Save the Mails

Bill Gates has a plan to save e-mail within two years. But Messaging and Collaboration Editor Steve Gillmor wonders whether it's worth the risk.

Bill Gates comments at last months World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, were widely reported. "Two years from now, spam will be solved," Microsofts chairman confidently declared. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I received this news first through my RSS aggregator.

More and more, I find myself avoiding my e-mail client. On the Mac, its called Entourage. On the tablet PC Im testing, its Outlook. The Mac protects me from direct exposure to virus and worm attacks, but not the estimated two-thirds of spam attacks that are launched from these exploits. So I end up wallowing in my own personal denial-of-service attack every time I check my mail.

You know the drill: First, I delete the hieroglyphics, the random explosions of characters more common to an atomic elements table. Next to go is the digital equivalent of those guys on a New York corner whispering, "Check it out," as they try to stuff a flier into your hands. The latest trick is to substitute hyphens or underlines for strategic vowels to avoid the filters, turning my inbox into an undulating anagram word game generator.

Now the triage takes a strategic turn: I decide whether to merely delete spam marked as such by the junk filter or click on the "This is not junk mail" link. This produces a requestor with a multipart Hobsons choice: "Add sender to Address Book," "Create a mailing list rule," "Classify all messages from the senders domain as not junk," or my current favorite, "Just classify this message as not junk."

What will that do for me? "Other messages like this one may also be classified as junk mail," says the handy explanation. OK, so other messages that look amazingly like this one will again be flagged in the same way so that I can go do this again the next time. Works for me.

Next page: Industrial Spam