You've got mail, baby, yeah

I haven't received a spam email in over a week, and it's great. That's not to say I haven't had access to my email address. Far from it. Suddenly it's like it was when I first got email: it's useful, it's easy to use -- hey, it adds value.

I haven't received a spam email in over a week, and it's great.

That's not to say I haven't had access to my email address. Far from it. Suddenly it's like it was when I first got email: it's useful, it's easy to use -- hey, it adds value.

Here at IDG we've started using Death2Spam, a heuristic filtering system that's locally developed and is being deployed by our ISP, ICONZ.

I've written about Death2Spam in the past, about its ability to learn what is and isn't spam, but this is the first time I've actually got my hands on it for a proper play.

I can tell you that since November I've received 7616 emails and that a third of those were immediately blacklisted as spam. On top of that a further 100 were classed as "unsure" and 65 more were caught as potential viruses. Nice.

At the start of last week I made the big leap and switched off the "Deliver spam to my program" setting, which means I don't even see the email the system has decreed to be spam. I'm happy to do that because of the 7616 emails I've received not one has been a "false positive". Sure, some of the spam gets through to be listed as real email and more gets through listed as "unsure", but not once have I lost an email to the system that I should have got. That's pretty spectacular as far as I'm concerned.

The biggest drawback of the whole system is that you need to be willing to put in the time and effort to train it up and make it work. I resisted this for some time so I was pleasantly surprised to find how little effort is actually involved. Each morning I log on and go through the three folders -- good, bad and unsure. A quick scan down the "good" folder shows up those emails that aren't, so I tick their little boxes all the way to the spam folder. Once those have gone (only a handful each day), I delete all the email that are there. This isn't my inbox but a separate file stored on ICONZ's servers, so I haven't lost any of my own email. I just find it's tidier this way. I do the same for the unsure box, marking them as either spam or good and then on to the spam box. A quick scan down the list assures me I haven't missed anything and then I delete a whole page at a time. I don't actually have to read the spam, but if I'm unsure myself I can open one up in the browser and check. This takes surprisingly little time each day and feels quite good; it feels like I'm actually doing something in the battle.

So it's been a quiet old time in the inbox of late. Gone are the 60 or 70 messages a day asking me to indulge in dubious practices of various kinds, to be replaced initially by a vague sense that perhaps I'm not connected, or that something's gone wrong and all my email are being blocked. That didn't last long, however, as I realised I had reclaimed my inbox for my own use.

I still get press releases, but I have a different filtering system for those, as I'm sure you're aware by now.

Eventually Death2Spam would be integrated into an anti-spam service of some kind and would feed back my suggestions to the greater anti-spam community. At the moment the service learns my preferences only, but for now, that's enough for me.

Brislen is Computerworld Online'sreporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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