Blog email: the good and the not so good

Some bloggers provide an email address so that interested visitors may contact them privately, if they prefer. I am one such, and you will find an email address in the sidebar.

I protect that address from spam bots by getting it translated into HTML “character entities”1, though when you click on it, it behaves like a conventionally written email address. The idea is that spam bots do not recognize this as an email address and therefore do not harvest it, leaving it free from spam.

Does it work? Well, yes it does… up to a point. The point is that there are not only spam bots out there looking for email addresses; there are actual human beings as well. Once they click on the address, encoded though it may be, they have it in their email and can copy and paste it to a list and even pass it around. So your disguised address eventually attracts spam and when you have had enough of this, you throw away that address and install a new one.

Why not simply get rid of the email address altogether and save yourself the bother? My answer is that I have had some interesting contacts via the email address in the sidebar which I would otherwise have missed. People sometimes like to vouchsafe information or opinions that they are shy about expressing in public so I think it’s fair to offer them the facility to do so.

Of course, along with the contacts you want, you receive those that you do not want. You then have to think how to deal with these. A clumsy response can prolong the stream of emails rather than stem it. The simplest way is to ignore them but some people can be very insistent and will email you again and again, expressing pain and sorrow at being ignored. If a single email back will stop the flow, that seems a bargain. But then you have to think what to write exactly…

So what, then, is the content of these unwanted emails? There is of course an endless variety, dependent only upon human ingenuity, but certain types recur. Firstly, there are the ranters and obsessives who want to state their political or religious case and try to enrol you in their cause. If ignoring them solves the problem, so well and good, otherwise you may be in for the long haul. Replacing the address will not halt them for long.

Then there are the advertisers. They come in several forms but one thing unites them all: they are pinchpenny misers who think they can buy you, the innocent blogger, for a handful of beads. They hope that as a result of putting their brand name on blogs, it will become familiar and popular. This is called “viral marketing”.

The first sort enquire, innocently, whether you accept guest posts. They can provide you with some good ones, they continue, written by experts on any subject you wish, written to cater for your interests and those of your readers, all absolutely free. Well, of course, there is the little matter of displaying a link to their site… Though they pretend to be helping you, they’re really after the big fish and you, dear blogger, are merely the sprat to catch a mackerel.

The next sort does it the other way around: they ask you to write something for them on some unspecified subject which I guess is probably advertising copy for the business or businesses they support or perhaps guest posts for other blogs (see above). And what will I get for my efforts? They’re a bit vague about that. Maybe some money-off vouchers. Money-off vouchers for what? I have no idea, but I would guess for the same rubbish that appears in “special offers” all over the Web.

Then we have the appeal to your better nature: please do something for a noble cause! What noble cause? Well, the most recent I received was an appeal to help “empower women”. Really? How do I do that, then? Apparently, by advertising and promoting rape alarms. For free, of course, because you don’t expect to get paid for participating in noble causes, do you? I expect the manufacturer is also giving the alarms away free, eh?

Next in the dreary procession are the flatterers. They come at you waving compliments. “We have read your blog with great interest.” (What, all of it?) “We are very impressed with your blog.” (So am I, but do carry on…) “So, um, how about putting an advertising banner for our outfit on your blog? You know, a nice big one. Oh, and maybe a link to our site. And if you could just write a positive review of what we sell, that would be nice as well.”

They cover all the bases except one: they forget to mention the money. You are paying me, aren’t you? A deafening silence ensues. I expect that’s while they’re searching their boxes and drawers for another handful of beads or money-off vouchers.

A recent one was rather insistent. I ignored his first email and then I ignored his second email. But when I received a third email, I’m afraid I cracked. I wrote back: “SilverTiger does not accept advertising” and I changed the email address. Anyone writing to the old one receives an automated reply reading “This email address is unattended.” Yes, I know, that is much kinder than they deserve, but I’m a polite tiger when the mood takes me.

So I have devised a new strategy. The email address stays, of course, because I don’t want to lose the genuine contacts, but if anyone sends an email to it, they receive an automated reply. It tells them that if they are really interested in talking about the blog or topics it raises, they are welcome, but that if they are advertisers or other undesirables, they will be ignored.

I hope this will leave me free to bin an email if I can’t be bothered with it or to reply to it if I think it worth the effort. It should stop people nagging me for a reply that I do not want to give, though I wouldn’t bet on it. Either way, I have freed myself from the need to respond to pests and can ignore them with an easy conscience.

________

1Character entities are simply the numerical value of each and every al­pha­nu­mer­ic character available for display on a computer. They take the form &#ddd; where ddd represents a numerical value in the range 09 to 255. Used in conjunction with the HTML mark-up language, they are equivalent to the character they stand for. Thus both &­#65­; and A would be displayed as ‘A’.

Copyright © 2010 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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9 Responses to Blog email: the good and the not so good

  1. AEJ says:

    Very interesting! You must get a lot of visitors. I have never suffered such consequences of posting my email address.

    I wish you luck, however, on the automated reply actually being read. My husband has a famous name, locally at least. Someone by the same name is a scientist at NASA/JPL, so that each time there is any sort of NASA tragedy, my husband gets phone calls. LOTS of phone calls. Reporters and journalists and other interested parties call Information and ask for the name and inevitably it’s my husband’s phone number that is given out. (Do reporters actually think someone this important would have a listed phone number for their personal residence?)

    When he was a teenager, there was some tragedy that occurred and reporters immediately began calling him. One of them was so insistent, he asked my husband what he thought of the latest event. My husband’s response was, “I think it sucked.” The reporter asked, “Can I quote you on that?” My husband said, “Sure!” Then the reporter said, “I know this is short notice, but would it be possible to send a limousine over tomorrow to pick you up for an interview?” My husband said, “Sure, that’d be great.” He knew all along that the guy had the wrong person but the reporter wouldn’t listen, so my husband had fun with it. Of course the limo never showed up the following day, which had him quite disappointed.

