The disease that we call spam is a mixture of several
different things. It isnt easy to have a clear definition.
It may help to understand what it isnt.
It isnt new
Spam, of course, is a type of canned food. It took a new
meaning in net jargon after the 1970 Monty Python Flying
Circus. It was clearly identified as a problem in netiquette
documents in the mid Eighties.
The disease has been around for a long time. The
relatively new fact is that its spreading more
viciously and widely that ever before.
It isnt only commercial
The current wave of spam originates mostly from attempts
to sell something (or to steal money.) But there are forms of
non-commercial spam. Hoaxes and jokes (which often arent
funny), wide spreading of news that may perhaps
be interesting for two or three people, exaggerated copying
of e-mail, etcetera.
Any attempt to treat the spam disease effectively should
be able to remove, or at least discourage, also its
And... to make things worse... there are nasty viruses
such as Klez that
spread messages with a false from address
so we can find ourselves appearing involuntary
spammers without even knowing that its happening.
Not all unrequested mail is spam
Of course we cant call spam any message
arriving from someone we dont know. Meeting new people, who
share our interests or have something interesting to say, is
one of the pleasures of being online.
Spam can often be easily identified by its repetitive
style and language, but its still a problem to get rid of it
without eliminating things that we want to read. Thats one
more reason why its important to get rid of spam while it
makes it difficult to set up effective automated
Of course there were chain letters before the internet.
But obviously its easier to spread them online. The problem
is clearly defined in all netiquette documents and the
solution is simple. Break them, always, no matter what the
subject. Even when they are disguised as good
causes or charities.
Anyone who wants to promote a genuine cause, or seek help
for a real need, should use other forms of communication
never a chain letter.
Jokes and hoaxes
Humor is fun and a good joke can be amusing. Within
reason, this is the most acceptable form of spam. But there
is too much of it, quite often it isnt funny, and three is
some trickery disguising as humor (as in the case of
joke lists that capture addresses and re-sell
them for commercial use.)
And of course there are virus hoaxes. Some are fun, as the 1998 April Fool
Trout joke. Some are
treacherous, as they scare people into harming themselves (as in the case
Hoaxes are generally easy to identify, because (like other types of spam) they often
have a repetitive style. But, in any case, we should never forward to our friends any
warning or scare message before double-checking if its genuine.
It isnt advertising
We can like or dislike advertising, but it has nothing to
do with spam. Its in the media, we can notice it or ignore
it, it isnt forced into our mailbox and it doesnt disguise
as personal mail. Also, with rare (and illegal) exceptions,
the advertiser has a clear identity and takes full
responsibility for the claims and promises.
Spam advocates try to justify it as
advertising. Some spam haters call it
advertising. Both are wrong and confusing the
issue doesnt help to solve the problem.
It isnt direct marketing
Good direct marketing is based on minimum waste and
maximum effectiveness that is, direct communication with
people who are genuinely interested in a subject. That is the
opposite of spamming. Good direct marketing (as opposed to
junk mail) seeks to establish long-lasting,
mutually beneficial relationships.
Unfortunately there has been a great deal of preaching
about so-called e-mail marketing which in
practice is just another name for spam.
It isnt sales promotion
There are many different types of sales promotion, from
straight discounts to assorted rewards or
lotteries. They can be more or less interesting or boring,
attractive or repelling. But they have nothing to do with spam.
It isnt customer service
Its ridiculous, but it happens. Spamming is sometimes
disguised as customer care or CRM
(customer relations management.) The sooner
companies learn that this is stupid, the better it will be
for them and for their customers.
It isnt marketing
In many environments marketing has become a
bad word, because its used to justify all sorts of messy
behavior. Spam is a typical example. This is a serious
problem for all the people involved in professional marketing
as well as all companies that market goods and services
(that means all businesses, including those that dont
have a marketing department or dont practice marketing as an
identified discipline.) They should all be very actively
involved in fighting distorted practices, of which spam is a
particularly obnoxious example.
It isnt good business
Spam can be making money for crooks and swindlers
(including list traders) but its harmful for the economy in
general, for online business and for all companies who want
to operate in a healthy and rewarding marketplace.