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 A and A would be displayed as ‘A’.