Monday, 9 March 2009

Learning to love Spam

Posted by: Ian Angell

I used to be very annoyed whenever spam mail managed to penetrate my mail filters. But no more! In a flash of enlightenment I found myself in awe of the sheer ingenuity (as well as the brass nerve) of the spammers. Now I see spam as an amazing phenomenon. Spam seems to pop up out of nowhere - although the ISPs, Google, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, are of course involved.

I started collecting spam, studying it! Of course I make sure to use (free) e-mail accounts extraneous to my normal Internet existence to avoid disruption. Thanks to Google, Yahoo, Hotmail that's easy. Now I send e-mails consisting of one word ('holiday,' or 'car,' or 'restaurant,' or 'loan'), using one unique e-mail account for each experiment (and not using that account for anything else), and wait to see what pops up - then drawing charts of the rate of incoming spam. Some of the accounts I've set up are left unused by me, so I can attract in and have a control experiment of the type of spam e-mails that are out there in the white noise.

I've just challenged the students on my course Global Consequences of IT at LSE to see who can attract the most spam - the winner gets a free lunch at a local Thai restaurant. I'm interested in the various strategies they can devise to maximize spam attraction.

Why not try this out for yourself? Set up your own laboratory, and learn to love spam! The internet is truly a wondrous ecosystem composed of the most fabulous creatures - spam is just one. It's fascinating getting to grips with their Natural History.

To this end I will be setting up a separate blog under the name WebCoherence to invite anyone interested to join in the experimentation. I've still to work out the practicalities, but if I can interest a large number of people, then we can focus 'The Human Computer' at the issue, and find out some very valuable statistical information about the reality of how the web operates.