Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spam, spam, spam spam....

I don’t get to blog often these days, my writing exploits have taken a different turn. My first short story, "Caravan of Hopes", will be out in an anthology of stories regarding peak oil this fall.

But my career is still firmly centered in advertising, and the Yellow Pages industry in particular.  Today, I’m going to rant about spam, and the lack of anyone out there actually dealing with the problem.  All the current anti-spam packages do is treat the symptoms, and make a lot of money in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I find our spam filtering device invaluable.  The number of spam emails I get at work is minimal.  It’s not the same at home, though, where I often wade, digitally speaking, though far more spam than real email.  I’ve seen statistics saying 90% of email today is spam.

That’s one hell of a signal to noise ratio.  90% of the clicks in my inbox are a waste of my resources.  In my opinion, however, the answer to the problem is not stopping spam, it’s increasing the noise to signal ratio for advertisers using spam.

Currently, there are enough people who click-through spam, then buy something, to give an advertiser a reason to continue junk mailing our inboxes.  For every few million email messages sent, a few suckers fall prey, and an advertiser pays for a ‘business lead.”

But what if the click-throughs were not from real people, just like the spam you get is not really your uncle Joe emailing you with an offer you can’t refuse?  What if we could increase the signal-to-noise ratio for the advertiser?  They would be paying the spammer for traffic that generates no revenue.  In a perverse twist on ‘click-fraud’, the spammers would see an immediate increase in revenue, followed by a collapse of the market and possible lawsuits.

Obviously, I don’t want to click on every spam I receive just to help the advertiser waste their money.  I’m sure neither do any of my readers. What I want is an anti-spam package that identifies (automatically or via ‘mark as spam’) unwanted email, forwards it to a server, where an automated program (a spider) can follow the links in a manner that is indistinguishable from a human clicking on the link.   

To maintain click value, spammers would have to start avoiding email addresses that triggered wasteful traffic. Alternatively, they would have to drop the value of the traffic as the conversion rate plummets, reducing the effectiveness of the advertising model.  

Signal to noise.  I want to turn the tables from the ‘noise’ being my problem to the ‘noise’ being the advertiser’s problem. I want to see their costs for sending unsolicited email to go up while their conversions go down.  Companies who hire spammers don’t care about potential customers or they would not alienate the majority of them, in the hope that there are enough suckers to make it worth their while. Make them pay for the spam in your inbox with no hope of a conversion.

Of course, I’d also like to be able to mark commercial emails as ‘not spam for me’ if I do, indeed, have a reason to hear from an advertiser.  I want to encourage responsible use of email as a marketing and communication medium between businesses and customers. 

Now that’s an anti-spam product that I would be more than happy to pay an annual fee for.   

I like to have as much control as possible over what advertising that enters my life. That’s why I no longer watch TV; I use the internet to stay current with events. It’s also why I like working in the Yellow Pages industry.  The yellow pages are there when I need to buy something and sit quietly on top of my refrigerator for the rest of the year.  I also know that every business I find in there is invested in my local community, not some scam from the other side of the world. Yellow pages builds trust like no other medium.

For those of you who came here expecting a Monty Python reference, here you go:

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