The Cost of Spam
And now for something completely different...
You probably picked up on the obvious Monty Pythonism above. It's appropriate since I wanted to talk a little about another topic dear to the MP team's hearts: spam. The spam I am talking about, however, is not pink processed meat that comes in a can but the practice of sending out unsolicited, bulk or ^$#@ email.
First off, don't do it! Spam, that is. It is almost impossible to get rid of the taint of spam once you have been labelled a spammer. The snag is that it is also so easy to get gulled into spamming! I receive every single day, rain or shine, at least 3 or 4 badly-worded emails promoting various spamming services that will DrIVE MillIONS to youR SigHT. Here's what actually happens if you spam (small children should turn away, it's not pretty when a site implodes!)
You send out your cheque or give out your credit card number to Acme Dodgy Enterprises Unlimited. Your message gets fired out to millions of people if you're unlucky; if you are very fortunate, Acme just take your money and runs away.
The email letterbox you had reserved for replies explodes with profanity, mail bombs (huge files designed to make you exceed your server's capacity for storing email) and occasional viruses masquerading as email attachments. In most cases, these messages of pure hatred will be mixed in with thousands of "bounced" messages (messages that were sent to email addresses that no longer work) and the very, very occasional enquiry from a genuine customer.
Your ISP (the company that provides your email and web service) shuts you down, or takes you to court. Almost simultaneously, your name, email address(es) and site URL go into various spam databases scattered all across the Internet. This means that you will no longer be able to send email messages to thousands of separate sites, including some of the largest on the Web. Many national or regional ISPs (such as AOL) maintain comprehensive blacklists of spammers.
Convinced yet? The above may sound melodramatic, but the truth can be even worse: by getting your company blacklisted you guarantee that all future ventures to which you affix your name will also be tinged with the taint of spam (blacklists are easy to get on to, almost impossible to get off)
The worst thing is (if all the above was not bad enough) most of the retribution is invisible. ISPs do not publish lists of banned sites; you might never know that a large percentage of your emails destined for clients are disappearing into a virtual black hole.
Ok, so you're hopefully convinced not to give spam a try. But what can you do to guard your email letterbox from spam?
One thing I have suggested elsewhere, which bears repeating, is that you should acquire a free email address and use it when posting your site to various promotional places such as USENET or free-for-all lists (a free-for-all list is a large page of links to sites; you can add your site instantly to the top of the list). There are hundreds of free email services to choose from; you'll find them listed elsewhere on this site...
The other thing you can do is protect your email address on your site from being collected by spambots. A spambot is a little program that automatically and systematically moves from website to website collecting email addresses and adding them to an ever-increasing list of places to spam.
There is one very effective, very easy way of protecting your site: use the Mailto Encoder. All you have to do is add your email address in the box, and you will receive within a few minutes a specially encoded version of the email address that people can still use to contact you, but which will choke the spambot programs and stop them from picking up your address. This system REALLY WORKS! I have been using it on two of my sites for months now, and neither has received a single spam message!