One of the most common types of questions I get from my users concerns spam e-mail: how can you stop junk e-mail; how can you make sure legitimate e-mails don’t mistakenly get trapped in various spam filters; how can one’s own e-mail address be used to send that very person some junk e-mail; what do our mail provider do to prevent spam; what more can we do to stop the continual flow of spam; and on it goes. The answers to these questions are elusive. The blame gets directed to any number of people.

I was recently asked by someone why they (whoever they are) send junk e-mail since nobody wants it. The answer was easy. Because it’s profitable. It’s a percentages game. One person in ________ (fill in the blank) will reply and spend some money. Since it’s so inexpensive to reach a large audience, even one reply out of a thousand might make it worthwhile.

A fellow by the name of Gary Thuerk is credited (or should I say blamed) for sending the very first spam e-mail. He sent it thirty years ago this month, in May 1978. He was involved in the early version of the Internet, ARPANET, and he wanted to invite about 400 other researchers to a demonstration of the first commercial computer that supported the ARPANET. He says that his reasoning for doing it was because these people were so hard to reach over the phone, but he knew they would receive a cyber-message much faster. He even went to the trouble of hand-typing each and every recipient’s address manually – all 400 of them.

He admitted that he received a lot of complaints, but he also got a lot of people to attend the demo. Those invitations eventually resulted in upwards of 12 million dollars in revenue for Gary’s employer, Digital Equipment. Does he accept the blame for today’s inundation of spam? No, he doesn’t. In fact, he says to blame him for spam e-mail is like blaming the Wright Brothers for your lost luggage. Okay, I guess that’s a pretty good argument.

Thirty years of spam. That’s a long time. Heck, thirty years ago, when I was a young twenty-something who was so broke I could barely pay attention, the only Spam I knew about was a pretty common staple – Spam and eggs, Spam sandwiches, or whatever concoction I could come up with to stretch a very small food budget. Today, I never touch the stuff, but I’m constantly reminded of it in my e-mail.

What do you do to stop spam? What are your favorite tools? What are your worst and/or funniest spam (or Spam) stories?

By the way, today Gary Thuerk doesn’t even list his e-mail address on his business card. I wonder why?