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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

BobF at 5:49 PM [url]:

Spam Assassinated!

Apparently Spam Assassin really doesn't like me. If you wonder why you haven't heard from me; it's because I don't fit into the arbitrary assumptions built into this "filter". Well, technically it just doesn't like my mail but it is personal since it is judging how I express myself and thus is judging me. The distinction is meaningless -- if my mail doesn't get through I am being filtered out. In judging my glyphs it is impugning my character.

Unlike an adaptive program such as POPFile with few built in assumptions, Spam Assassin accumulates what are arbitrary and moralistic prejudgments about how email should look and be used:

  • It hates HTML mail. Apparently the idea that I might want my mail to be readable and not trashed by line wrapping doesn't matter. I also like things like bullet points. I don't want to be garish (well, sometimes I do) but just effective.
    • I like Microsoft's "Trebuchet MS" font though the message is perfectly fine in other fonts but it thinks it is an "odd" font and I lose points for having a modicum of originality.
    • If I do want to shout I lose points for large fonts and colors -- some colors seeming to be judged more harshly than others.
    • I use color or do want to have fun that's only further proof that I'm bad and immoral.
  • The program thinks it knows how to figure out that a message has been forged. I use Outlook 2003 beta in order to take advantage of bug fixes and features and to help make sure it is ready for the rest of you. Spam Assassin deems my mail to be a forgery because it doesn't expect any detail to change.
  • It uses black lists so that any biddy can declare me an intrinsically bad person.
  • It judges me by association such as having a link in the letter to someone or something judged.
  • It judges me by the path the message happens to take and apparently sometimes I go past relay points it doesn't like. Of course I have no control over this, especially if I'm not allowed to send the mail myself!
  • Guilt by association -- apparently if I have a link to a likely spammer email address I am contaminated.

I can't help but think of the witch trials in Salem Massachusetts in 1692 when people let their fears run rampant. Sure we need to address the issue of spam and other assaults on our attention. There isn't a simplistic answer and naive approaches such as AOL's presumption that individuals shouldn't be sending their own mail. Aggregating arbitrary assumptions about what constitutes good mail only makes the problem worse. Both approaches seem to have a rigid view of email fixed some time in the past when all messages were sent from teletypes through time sharing services.

What we need is more, not less, innovation. As I keep trying to point out, the current approach to email is simplistic and just a phase we're going through as we learn. One of the big problems is the ".Com" assumption that there is intrinsic meaning in the names (such as @AOL.COM) and any change requires changing ones one true descriptive name. By assuming that the "address" is a meaningful name it becomes a scarce resource and we don't even have the flexibility we do with paper mail. I can make up my own address or vary my name so I know what happens when I sign up for a subscription in the paper world. Most email providers don't allow for that or make a big deal out of giving you a handful of names you can use.

Any attempt to innovate is thwarted by these biddies who seem to view the current accidental state of affairs as normal and can't imagine it was ever any different. All change is seen as threatening and immoral till it becomes the new status quo to be defend at all costs.

So little has been learned in 300 years.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

BobF at 10:49 PM [url]:

AOL and Roadrunner vs the Internet

AOL and Roadrunner consider me a potential outlaw because I haven't been sending my email through "official" email carriers as if there were such things.

When AOL or a large ISP like their subsidiary Roadrunner does something foolish we all suffer because they stand between us and communicating with their customers. By forcing all email through narrow chokepoints and thwarting innovation they are exacerbating the very problems they are attempting to solve!

We see this same naivet´┐Ż in attempts to regulate Voice over IP and thus assuring that telephony remains expensive. This is an unfortunate consequence of forgetting the original purpose of the hidden taxes. We are left with a regulatory regimen that has lost its way and has become the end in itself rather than a means.

AOL's misguided attempt to control spam is more than an inconvenience and it demonstrates an attempt to defy the Internet and bring back the good old days of central control. Perhaps we should be surprised that their current advertising campaign for "AOL for Broadband" emphasizes the dangers of the Internet and not the benefits.

To understand more about this you can, no, you should read AOL and Roadrunner have left the Internet.

For more, see the Archive.

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