I want a spam button

Last week I argued that spam is in the eye of the beholder. However, judging from your many responses, my notion of spam -- unwanted e-mail -- is atypical.

Unlike most of you, my e-mail address, metcalfe@idg.net, is passed in print weekly to close to a million readers. And since I ask you to respond to my columns, I can't very well call your e-mail, even the hateful ones, spam.

By the way, I do still read your e-mail myself (thanks), but can no longer answer all of them (sorry).

The big responses I've enjoyed recently were to my columns breaking the news that the US National Education Association is a union, suggesting that e-postage would deter spam, and solving the old Monty Hall Paradox.

There are many of you who still insist that the Monty Hall Paradox ends up 50-50. I've asked you to stop e-mailing me until you've played the Paradox with an ace and two deuces. I now behold your continuing incorrect puzzle proofs as spam.

Speaking of puzzles, here's another, sent to me by Hal Becker, an alert reader whose e-mail is definitely not spam. You have two glasses, one half full of coffee and the other half full of tea. You pour some of the coffee into the tea and mix thoroughly. Then you pour the same amount of the mixture back into the coffee. Now, which of the two liquids is diluted more by the other, the coffee or tea?

Please send me your solutions. (Solutions. Get it?) Eventually, many of you insisting the tea is more diluted will send me too much e-mail, and I'll have to declare it spam.

Which will get me in big trouble with the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) (http://www.cauce.org). CAUCE uses the word spam to mean bulk unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE). CAUCE would probably not agree that spam is in the eye of the beholder. It probably finds that unsolicited e-mail is OK from nonprofits. Maybe CAUCE would accept unsolicited e-mail from unprofitables?

Last week I argued that blanket prohibitions against bulk UCE goes too far, and yet not far enough.

Blanket prohibitions to UCE go too far in that advertising is a facilitator of economic, political, and social activity. Criminalising UCE would slow the civilisation of cyberspace.

On the other hand, criminalising UCE does not go far enough. There's much spam that is not UCE. As I am fond of saying, spam is in the eye of the beholder.

Some spam is pretty easy to behold these days. It begins with a completely dumbfounding announcement like "This is not spam." A sure sign.

And then follows what spammers take for Netiquette.

"We had reason to believe you solicited a message from us. We would not want you to receive our mailings if you don't want them. If we've contacted you in error, we're sorry, which should just about cover it.

"If you insist on us not sending you more e-mail, type lower-case Remove in the subject of a reply. Don't reply to this message, but send Remove to our Webmaster, whose really long address is below. Be sure your reply-to address is exactly the address to which we sent this e-mail. Follow up three days later with an identical e-mail, so we can be sure you really want out of the mainstream.

"The Internet being what it is today, our e-mail server may not be always up, so be prepared to try again. We reserve the right to send you future e-mail on different subjects. We also might send you e-mail on the same subject with a different return address, in which case no harm done, just simply repeat the above procedure. And now on to our exciting offer."

When I get what my eye beholds as spam -- single or bulk, solicited or un, commercial or non -- I want to push my spam button once to get that spam filed for future prosecutions, to get my mail server blocking e-mail from that sender, and to get a message sent according to a spam protocol demanding that the sender cease and desist.

Several other alert readers have suggested the spam button should feed a collaborative filtering process so that all my friends on the Net could be saved the trouble of receiving the spam again.

Dealing with spam by pushing one button in less than a second would go a long way toward not making a federal case out if it.

Is anyone working on getting me my spam button? And if that's too hard, which is more diluted, the coffee or tea?

[Internet pundit Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973 and founded 3Com in 1979. Send e-mail to metcalfe@idg.net or see http://www.idg.net/metcalfe.]