Spam Isn’t Just Killing Email

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Like the common cold, spam would appear to be one of those afflictions that will be with us more or less forever. It’s killing Om, bugging Tim, driving Edward crazy, and is more or less the bane of my own existence these days.

The most common manifestation of the problem, of course, is email. Anyone who has an inbox has encountered it, and while some filtering services are better than others, none are perfect. Even Gmail, which many of the folks I know have begun to proxy their mail through as an ad-hoc filter, is beginning to fail beneath the relentless inventiveness of those pushing penny stocks and other useless crap. Our own email system, Zimbra, is likewise showing its cracks; every morning when I wake up, I’m greeted by one to two dozen unwelcome items. And despite dutifully marking these as Junk, the filters do not appear to be learning particularly well – forcing me to create filter after filter in an attempt to handle what the built in Junk filters miss. The client-side options available, were I inclined to use them, are not that much more impressive.

Unfortunately, spammers have not limited their attention to email systems. Our migration away from Movable Type to WordPress, in fact, became necessary in part because of MT’s increasing inability to handle the greater and greater volumes of spam we’re seeing. What kind of volumes? Well, as discussed before, the volume of traffic coming through our Apache instance on a monthly basis is always north of a million pageviews, and occasionally over 2. While I like to think we’re popular, we’re not that popular. Some of that’s wiki spam, some of that’s blog spam, some of that’s referrer spam, but precisely none of it is welcome.

Given the success of technologies such as Automattic’s Akismet service, I think some of the “spam will kill the web” doomcrying you’ll hear is overblown. Do I lose significant portions of every day and every week dealing with the problem? Yes. But I can still work, and conduct business effectively via the channels mentioned above. But when better than 9 of every 10 emails is spam, it’s time to acknowledge the severity of the problem. The scope of the problem is more obvious every day, and is a good indication that the scope of the solution may need to be similarly comprehensive.

I’m not nearly good enough to have a solution to the spam pandemic, but I know where I’d start looking for ideas: Akismet and Google. They’re not perfect, but they’re better than most.


  1. One of the big things I discovered in my week or so trial of Zimbra was that Zimbra’s spam filters are about the worst I’ve ever used. FastMail’s filters do a good job and Apple Mail catches most things that get by the FM filters. I probably see 2-3 SPAM e-mails a day. I think FM just uses a customized Spam Assassin, seems like Zimbra could do the same.

  2. I’m thinking unsolicited direct mailing needs to be made a shoot on sight offense. And I don’t even believe in the death penalty.

  3. Same here. I had to turn off all comments for a while. I was getting 3500 spam messages a day, and just deleting them was a time sink. It’s really too bad, too.

  4. Alex: heard from the Zimbra guys on this, and apparently part of the problem is that MACCIuS (our current provider) is scoring things very weakly, while Zimbra internally is pretty strict.

    Danno: can’t go that far, but sure understand the sentiment. it’s unbelievable.

    Zaine: yeah, the volume is bad and getting much worse.

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