on Oct 21, 2010
So when I mentioned that I was out of work, a lot of people emailed me. It really made me aware of just how many people read this blog. Even more importantly, it made me aware of just what a wreck my entire email system is.
Some of this is my own fault. Back in 2000 when I registered this domain, it seemed like a good idea to make a catch-all email address and use it for registering on other sites. If I created a forum account at wombats.com (for all your Australian marsupial needs!) then I’d register with firstname.lastname@example.org. And for a couple of years, this solution worked really, really well. But at some point spammers began dictionary attacks where they would just spam email@example.com, so instead of getting one spam I’d get dozens. Then this domain went from being an obscure little thing to something popular. The links from Slashdot, Make, Digg, Stumbleupon, FARK, etc all told the bots, “THIS SITE IS IMPORTANT. YOU SHOULD CARPET-BOMB IT WITH SPAM.”
At some point I finally switched from using Outlook Express to Firefox. That helped a great deal, and the adaptive spam filter that came with Firefox did a great job of culling most of the chaff. The levels of spam rose over the years, but the spam filter ate enough of it that I wasn’t too concerned. Eventually checking my email took a long time, though. I have broadband, but I’d end up sitting there for almost a minute just like when I was on dial-up. I was getting hundreds of emails a day, but the spam filters were eating 95% of them.
And then there was the additional idiocy that (at the time) AOL, Hotmail, and the other free email services couldn’t seem to get their act together and put a stop to this. I realize that stopping spammers for good is impossible, but this is the easy stuff. New users sending out thousands of emails with image attachments and obvious keywords in the subject line? That’s a spammer! Ban them! Morons! This was another bit of damage from the dot-com boom: That technology services run by idiots had enough cash to keep rolling even when they actually inflicted overall damage on the net and provided terrible service.
And then the final outrage that Outlook would show me these stupid images as I tried to dig through and find my legit email. (Firefox has a button to “show me the images in this email”.)
It was such a cyclone of destructive stupidity. Lots of people had to be very incompetent for a very long time in order to make a mess this big.
I’ve also had my email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – on my website here, which probably added a good bit of fuel to the fire. I was eventually forced to abandon my catch-all address. Now if I want to return to my account at wombats.com I’ll need to create a real wombats@shamusyoung email in order to recover my password. Ah well. Hasn’t been too much of a hassle so far.
But even with the catch-all gone, the levels of spam rose and rose, and I think at some point the adaptive spam filter in Thunderbird began to malfunction. I’ve actually known about this for a while now. I knew I was losing the “occasional” email from strangers, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until I started seeing comments from people “did you get the email I sent?” Uh… no?
And now that I’m looking in the spam trap, it looks like the filter is worse than I’d feared. I’m not getting as much spam as I used to. I just did a count for yesterday, and I got 3 legit emails, (Wow, only 3? Okay.) and 158 spams. But it marked one of the legit emails as spam and I had to manually deal with about 50 of the real spams. So yesterday my spam filter missed a third of the spam, and ate a third of my legit email. Those are lousy, lousy numbers on both sides.
Maybe that catch-all address just broke the filter. Maybe the media stuff I get confuses the filter. (I get a lot of press release-style stuff from marketing firms that are 50% boilerplate text.) I don’t know. But this is unacceptable.
I have a private email I use for business and family, and that never gets any spam. But I need a public email so that people can contact me through this site. I really hate to ditch email@example.com because I still get a lot of important email there.
The upshot to all of this is that if you emailed me and still don’t have a reply by the end of today, I haven’t read your email. I apologize. I don’t know why this has to be so hard. I’m working on it.
EDIT: And yes, when I said “Firefox” above I meant “Thunderbird”.