23, 2002 Volume 2 Issue 7
A good look at spam
It's taken me a while to 'understand' spam.
Oh, I've written about it. In some detail in this E-zine last November.
(If you'd like a review, "click here" Spam
... more than what's in the can to go to the full article.)
Still, as long as there is a 'delete' button on my keyboard, I've
not had a big problem with it.
Spam is a problem. Earthnet reports of the 2 billion (that's 'B' as
in Billion) E-mails that float through their system daily (that's
'D' as in Daily!), a full one-quarter of them are spam. Further, my
WebMaster Bill Blinn, has taken a strong stance against spam (see
his sidebar comments below). And taught me a lot - including why it's
so different from "junk" direct mail - and other marketing
So, for a week late in May and another in June I kept track of all
spam that arrived un-announced and un-invited into my E-mail mailbox.
Just to see how 'bad' it really is. Not the content ... I did no evaluations
this time ... the quantity only. This is what I learned.
The big boys, such as AOL and Earthnet and the like, do a little something
to filter spam before it gets to you and me. I do not ... I use no
filters. The kids in my life are long gone - so that isn't an issue.
Sure, it might be possible to reduce the number of E-mails I receive
every day ... I've decided I'd rather see what is happening then eliminate
Within the first 48 hours of my test it was fairly obvious my spam
came in just a few categories. To see if it made any difference, I
began keeping track of 7 groupings by day of the week. As well as
by category. This is what I received;
| Day of Week & Day
| Health &
| Sat ( 40)
| Sun (28)
| Mon (29)
| Tue (30)
| Wed (38)
| Thur (38)
| Fri (41)
| Category & Week
The biggest surprise was there so little sex and porn aimed my way.
Less than 13% of the 244 total messages. Ditto the telecommunications
and casino people. For all the ink these 3 groups get I thought I'd
receive a lot more. When I do this again I'll continue to count the
sex category and gaming, not telecommunications.
In the catch-all category the biggest group was the travel industry.
Enough to stand on its' own, with a dozen or more.
The people who have a money service to sell you are very active. Credit
cards, mortgage and insurance especially. Next time I'll divide these
into smaller units.
Those selling something were also in your face day after day. Most
with products costing less than $50. Many offerings to help you fulfill
your every office equipment need. Photography and entertainment/music
brought another good size collection.
As I began I had no idea what day of the week I'd get the most spam.
What happened was the weekends came on strong. Friday and Saturday
were the big days. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday were the slowest, about
equal each day. Wednesday and Thursday were the same - more than early
in the week, less than the week-end.
In the beginning I kept track of the number of spam messages that
arrived every hour. And then I stopped. Because there was no pattern.
If there was any pattern it was pretty even all day and all night.
Not a splurge overnight (which I'd expected). No more at 7 in the
morning vs. 7 in the evening. Guess spam is "good" anytime
of the day.
Let's change the pace ... what are the numbers? Which is what drives
spam ... numbers. So, what are they? In a recent article about Land's
End being bought by Sears, these statistics from Forrester Research
In the United States 126 million people are online, with 105 million
E-mailing from home and 50 million sending e-mail from work. New campaigns
feature video games, coded coupons and streaming audio and video,
as well as tracking E-mail forwarding is commonplace.
On the business side, companies poured $927 million into E-mail marketing
in 2001 ... up 87% from 2000. The Direct Marketing Association says
two-thirds of these companies reported increased overall sales from
their E-mail efforts. Last year E-mail generated 15% of online sales,
up from 3% in 2000.
With numbers like this spam can be - and is! - big business.
The first week of my study was from late May. Now let's look at a
week in early June. Where I expanded the categories, based on the
earlier week. Same 7 days, beginning on Saturday, ending the following
|| Credit/ money
| Office stuff
|| Home entertain
Right away I see a difference between week one and week two ... categories.
What happened one week did not happen two weeks later. Have no idea
why. Different categories made an impact.
Something the same were the financial messages (credit, mortgage,
insurance). When grouped together in week two they equal 60. Week
one they were 61
The catch-all category in week two included a number of automobile
products and services. Several contests were offered. Travel dropped
to 3 or 4 offers. Travel was a group that was much bigger in week
one - close to a dozen messages. It could be these spam guys know
something the rest of us don't. My guess is they're just throwing
mud at the wall.
