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Christopher Knight

SpamCon Live Update
By Christopher Knight

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Hi Folks!

Sparky here, live in San Francisco today, covering SpamCon 2001, the first event for the anti-spam community. It's produced by Tom Geller of Geller Communications and has about 60-70 participants, among them many of the top names in the spam-fighting community.

On Thursday, the keynote speech was by Jennifer Mandigo, staff attorney for the Federal Trade Commission. It was good to hear from the FTC, but I was most impressed that she came more to learn than to present the issues.

We've Got Issues

While there were good break-out sessions, some of the best meat from conferences like this comes when people come together informally to discuss the issues.

One topic was the management case for why they should support or add an abuse desk. The reasons include:

- Controlling costs
- Avoiding blacklisting
- Retaining customers (lower churn)
- Increasing sales
- Reducing exposure to lawsuits

Abusive Abuse Complaints?

I suggest that every email publisher should also set up abuse@yourdomainname, as well as postmaster@yourdomainname, so that you can at least receive complaints that might come your way.

One surprise was the sheer number of spam complaints some ISPs receive. The top I heard was 300 in a day. Over at SparkLIST, we receive 300 in a month, even though we deliver 300 million emails in a month to 45 million members. I thought we had it bad, but others have it far worse.

J.D. Falk brought up the point that it's important for abuse desks to discern between "raving loonies" and legitimate abuse complaints. I'm sure many of you have received spam complaints from raving loonies. While you must treat them all with respect, some complaints just carry more weight than others.

A Spam-o-ramic View

Many of the attendees are not the purists that I expected to hear from. One of the vendors who had an email server that also prevented spam shared that his software's default configuration was to allow spam relaying, for which comment he was playfully booed and hissed at.

Unfortunately, a handful of the participants expressed anger and hate, rather than reason, compromise or tolerance. Sometimes I feel these folks are in the anti-spam movement as a personal extension of their true selves, much like some of the parking-ticket officers who you just know love to catch you with an expired meter. Fortunately, this is limited to only a handful.

One of the legitimate complaints of many of the anti-spam organizations, such as MAPS/RBL, is that abuse desks do not respond to their requests for information or a timely follow-up response to a spam complaint. I believe they are right, in that many organizations hide or don't step up to the plate and address the issues, even though it's in their best interest.

One topic that was brought up was the formation of a spam-reporting organization, similar to a credit bureau. This isn't the first time this has been discussed, but I feel without legislation or government intervention, there is little upside for us to form this on our own. ISPs face two legal downsides from clients: accusations that they disclosed private account information to third parties and lawsuits plus damage claims for libel and slander for branding those clients as spammers.

As a plus for email-list communities, this anti-spam conference focused more on stopping the known spammers who use dial-up accounts from ISPs to send their spam, rather than bad email-list publishers who buy spam lists, don't have confirmed opt-in or make it difficult for their list members to be removed.

Putting On My SparkLIST CEO Hat Now:

About six months ago, I feared we would be strong-armed by the anti-spam community into forcing our 900 business clients to change their opt-in process, from a single opt-in to confirmed opt-in. Because of that, we began an education program that encouraged double opt-in ("confirmed opt in" as the spam community likes to refer to it). As a result, more than 80 percent of our 3000-plus lists switched to double opt-in to avoid future problems. Many folks at the conference talked about the power of simple education to help encourage responsible behavior. I favor this any day over being forced to lose certain freedoms that legitimate businesses enjoy.

Lastly, there was discussion of the new RFC (Request for Comments) that future Internet standards are based on. The old RFC 822 was updated with the new RFC 2822. RFC 821 was updated with RFC 2821 and a new RFC on my radar screen is the RFC 3028 which refers to "Sieve: A Mail Filtering Language."

This Ezine-Tip was submitted By Christopher Knight -- Email List Marketing Expert, author and entrepreneur. Get your weekly dose of Email newsletter publishing, marketing, promotion, management, email-etiquette, email usability and deliverability tips by joining the free Ezine-Tips newsletter:

Ezine-Tips for May 25, 2001

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