Wonderful spam? The evolution of junk email

If it seems like there’s a little more room to breathe around the Inspire blog it’s because I’ve just finished disposing of a hefty can of spam. I trawled through the older blog posts and filters and ended up obliterating nearly 3000 items of electronic junk-mail.

I actually think that spam –although very irritating – is quite an interesting subject. Like any other ‘sales tool’ (I use the term loosely in this case: I’m yet to buy any Viagra or send money to a Nigerian Prince), spam has developed new techniques, different things go in and out of fashion, and it has to adapt to a changing market.

As internet users have become more experienced and savvy the ‘quality’ of spam has had to rise too. The days of an inbox full of garbled emails is mostly gone: the major email providers have become more adept at stopping spam.
The huge rise in social networking has also meant a change in the nature of spam, as this very blog demonstrates. Most of the spam I just cleaned up was an attempt to start a ‘dialogue’. It’s no good appearing to be a simple advertisement robot. Most spam pretends to be an individual message from an actual person.

As people have become better gatekeepers of their internet experience, spammers have had to become more tailored in their responses. In my case, they seem to be targeting my ego! According to the majority of spam comments, we at Inspire are some of the most talented and interesting bloggers the world has ever seen! They’re normally unspecific about what they like about the posts (or even what the posts are about), but they really are impressed! Now, could I just click this link?

Admittedly most of these comments come from ‘bots’, but even the messages sent automatically are an attempt to speak to me personally for as little effort as possible. The quality of the message is constantly improving. It’s no longer enough to just send out a poorly spelled missive and hope people respond. Spam is on its way to becoming bespoke.

For the time being, I think I’ve managed to clean up the blog with the installation of some much-needed anti-spam software. This is an important addition, but not just for the sake of tidiness. A cavalcade of daily spam means that any other interaction on the blog – legitimate comments from people I’d genuinely like to establish a dialogue with – are likely to get buried and possibly ignored.

Spam getting more and more personal sounds like a terrifying concept: there will be nowhere to hide from people trying to sell you things. But if spam continues to become more sophisticated, it must continue to become more personal, and there is a threshold of how tailored a piece of information must be before it actual becomes useful.

If what started as spam ends up as a completely tailored message, just for me, about a product or service I’m sure to be interested in, does it matter where it comes from or not? Just as junk-mail is slowly becoming irrelevant and expensive, spam may also become a thing of the past, replaced by something more personal and therefore more worthwhile.

The message from this is that an individual, tailored service is always going to be more effective than a generalised one. It’s not a new idea by any means but the development of spam is a good reminder. It’s actually a little reassuring to be reminded: at Inspire we take pride in the bespoke nature of everything we do.

For now, however, the spam filters will stay in place. I may have to go elsewhere to get complements on my sublime writing. I think my ego will survive.

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