Correcting my limitless lack of knowledge, one post at a time.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Before we entirely leave the topic of SPAM- part one, I will confess that I failed to pursue my research far enough to include the classic Monty Python skit on same. For those of you who haven't seen this error corrected by astute blog commenters, I have included the YouTube above. I have actually left out a lot of SPAM lore and culture, and this blog acknowledges that it has hit only the tip of the SPAM iceberg.
But before this image imprints itself too deeply, let's quickly move on to the other meaning of spam. Of course we all know what it is by now, though I will attempt to define it more precisely. How did the email junk mail we love to hate come to adopt this name? And how does electronic spam really work? How effective is it? Do people really leap to buy Viagra through these means?
Well, as it turns out, that Monte Python skit is more relevant than I knew. (Go ahead, check it out if you haven't, because what follows will be a spoiler otherwise.) In the skit, the cast of characters slowly drown out all other requests off the breakfast menu in a dense insistence on Spam, Spam, Spam! as breakfast ingredient of choice. And at least the Wikipedia article I read says that the skit alludes to the "preponderance of imported canned meats" in the post-WWII United Kingdom as it struggled to get its agriculture back up to steam. So SPAM itself became a kind of spam, although in this case, it seems the real villain was canned corned beef from Argentina, which unfortunately for Hormel, does not provide such a good acronym.
Of course, all this was ripe to make a good metaphor for a bulk electronic message system that has tended to gradually drown out more legitimate or at least wanted messages unless some sort of filter is put in place. I was not surprised to learn that spam comprises a good percentage of email, but even so, I was flabbergasted that as a conservative estimate, MAAWG, the Message Anti-Abuse Working Group, has spam as taking up 80 to 85 percent of the world's email. Our piddling little conversations about our personal lives and passions seem pretty meaningless in this context.
SPAM wasn't just a metaphor in its early usage, though. Apparently, there were a lot of Monty Python aficionados on the early web who used to fill up electronic bulletin boards and the like with the word "Spam" over and over in order to force readers to scroll and scroll to get to more relevant content. Sometimes, they even put whole portions of the skit's text in the boards. It was often an insiders vs. outsiders tactic, forcing the newcomers to give up and leave. Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans used to attack each others' fan boards in this way.
Okay, I think we can all understand the role of spam as an annoyance factor on early message boards and games. But to consider its commercial value, we have to consider its relation to email. Why do people spam? Do they actually make money? Is there really a sucker born every minute? And do they all have a computer?
Well, as far as I can tell, the beauty of spamming is that there is no real cost to the spammer--the cost of spam is borne elsewhere. I learned the term "barriers to entry" in the course of writing this up. Barriers to entry are the obstacles someone seeking to take part in a market faces. They may have to pay start up fees, get professional credentials and licenses, or be forced to compete with a larger rival that has access to better pricing, etc. Apart from the cost of an internet connection and a computer, a spammer has basically no barrier to entry. His--or her--profit comes from sending out an email ad to millions of people and then pocketing the money from the tiny one or two percent of people who actually reply back. When the numbers are this high, even a small amount of response can translate into a decent living. Here's a blog post on how Viagra spam works, that I found quite informative. One key element is that Pfizer still controls the market on the product in the U.S., but in other countries this patent has expired, which enables them to make a generic Viagra at a fraction of the cost.
According to this MSNBC article, often those in the shadowy spam world are affiliated in some hard to trace way to legitimate companies, which enjoy getting lists of potential clients as well as anyone. Put in this light, spamming doesn't really seem any more dubious than other corners of world finance we have come to know and love, such as the bundling of mortgages for unaccountable entities to hold.
Let me admit that, every once in awhile, I do enjoy a good halfway literate scammer. I doubt that putting your writing talents to work actually adds much to the income flow, but at least the results aren't tedious. Here is one that's been making the rounds of late. You may have read it. If not, enjoy...
Just wanted to write you and let you know, how the degree program I tried out went. Well, six weeks later, I graduated, finished & received my Masters Degree with no study required and %100 verifiable.
Yeah mom, I know you and Dad doubted it at first, but this turned out to be %100 legit. This opportunity was given to me because of the professional experience and previous course work I had accumulated.
I’m so excited mom and dad, this was a life altering opportunity & for once in my life I took advantage of it.
I already have jobs, that wouldn’t have given me a chance before, now they are calling off the hook! This really is a godsend.
Tell Susan and Cousin Joey that they better hurry up and call that # I gave them the other day.
Again these are the degrees they offer, BA, BSC, MA, MSC,MBA and PhD, and the number to call is (I'm deleting the number lest I unwittingly become an accomplice) Tell them to leave a brief message with their name, the degree they are interested in and their day and evening phone numbers. They will contact you soon after,
Anyway, much love, and tell the rest of the family I said hello
Love, Your son,
P.s. Mom, why don’t you send this email to a few of your friends? My professor told me that if we send over referrals the school can give us a scholarship.