Personal Spam

season is a busy period in all aspects, one of which is usually my personal inbox.

As you may know already, I aggregate several mail accounts into my own IMAP server using old, time-honored (and utterly reliable) fetchmail, and all of it has to jump through a number of hoops, which naturally include Spam filtering - sometimes more than once.

Between themselves SpamAssassin, Gmail and do an excellent job of weeding out 99% of junk mail, but of late some of them (mostly SpamAssassin) have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume and I've spotted a few false positives when rummaging about my Junk folders.

Interestingly enough, most of that mail falls into three different categories:

  • -related junk mail from people wanting to sell me software or looking for a mention on this site (which is instantly zapped the moment I sense hyperbole, PR speak or any form of the "best thing since sliced bread" syndrome).
  • Personal mail sent from corporate addresses (usually trailing some sort of overblown .signature and/or corporate disclaimer, which SpamAssassin shoots on sight).
  • Actual, live, reader mail pointing out interesting stuff.

The first, of course, is the one that I find less interesting, and I don't often take it out of the Junk bin (the e-mails about Windows software stay there). But if you do want to get my attention (which is a woefully limited resource, both due to my limited free time and the amount of mail I get), here's a few hints:

  • No PR-speak. Zero. The moment I read stuff like "personalized", "exciting" or more than one sentence ending in an exclamation mark, I immediately hit the delete key. I don't care if you're giving your stuff away, I just delete it - so If you're in PR, get an actual human being to write your e-mail for you.
  • Better still, get the programmer to drop me a line - after swapping a couple of messages with him, I'm vastly more likely to be interested in your solution (and truth be told, programmers are usually the best possible source for stuff).
  • Don't waste more than the first three sentences explaining what the software does. Anything longer than four paragraphs will either be deleted or flagged for "maybe later". Given my typical workload, I tend to put off replying to personal e-mail for days at a time (as many people who've been corresponding with me will attest).
  • Don't send me "direct download" links. I won't click on them (I must be unique in not actually downloading things until I know - I'll have time to play with them). Send me a link to the product page (features, screenshots, etc.), and I'll figure it out from there when I have time.
  • If it's a closed beta, don't assume I'll go out and test it right away. That also applies to evaluation copies, etc., etc. If I'm interested and I have the time, I'll ask for the download details (that way there's no chance for undue assumptions on either end).
  • Don't send me links to obscure teasers - I don't subscribe to the current "let's use bloggers to advertise for us" trend, and there is no added value in making me open my browser to end up on a nearly blank page with the words "it's coming soon". In fact, I will probably never go back there.

In a nutshell -

Don't try to hijack my time. If your stuff is interesting enough to me, it will fit into my time naturally. I have very little free time, and I'd rather devote it to relaxing and corresponding with people I know than dig through hardly disguised Spam.

Forcing me to look at something is the best way to ensure I won't (and you can blame that on being subjected to three decades of advertising plus exposure to a lot of tricks...).

As to actual reader mail, keep it coming - you can make it as long as you want, but keep in mind that I tend to avoid reading (and replying) to long e-mails until I have the time to read them properly (which only tends to happen on weekends).

People are always vastly more interesting than software - and I try to answer all of it, even if my replies may seem somewhat terse at times...

But when you send me e-mail, please try to do it from your own, personal (i.e., non-corporate) mail account and add a short description to whatever URLs you send - that way it's much more likely to survive SpamAssassin's aggressive culling.

You see, I tend to organize my time at the computer in such a way as to minimize distractions (call it if you must), and as such I end up not clicking on links until I know I have time to surf a bit - so the description is a very handy way to place the URL in context.

Yeah, I know the is a multi-tasking system... But getting home after ten to twelve hours at the office, I get distracted too easily.