    After the last shuttle explosion, we received upwards of 25 calls a day at our home, so we recorded an out-going message on our voicemail alerting callers to the fact that if they were calling regarding the person of the same name who works at NASA, they in fact had the wrong number and to please hang up instead of leaving a message. We still got 25 messages a day, for weeks.

    People are dumb, basically.

    • SilverTiger says:

      My “civilian” name is the same as that of a well known US sports personality. Through my Web site, I used to get many contacts from people thinking I was that person, despite the evidence of the Web site. I therefore have some inkling of the problems you and your husband face over name similarity. It’s not just that people are stupid (though some undoubtedly are) but that they are too easily satisfied by insufficient evidence: they think that because A and B have the same name they must be the same person.

      We once had a phone number similar to one published by the borough council. People would call us for advice on taxes, benefit, housing, etc. They were convinced that they had been given that number and behaved as though I were some sort of interloper. What was I doing claiming a council phone number as my own?

      The phone problem was finally solved when the council bought a new telephone system and all the numbers changed. The name problem ceased when the sports personality disgraced himself and dropped out of the public eye. You may have a harder job solving your problem.

    • BFG says:

      About a decade ago my work number (direct line) was one digit away from that of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Hardly a week went by without someone calling me with questions about opening times and how to get there. I was always polite, of course.

      But there was one time when I came close to being a little tinker. The caller wanted to know how Ronnie was doing (he was alive at the time, but never seen in public since his Alzheimer’s had deteriorated severely) and even after I’d told the caller politely that he had the wrong number, he still insisted on being put through to Ronnie so he could talk to him personally. It swiftly became apparent that the caller had some form of dementia and thought that Ronnie lived at the library.

      My sense of humor/humour being what it is, I was sorely tempted to agree and then do a really bad impersonation of Ronnie. I could have had him talking about having to break off shortly so the aliens could carry out an anal-probe, how the Pope had just dropped by for a game of poker with a couple of strippers, and how he’d been learning to fly by just flapping his arms really fast and the caller should keep an eye out in case he decided to fly over for a visit. Oh, well. Some opportunities are best missed…

      • SilverTiger says:

        Strings of numbers are very hard for the human brain to distinguish from one another and people who make mistakes are often convinced that they have dialled the correct number when they have in fact misdialled. The problem with the council number was that it was 203 nnnn whereas our number was 202 nnnn. People living in our neighbourhood would dial 202 by reflex and not notice that the printed number read 203.

        Similarly, they are so convinced that they have contacted the right person that when you tell them you are not the person they think, they simply don’t take this in.

        For example, I received an email intended for the above mention sporting personality, inviting him/me to play a round of golf. I replied that I was not that person. Admittedly, my tone was somewhat acerbic. I received a reply saying in effect “I had no idea you were such a nasty person. I will never invite you to play golf again.” I bravely resisted the temptation to reply “Suits me.”

  2. WOL says:

    In re spam, I have a program called “Mailwasher Pro” (you can google for it) that allows me to blacklist email addresses and bounce spam. Your email downloads to this program first to allow you to weed out what you don’t want. “Bouncing” is what happens to email that is sent to an invalid email address — the sender gets a message to that effect. But this program allows you to bounce any email addressed to you that you don’t want. It also allows you to reject sent to an address that is “close to” your email address — like some spammers use, by only accepting email to your exact email address. Over time, you teach the program what you do and don’t want. This has cut my spam way down. The free version only allows one incoming email address. The pro version allows multiple incoming email addresses This program has cut my spam way down.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Spam filtering programs have to be used with extreme caution. This is because they are robots and have no intelligence. They all without exception make mistakes, accepting dud mail or rejecting valid mail. If you allow them to reject mail unseen by you, then it is only a matter of time before you lose genuine mail.

      I use little filtering, sending only the most obviously bad mails to a junk folder. Even so, I still examine everything and as a result have on occasion saved important communications that would otherwise have been lost.

      Returning mail to sender is a very bad idea. This is because the From and Return addresses on spam emails (if they are even present) are false. You are therefore sending your spam onto someone else, an innocent victim whose address has been stolen by the spammer.

      I once received a rude email from a young lady in Australia castigating me for sending her spam. I replied, explaining the above, and she at least had to good grace to write back and apologize.

      Blacklists are also of limited value because spammers never use the same name twice. Your blacklist therefore fills up quickly, slowing down you email program, packed with names that it never finds.

      In short, many approaches approaches to spam have been devised and all of them have faults. None is perfect and some are a positive liability. It is so frustrating to email someone on urgent business only to have your email bounced by that person’s spam filter.

  3. WOL says:

    “MailWasher” does not reject anything out of hand. It shows you everything and lets you preview it without actually downloading it, in case there is a trojan or spybot attached to it. That’s why I like it. You mark things as spam, then you process it, and it only downloads the stuff you have approved.

    • SilverTiger says:

      That’s quite a good approach, then, as long as you don’t mind the two-part message collection system. I think I would find it irritating.

      I don’t think you can do any harm by simply collecting an email containing a virus/trojan. The danger comes from opening the attachment. As long as you don’t open attachments in emails from strangers, you should be OK. Moreover, any competent firewall (we use Kaspersky) will detect and neutralise threats contained in incoming emails.

      Ultimately, though, whatever system you use, it cannot be guaranteed 100% effective. There is always room for intelligent watchfulness on the part of the user.

      From experience, I would say that the dangers of visiting dodgy Web sites far outweighs the dangers of virus-bearing emails.

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