What I also noticed was a "steady" supply through-out the
day. About the same number arrived overnight (I usually check first
about 5:00am), in the business morning until noon, early afternoon,
evening, and then after dinner. Not sure what this says ... except
these spam guys are working 24/7/365. Of course, since spam arrives
from time zones around the world, my morning is your evening. Probably
doesn't say anything.
The next difference between these two periods was early June offered
a larger supply of the stuff than late May. There was a 14 day break
between; the first before the 3-day Memorial week-end, and the second
afterwards. And it took just 6 days in week two to equal 7 days of
week one (243 to 244).
School was out for much of the country during the first week - for
almost all of it by the second. Don't really think that had anything
to do with it - yet, I really don't know. Maybe summer brings more
opportunities. Business is fairly busy as summer begins - the real
slow down doesn't begin until the Independence Day 4th
of July week-end. So, I don't think that mattered much, either.
Another difference was the heaviest day of the week. Friday with 41
and Saturday with 40 were the busy days in week one. Week two saw
Wednesday with 56, Friday with 47 and Tuesday with 46 as the most
active days. Over 51% arrived in 3 days. And, every day save Thursday
in week two had more action then the comparable day in week one.
Each week had several days when a "major" category had no
spam. This is a surprise - you'd think these guys would demonstrate
persistence by day of the week, too ... they do not.
Six weeks ago USAToday offered a double editorial about
spam. Neither being "for it" - yet, one suggesting patience
and the other an out right and immediate elimination. Well, I'm not
for it either. I'm also not for most of what is offered on television
- the programming is worse than most of the commercials. I don't like
what I hear on every radio station. And most magazines don't get to
my mail box.
Most certainly I don't engage in a meaningful dialogue with every
telemarketer ... they are gone in 7-8-9 seconds, if I "read"
I am not interested. Every piece of direct mail does not get read
- although all do get looked at. Most of the sales promotion displays
at the market are not for my eyes.
Still, I'm not as anti-spam as many. Yes, I do understand the other
side - I am not that extreme. "Get a life" is a phrase sometimes
tossed at those who pick and nag and complain and fuss and stew and
generally become a pain about something the listener feels is not
all that important. I'm closer to that side of this line than let's
get rid of all the bad guys. One reason being - that just isn't going
to happen ... no matter what we do.
When I was 20 & 21 once a week I rode 45 miles from the University
to my dad's office. He took me too lunch and we "talked".
Business and school things. Man stuff. On one of my visits I was waiting
in his lobby when a salesman walked in and asked the receptionist
to talk with the GM. In a few minutes dad walked out - he and the
sales rep talked for 2-3 minutes ... and the meeting was over.
At lunch I asked dad about it. Why did he even talk to this guy if
he didn't have an appointment? His answer is for the history books
- and ends this article. Dad said; " I always talk to people
who come to see me. They may know something I don't know".
Maybe, just maybe, your spam will teach you something you don't know.
... and a Side-Bar spam comment. Or two.
A dozen plus years ago I met this guy; Bill Blinn.
I was presenting at a direct marketing meeting - Bill was
about. We hit it off - and stayed in touch over the next
One day Bill called. He told me I needed to have a presence
on the web. And he'd get me up. The cliché is "...
and the rest is history". In this case, that cliché
Today we work together on a number of projects. He shares
much with me - I with him. So, it was natural to ask Bill
for his thoughts for an-E-zine with a feature on spam. Bill,
of course, said "yes". Here is what he has to say
Legislate spam away? I don't think so.
As much as I detest spam, I don't buy the argument that it
can be legislated away. But when a topic hits USAToday,
you know it's a top-of-mind issue for a lot of people. And
most people don't like it.
In the past day, I've received the following "offers".
