Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

If at first you don't succeed

...then email me again.

Honest, it's not because I don't like you. I'm not ignoring you. Your email message may just have been lost among the 1,500 spam messages I normally receive (this is not an exaggeration) over any period of a few days.

If you don't get a response from me, perhaps I never saw your message. Try again (you do save your outgoing messages in your Sent or Outgoing folder, right? If not, here's a valuable tip -- most email programs allow you to turn this option on if it isn't on by default).

I just spent an hour wading through over 4,600 accumulated messages in my Junk folder, looking to see if there was anything that slipped in there that shouldn't have. There were a few things. But c'mon, there's only so long one can stare at messages with subjects like "Get cia|is today" and "Fwd: Downl0ad spongebob movie" before your eyes glaze over and your head begins to ache.

Why do I get so much spam? Well, it's not for lack of spam-blocking technology. I use three layers of spam filtering. But I happen to be particularly susceptible to this annoyance, and here are a few reasons why:

Long-term email addresses -- I've owned the domain since 1995. And that gives spammers a long time to have archived my address(es), added them to databases, and sold them them all round the world.

Email addresses published publicly -- My address has appeared all over the web for many years, since I was a contact for so many organizations and campaigns (Bay Area Action, Acterra, Headwaters Forest Project, Schools Group, etc.), not to mention so many companies (Western Front Graphics, Flux51, Mark Bult Design). Every time your email address appears on the web, it's liable to be scavenged by automated 'bots that crawl the 'Net looking for email addresses to add to their spam databases.

Catch-all addresses -- I have my mail server account set to filter [anything][at] This is called a "catch-all" address. There are several important reasons why I have to do this for my domain, but I won't bore you with them, as they're relatively obscure and technical. But this means that spammers can simply guess at addresses at my domain, making them up to see if anything goes through, and I'll get exponentially more spam than the normal email user because I get everything coming to addresses like Floobified[at] through Zombified[at], and everything in between.

Here are a few quick tips for you, however, so you don't fall into the trap I'm stuck in:

Use spam filters or other anti-spam technology -- Obviously. Do I really need to tell you this? If the answer is yes, please leave a comment and I'll try to find time to compile some suggestions for good spam protection services or software.

Change your email address regularly -- If you don't own your own domain (that's the "" part), you have the luxury of being able to abaondon an address that becomes too bloated with incoming spam. Obviously, it's best to notify everyone in your address book when you do this, so they have your new address.

Have a private account and a public account -- It's best to have a private address that you give only to your friends and family, and that you ask them to guard it against becoming public. Then set up a free account at gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo! or someplace. This would be the address you use if you're posting on a website forum, or subscribing to a listserv / email newsletter, or responding to an eBay posting, for example. You can always shut this account down on a yearly basis if it gets too spammy.

Don't use catch-all addresses -- Avoid this if you can. If your ISP asks you if you want a catch-all email address, decline. If your address is "[email protected]", and you regularly get mail addressed to other people, like "[email protected]", your account may be set up with a catch-all. Turn it off in your webmail control panel, or ask your ISP to turn it off.

Don't let your email address be published on web pages -- Avoid this if you can (if you have to, use the public address I recommend above). If a link to your address has to be on your website -- say, for example, as the contact for your small business -- don't let it appear as text on the page, use some technique that obscures the address with JavaScript, spells it out like "fred [at] whatnot [dot] com", or something else. This foils some, but sadly not all, the 'bots. [I'll eventually post some good ways to obscure your address, foil the 'bots, and still retain link functionality.]

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