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What is, and is not, spam

I discuss a recent article talking about the report spam button, and its missuse.

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Last week I posted an article Why shouldn’t I use
the “Report Spam” or “Junk” button?
that takes the position that there’s a
right and a wrong way to use the spam reporting tools provided by email

I’d heard from friends that publish email newsletters that this happens, but
now that I’m publishing my own weekly newsletter, it’s become a little
personal. The problem? Using the “This is Spam” button, or it’s equivalent, on
email that you asked for.

To make my point, consider this: most email newsletters are now what’s
called “double opt in” – meaning you have to say yes twice – once when you sign
up for an email newsletter, and then once again when you reply to the
confirmation mail asking if you really want to get that mailing.

Email that you receive after asking for it, and confirming that you want it,
is not spam – not by any reasonable definition.

So why are users clicking on the “This is Spam” button on the email that
they explicitly asked for?

One of the commentor’s on my original article belligerently gives one
reason: he doesn’t care. If he decides he doesn’t want the email, it’s the spam
button he uses to make it stop. Others apparently don’t recall signing up –
even though the process is somewhat painful. Some misfire and click the spam
button by mistake.

And many simply don’t understand what is, and is not, spam.

What almost all don’t understand is that miss-labeling legitimate email as
spam hurts us all. Services that use that data to tune their spam filters may
prevent other subscribers from getting the mail they asked for.

Sure, internet publishers are hurt, since they can’t deliver the service
requested by their customers. But it’s those customers that are hurt as

As complaints of missing mail rise, the spam filters are then necessarily
loosened – resulting not only in the requested email, but also allowing more
spam through for everyone.

The bottom line? Know what is and is not spam, and educate those around you
to use the tools appropriately. Unsolicited email is spam. Requested newsletter
subscriptions are not.

This is article 9636 – for related links, or to leave a comment, go to, enter 9636 in the go to article number box in the upper right. Add your comments to the discussion, I’d love to hear from you.

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5 comments on “What is, and is not, spam”

  1. I feel you on this one. I used to do a small HTML e-zine for my Fraternity and it got to be a real hassle. People either do not know what spam is or do not care. I do a few different sites now and have no urge to do anything other than web feeds(RSS).

    It is unfortunate that so many falsely report such things. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will ever change it. My thought is to push for web feeds (RSS) more. They are opt in only. The unsubscribe button takes care of everything.

  2. What gets me is that you didn’t see this coming.

    Simply put, opting out of an email broadcast varies from one company to the next. Honestly, as an end user, I have better plans for my life than trying to sift through a message I didn’t want to begin with just to figure out how to make it stop.

    Case in point, CareerBuilder,, etc. At first I wanted those services to send email to me. Now, I’d rather they just stopped. However, I have to click through, enter some passwords I’ve already forgotten, and finally tell them I don’t want the mail anymore. Usually when I do that the sites say that it takes between 3 and 10 days to get off the list (which is crap). Of course, this is glossing over the fact that a number of sites wont bother to remove you.

    RSS has a definite advantage. I can sign up whenever I want and the interface for getting rid of it is the same regardless of the feed.

    Then again, for your newsletters, you could (god forbid) just post a new page to your website. If anyone is interested they can come back to visit.

    Because of all of this, I would recommend to the mail hosts out there to just kill any message that has been sent to more than about 10 people. This would make email what it was supposed to be in the first place: An easy form of personal communication; instead of a mass marketing tool.

  3. Why don;t you cry me a river with your precious newsletters that no one reads anyway. Even if people read ’em anyway, they will be deleted after the first reading. Podcasts and RSS feeds are a far better method than written newsletters.

  4. People ask for them and then don’t read them? Sure hasn’t been my experience so far.

    The sad part is that people missusing the spam button are impacting the people that actually WANT the newsletters. And I’m most certainly NOT talking just about my newsletter. This is an industry-wide issue.

    Your attitude aside, it’s worth pointing out that the my full newsletter can be received by RSS at

  5. Well “hehe”, of course you are entitled to your opinion (as everybody is), i.e. in particular, you can like or dislike Leo’s newsletter. However, the reason that I am posting this comment (as a reply to yours) is that your have completely missed the topic’s subject. I mean even if “they will be deleted after the first reading” and even if “Podcasts and RSS feeds are a far better method than written newsletters”, please, explain what has this to do with the original subject in regard to what’s spam and what is not a spam.

    So it’s quite simple; I can say without any doubt that you are just trolling. Get it ??

    best regards,
    Ivan Tadej, Slovenija, Europe


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