I note the country of origin in parentheses. The country
of origin can be easily determined by looking at a message's
Internet routing headers; in fact, that's the only way to
figure out where it came from because most spammers forge
the "from" and "reply to" part of their
The slop bucket overflows with:
- Two medical warnings that included a pitch for a worthless
and possibly harmful "medicine". (Australia)
- Many offers for 100 million e-mail addresses. (Most from
China and Korea; a few from the US)
- Two illustrated messages for 4 porn sites. (US, Korea)
- Two offers for a program that harvests ("steals") e-mail
addresses. (China, Korea)
- An offer from an "erotic photographer" who prefers "young
subjects". (Russia, Korea)
- An offer for "incest pictures". (Netherlands)
- An offer for cheap toner cartridges. (Korea)
- Several casino offers. (US, India)
- Two offers for "cheap Viagra". (Netherlands)
- Numerous offers for "hot babes live". (Hungary)
- Lolitas on-line. (South America, country not clear)
- At least a dozen offers for "human growth hormone". (One
was sent via the US military "Defense Net", which apparently
has an open relay.)
- A dozen or more offers for "life insurance quotes", most
of which were made to appear to be coming from Canada.
(Actually, they were from Italy, Russia, and China)
- Lots of offers for "Noni juice". (Nearly all from Korea)
Well, you get the idea. A total of 81 messages in less than
24 hours. Nearly all of them for products that are useless
at best. Call me overly cautious if you want, but I'm not
about to buy "medicine" from somebody who hides
behind a fake address, uses a one-time "drop box"
to retrieve replies, and steals mail transport services to
send me a message.
Despite all this, I'm still not suggesting legislation is
the answer. Laws can be passed making spam illegal, but a
lot of spammers (even though they're located in the US) use
spam-friendly operators in China, Korea, and Russia. In other
cases, they use "open relay" systems (computers
that don't much care who uses them) that are rampant in Central
Europe, Eastern Europe, and much of Asia. US colleges also
have a terrible record regarding open relays.
There are organizations that identify open relays and make
this information available on a subscription basis. If your
Internet service provider and mine subscribed to these services
and used the information to set up mail blocks to stop mail
from known open relays, spam would drop dramatically.
And if those same organizations identified "spam friendly"
service providers and blacklisted mail from them, the legitimate
users would force the service providers to eliminate the
spammers. About a year ago, an Internet service provider
refused mail I sent to one of its subscribers. A quick check
revealed that my website host had been identified as hosting
I was on the phone within 10 seconds to the company that
hosts my website. By that time they identified the spammer
and terminated the account under the "terms of service"
that nearly every website provider has (but some don't enforce).
In less than a day the problem was solved. The ISP that has
100 honest paying customers and 1 spammer will be more than
happy to get rid of the spammer.
So my theory is that ISPs could stop spam without anybody's
help if they wanted to. In fact, AOL could probably do it
- Refusing all mail from any computer that's been determined
to be an open relay, and
- Refusing all mail from spam havens (Russia, China, and
Korea are the worst) until those countries clean up their
If AOL, Mindspring, Time Warner, and the various Baby Bell
ISPs worked together to block spam, the spam would be gone.
Until then, all you can do is use a program such as SpamKiller
or JunkSpy. These programs examine your inbound mail and
sort it into two categories -- junk and good mail. Sometimes
spam gets through and sometimes a good message shows up in
the trash. So you must at least glance at the messages that
have been identified as spam to see if you want to pull any
of them out of the trash.
Anti-spam legislation is a bad idea for a number of reasons,
not the least of which is that we don't need more laws. Some
state attorneys general (with New York's attorney general
in the lead) are going after big spammers who are breaking
existing laws. When you con consumers, you're breaking the
law. But what if you pass a law that makes spam illegal in
the US? All the spammers will open accounts in Korea or China.
And what would that accomplish?
Contact your Internet service provider. Tell them you want
them to work with other ISPs to identify the source of spam
and to reject mail from those sources. The patchwork of weak
anti-spam efforts by most ISPs (with some notable objections)
have little effect on spammers. Only a concerted, coordinated
effort will get the job done.
... from Monday, December 17, 2001 B.C.
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"Quotes with Direction" has been a part of my web site collection
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There's a new batch up every 4 weeks.
Magic Marketing Minutes
Each week I'll share with you a different direct mail marketing tip.
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