Dale Dougherty at O’Reilly asked a number of Internet luminaries whether we’re winning the war on email spam, and if not, how we can win it. I wasn’t asked, probably because I’m not a luminary, but that’s OK, I’m going to give my opinion anyway.
To me, there are two struggles against spam. One is the Internet-wide struggle. I think it is more or less lost. Email as we know it today is permanently and irreversibly polluted and the only way to fix it is to start over. For the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to deal with the fact that most of the mail being exchanged is produced by spammers, and exists only to soak up bandwidth and hopefully be filtered out.
Given that the email ecosystem is so thoroughly polluted, how goes the individual struggle against spam? I think the news is better on that front. For me, the answer has been Gmail. I get a handful of spam at most in my Gmail inbox every day (no more than 10 messages), and right now nearly all of my email is forwarded to it. My personal email address at rc3.org gets several hundred spams a day, and all of the spam filters on my server and the filter in Thunderbird were only able to sift through perhaps half of it. The rest I had to delete by hand, every day. I’ve since forwarded that account to Gmail as well, and it’s doing a much better job.
I’m not sure what Google is doing beyond what I could accomplish with Amavisd and the countermeasures in my Postfix configuration, but whatever they’re doing is working. So in terms of wading through spam on a daily basis, I’m in pretty good shape right now.
Of course, there are two other costs of spam aside from deleting it manually. The first is the problem of legitimate mail being marked as spam and tossed out, and the other is my outgoing mail being thrown away before it’s read by the recipients. Currently, I’m just ignoring those issues. I don’t go through my spam folder and look for mail that’s not spam, and I send mail hoping that it will get to its recipient, but beyond that I don’t worry about it.
Once you’ve managed to get past the daily work of dealing with spam in your inbox, the next step is, I think, to manage your expectations. We used to be able to expect that if we sent someone an email, it would be delivered and read. That’s no longer the case, and we have to compensate in other ways.