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Janet Roberts

Feedback: Filters and Webbys
By Janet Roberts

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In a recent Ezine-Tip, I expressed my frustration at dealing with keyword-based content filters, where just one word can cause a mail filter to block a message.

That column brought this thoughtful response from Adam Weston, Vision Internet:

"After reading your article, I hope that you recognize the reality that mail server administrators face. We are obligated to do something about the truckloads of UCE our users receive, or face major customer dissatisfaction.

"There are plenty of fancy, heuristic, even artificially intelligent software products which can be implemented if you have a lot of money to throw at the problem. But many of us don't have the means, and even sophisticated methods result in some number of 'false-positives.'

"In fact, even a human being going though a set of email messages may not correctly sort them into 'ham' and 'spam' the same way another person would.

"My point is ... It's easy enough to condemn keyphrase-based filtering, but it would be a lot more productive to offer an alternative solution."

As I told Adam, I'm not at all unsympathetic to the plight of mail- server admins who are expected to make everyone happy and solve their spam problems with little or no budget. All the mail that comes to any address goes through me, and it's a never-ending river of sludge.

But I also think what we know now about filtering and using rules, analytics and blocking, should render single-keyword content filters obsolete. To see some of the solutions which have appeared in Ezine- Tips over the years, visit our archives and search on "spam:".

At least the mail-blocking message I got told me what the offending word was. Here's a message from a New Zealand mail server that refused to deliver a recent Ezine-Tip:

"Sender, Content filter has detected a sensitive email with offensive content. Clean up the offending word and resend."

I still haven't figured out what I said wrong.

In another Ezine-Tip assessing the newsletter efforts of the 2003 crop of Webby-nominated Web sites, I praised the online fashion ezine for its newsletter program, despite its perpetual pop-up subscription prompt.

Jack Yan, Lucire's publisher, responded:

"One of the reasons for the box is that we refuse to use cookies (except for on the StyleTalk forum board) -- the principle being that we don't feel comfortable with inflicting others with something we ourselves don't like.

"What we should do in future is explain why -- I'll go and make this change on our welcome letter right now. I'll also ask our Web programmers to see if they could find a privacy-friendly way to prevent it popping up every time."

Original Ezine-Tip here:
Newsletters of the Webby Nominees

Ezine-Tips for May 09, 2003

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