Dealing with Spam: Part 1
Estimated Lesson Time: 7 minutes
I’ll never forget the first spam I received. It was in the summer of 1995 when I had my first e-mail account with a company called Netcom. I remember being so excited and so intrigued that someone from across the country found me and wanted to sell me something. However, I was not interested in hair loss cream so I politely responded to their e-mail thanking them for their offer and explaining to the merchant that I was only 23 years old and was not in need of such a product. In 1995, since spam was fairly rare, this was actually not a bad way to deal with spam. Today, however, spam has evolved from a harmless sales pitch to a global epidemic that is responsible for increased levels of anger and billions of dollars of lost productivity.
What is spam? Ask ten different people, and you will get ten different answers. At one extreme, spam can be defined as any unsolicited e-mail. This means, unless the person you are sending an e-mail to is expecting it or has asked for it, it is spam. At the other extreme, spam is mass e-mail sent to a list of e-mail addresses that have not agreed to receive solicitations, all containing the same message sent in an attempt to sell something. In our hosting companies’ policies, we define spam as the sending of e-mails in bulk (the same message sent to two or more addresses) to persons or organizations with which the sender had no prior dealings. Even our definition leaves some questions to be answered, but we feel it is unfair to inhibit business due to a strict definition.
So what does spam have to do with your success? Much more than most people think. According to a survey of our own Y2S members, the average member spends about 15 minutes a day dealing with spam. This includes setting spam filters, downloading and reading spam, reporting and responding to spam, and removing viruses due to spam. Fifteen minutes a day equals almost 8 hours a month—that is a full workday of productivity lost. The actual time lost is even more, however. Imagine trying to get a sound sleep and being awakened dozens of times throughout the night. The effects of the interruption of spam throughout the workday are not all that different. There is also an emotional side to the effects of spam. Spam often angers, and even infuriates, those who receive it. This feeling of anger distracts from the focus of the productive work itself. Being able to manage spam effectively, and your anger associated with spam, will help you to increase your productivity, which is a large part of success.
The first step is to accept spam as part of the Internet. Consider it cyberspace’s version of the annoying flyer on the windshield. Realize that you cannot eliminate spam (without risking losing legitimate e-mail), but you can greatly reduce it. Do not get angry over it, just accept it. Never allow a random message sent to you take away from your happiness, no matter what the content may be.
Here are some tips on both minimizing the amount of spam that finds its way to your mailbox and minimizing the amount of time spent dealing with spam:
- Look into commercial anti-spam software. There is plenty on the market that can reduce spam. However, understand how this kind of software works: no software can ever tell for sure what is spam or not, at least not until global laws are in place that force identifying headers, but even then we are assuming that the law will be followed. You must “teach” software what is spam and what is not. Once software detects spam, it places it in an area where you can verify that it is spam before you delete it. Very often, this whole process takes more time and effort than simply deleting the spam that finds it way to your inbox. The advantage is that you won’t have as many interruptions, and you can deal with spam when you choose to.
- Do not reply to spam. The from or reply-to addresses on spam are often fake or go to a junk mailbox where they are not read by humans. I know so many people who spend hours constructing angry replies to spam only to find that their replies just bounce back to them. Your best bet is to spend the one second to delete the spam.
- Don’t bother looking at e-mail headers. Very few people are actually skilled enough to read e-mail headers and know which headers are forged and which are real. Most professional spammers know how to forge headers and cover their tracks very well.
- Set up local filters. Most client-side e-mail software, such as Outlook™ or Mail for the MAC, will allow this. Just like commercial software, you may find that it takes more time than it is worth.
- Set up server-based filters. Many hosting providers have web-based filters users can set up. These work like local filters but they prevent spam from ever being downloaded to your local computer. This can also help prevent viruses from ever reaching your computer.
- Accept e-mail sent to your e-mail address only. Many spam filters allow for this option. This alone can eliminate over 90% of spam. However, if you are subscribed to any mailing lists, or if you frequently receive messages with your address in the “Bcc” header, those will be filtered out as well.
- Prevent your address from getting picked up on the web. The moment you place your e-mail on any public area of the Web, it is open for “spambots” that search millions of web pages per day and collect e-mail addresses. If you are posting your e-mail address on a web page, use the “@” in place of the “@” sign or include your e-mail address in an image.
- Use your own domain as your e-mail address. If you have your own domain, you can use anything @ your domain for your e-mail address. This will allow you to use a different address for everything you sign up for or order on the Web. For example, you can use Y2S@domain.com for our on-line course. Now, if you start getting spam being sent to Y2S@domain.com, you will know where the “leak” is, and you can simply stop using or block that address.
- Change your address. At times, especially after years of use, you may find it easiest just to change your e-mail address. It may be easier to notify the dozen or so people whose e-mail you welcome of a new address than to spend countless hours battling spam.
Once again, your goal should be to minimize the amount of spam you receive, not eliminate it. Eliminating spam is a pipe dream that will only cause you the loss of legitimate e-mail and potential business.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)