Spamus Interruptus

A few years ago, an eccentric post graduate was mindlessly tossing four or five credit card applications, an entire newspaper worth of local fliers, and seven announcements that he’d already won a million dollars, into a precarious heap looming menacingly over the couch. The history of the internet was written that day, as he unwittingly sat down under the comfortable shade offered by the seemingly innocuous pile of otherwise useless envelopes and inky print stock, prompting a torrential cascade to wash over him.

The man slowly clawed his way from the hundreds of pounds of mail, dragging his paper-cut and broken body away from the sucking morass. After he had recovered, the shattered husk of a man vowed to create an alternate method for unscrupulous advertisers to hawk their seedy, undesirable wares.

A scant seven weeks later, Al Gore invented the internet.

But his dream was flawed. No sooner had the telephone wires, fiber-optic lines, and cable jacks across the country initiated a deluge of primitive test data and timid information inquiries, that a scourge had been unleashed upon the world.

At first, the signs were mild. Few paid any attention to the badly formatted attempts at advocating an eyebrow-raising 1-900 number. The years passed, and as the shambling, unwashed masses began experimenting with computers and the wonders offered by email, instant messaging, and pornography, a trend was emerging. The once primitive and relatively benign advertisements began to take root. The death of a potentially transformational technology was at hand.

Soon, in addition to wading through a sea of advertising circulars after shuffling listlessly home from work, consumers realized that the last bastion of hope was a sham. Those who once took refuge in their friends and entertainments offered by the web, now mindlessly scanned through email subject lines offering unlikely organ enhancements, unnecessary financial services, and absurd business proposals. People became so busy deleting email from every sinister huckster able to mash a keyboard, that they no longer sent messages to each other. With thousands of daily offers from so many sources, it was somewhat ironic that advertisers expected their particular spam message to merit a response.

But one day, a ray of light shined upon the internet community, and that light was known as a Bayesian filter. Through the power of word proximity, mathematical analysis, and other wondrous magic, these filters could be trained to recognize unwanted email of any kind. Soon, spammers tried mixing irrelevant words in their emails, breaking up words with strange characters, and even making their messages nothing but an image. But nothing could trick these Bayesian saviors.

If you too would like to ruin a spammer’s day, download a Bayesian filter now. The longer they are trained, the more accurately they recognize unsolicited email, and false positives are low to nonexistent. In fact, one might even be sad about the sudden silence they offer.

Sorry Mr. Spammer, the free lunch is over.