In Search of… A definition for e-mail spam

According to Wikipedia, e-mail spam is defined as follows:

“E-mail spam, also known as unsolicited bulk Email (UBE) or unsolicited commercial email (UCE), is the practice of sending unwanted e-mail messages, frequently with commercial content, in large quantities to an indiscriminate set of recipients. (”

This definition is okay, but is overly broad. I would like to propose the “Triangle of Spam” in an effort to more accurately define the problem.

Simply put, for any piece of e-mail to be considered “spam” it must be unsolicited, anonymous, and high volume. If any one (or more) of these characteristics is not met, the e-mail can be considered unwanted, but is not “spam.”

It is important to distinguish between “spam” and simply unwanted e-mail. For example, are “Lowest Fare” updates from United Airlines spam or, in my case, simply unwanted (I never fly United)? While I’m sure I did fly United at some point in the distant past, I certainly do not plan on flying United anytime soon. Technically speaking, United has the right, by virtue of our “previous business relationship,” to send me these updates. However, in my particular case, these are absolutely unwanted e-mails, but they cannot (or should not) be considered spam.

I am very interested to hear what other people think of the “Triangle of Spam.”

Some advice if HP really is trying for an ‘end-run’ around Windows

It sure would be a great move for the folks at HP (Hewlett Packard) to build an operating system to further distinguish themselves within the terribly “me to” desktop hardware world. Simply put, if Apple can do it, why not HP?

Here is the article I read from Business Week…

HP’s ‘End Run’ Around Windows

“The carefully crafted ecosystem of tech companies built around Microsoft’s Windows operating system is showing signs of strain. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), a longtime Microsoft ally, has quietly assembled a group of engineers to develop software that would make Windows Vista easier to use, or bypass some of its more onerous features. A Skunk Works of engineers at the company is even angling to replace Windows with an HP-assembled operating system, sources say.”

Do I think HP can build an operating system to compete with Windows? Absolutely. As of 12 Sept 2008, HP has a market cap of ~$115B and, according to BusinessWeek “HP is the world’s largest supplier of PCs, with about 19% market share, and analysts estimate overall sales will grow 10.3% this year, to $115 billion.” In my opinion, building an operating system is something HP must do if it intends to remain relevant in the years to come.

Keeping in mind that I hope this is all true and the folks at HP really do have the guts, I would like to offer the 3 following suggestions:

  1. Whatever you do, make sure you launch with a full-blown (and functionally complete) replacement for Outlook (use Evolution as your starting point). This will be key to your success. Winning the “hearts & minds” of corporate/business users will be what makes this venture successful. Do not forget: E-mail is still the Internet’s “killer app!” To be very specific, for better or worse, your Outlook replacement must fully integrate with Microsoft Exchange (2003/2007+). This means group calendering, contacts (address books), notes, public folders, rules, etc. If you want to know what you need, take a look at Entourage2008, compare its support with Outlook 2007, and fill in the gaps. Entourage2008 is about 75% good enough.
  2. Work closely with the OpenOffice developers and the folks at Sun to assure the OpenOffice productivity suite is as close to being a real replacement for Microsoft Office as possible. I use OpenOffice on a daily basis and think it’s great, however, there are still way too many formatting and usage incompatibilities with Microsoft Office, particularly with Word & PowerPoint. You need to spend the money to make sure OpenOffice and Microsoft Office can be used as interchangably as possible.
  3. Make sure you work with RIM to assure compatibility with their BlackBerry PDAs, their desktop software, and their BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server).

If you are reading this and happen to be from HP… Good luck! I, and a huge percentage of the free-world are pulling for you. I will be happy to help any way I can.

E-mail is the original “social network”

Facebook –  LinkedIn – MySpace – Plaxo – Twitter. What do these have in common aside from the fact they are all wildly successful? Simple… Each of these are important players in the latest 21st century craze, forever to be known as “social networking.” I am a huge fan of Facebook. I don’t know about you, but I love getting “Facebooked” by random friends, family members,  and/or business associates from my past. Once or twice per week I get one of those “Random Person has requested to add you as a friend on Facebook” e-mails.

I’m in the business of making e-mail a safe and more productive tool. Part of my job is to consider questions like “Why is Facebook so great and why do so many people use it?” After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Facebook has succeeded in providing more than simply a nice social networking environment. Thanks to Facebook’s “opt-in by request only” nature, people are able to connect and communicate one-to-one (and in some cases one-to-many) with only those people they have authorized. I know many people who have stopped using traditional free e-mail services like Gmail and Yahoo, and instead use Facebook to communicate with friends and colleagues. I ask these people why they have abandoned e-mail and in all cases the answer has been the same. “Facebook is easy to use, is safe from threats, and is spam free.”

I do not know anyone that works for Facebook. However, if I did, I would certainly compliment them on creating the secure communications channel that e-mail could have been.

This brings me to the explanation of the title of this posting…

In my opinion, e-mail is the original “social networking” tool. To quote George Lucas, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” in a pre-Facebook, pre-LinkedIn world; there was e-mail. Before the “bad guys” and “marketing guys” messed up e-mail, it was a great tool for managing your social network of friends and business associates. Unfortunately for e-mail, there is no built-in concept of “opt-in by request only” functionality. In fact, with e-mail, there is virtually no built-in security whatsoever.

As the original “killer app,” for e-mail to maintain its undisputed role as the most important communications medium since the telephone, it seems clear to me that e-mail needs to be “upgraded” at least to a security level equal to that of other major social networking tools.