same thing. Those spammers would, of course, be the most shameless hustlers of the Internet: academics trying to disseminate conference announcements. (I recently tracked down that the worst abusers are the logic programming community. And there seems to have been some innocent or malicious collusion with ETAPS 2006.)

So it was with some surprise that I recently saw spam addressed to a unique address I created all the way back in February 2004. And I was deeply saddened to see that it's the address I gave to my favorite hotel—the Adler—in one of my favorite cities, Zürich. That's right: a quality, discreet hotel in a city that pride itself on its discretion in a country that makes a living of discretion...sends spam!

For shame, Hotel Adler.

Next, my Swiss bank will be generating gaudy low-initial-interest-rate credit-card offers and selling my account information to florists.

4 comments:

Alex said...

I really enjoyed reading your take on this new way of handling e-mail. I think you should check out OtherInbox, a new email service that fits right in line with what you are discussing.

With OtherInbox, each user receives their own domain name (username.otherinbox.com) and proceeds to give out personalized addresses to each site or service (amazone@username.otherinbox.com, etc.)

OtherInbox then automatically organizes these addresses, allowing the user to manage their email and, if necessary, block an address that is receiving too much spam.

It is currently in a private beta, but this URL will give you (and 25 of your readers) a chance to try it out.

http://beta.otherinbox.com/signup/stickywicket

Feel free to try the service out, and we look forward to finding out what you and your readers think.

Thanks!

~The OtherInbox Team

Shriram Krishnamurthi said...

Ol' Alex here apparently didn't even bother reading my message, or he'd have seen the part that said “Well, boy, was that a failure”. Or the subsequent part, which said how annoying it is to have multiple email addresses.

Sure enough, on Google Blog Search, this article is the first hit under ‘“plus addressing” spam’.

I'm annoyed by this blatant attempt at faux-sympathetic marketing, so I'm commenting to suggest that you not use this service. It'll just cause you pain. (But you already knew that from reading the actual blog entry.)

Alex said...

Shriram,

I apologize, but I didn't mean to unnecessarily spam you. I did read your article, and what I personally got out of it was your frustrations in the limitations of the "plus addressing" model. We discuss this in more detail at this URL, if you'd like to take a look:

http://blog.otherinbox.com/2008/09/why-not-use-gma.html

I realize how annoying it would be to have so many different addresses, especially when they don't do you any good. Personally, I believe that OtherInbox is by far the most complete and worthwhile solution to the very same problem you were experiencing.

Once again, I apologize if I came off as a spamming marketer. The invitation to try out the beta is obviously still open if you'd like to take a look.

- Alex

Shriram Krishnamurthi said...

Alex,

Thanks for your kind response.

Frankly, if I thought your solution would work for me, I'd have just registered a vanity domain, forwarded all email to me, and separated it out as necessary. But I didn't think it would help with my needs, so I didn't.

Nevertheless, anyone for whom that solution would work, it does sound like your system might be a better way to go about implementing it...except that if I used a vanity domain I would control it, whereas username.otherinbox.com is owned by you, so if your terms change and I want to leave you, we might have a bit of an issue.

I guess the bottom-line is you've nicely automated something that any competent Web user could do for themselves for the benefit of those who can't do it for themselves (the other 90%). That's nice. The trade-off is they'd be stuck with your domain name in their email address. The other 90% might not notice, or might not care. And so long as that's true, you've got a great business.