It turns out that it's not our imagination: spam is getting worse. Fortunately, I recently switched to Entourage X, a component in Microsoft's Office v. X for OS 10.1. I reviewed this for the Seattle Times a few days ago. Entourage offers some tradeoffs, but it has powerful junk mail sorting and rulesets. I was able within a couple days to consign the worst incoming nonsense to the trash without reading it, and virtually all of the rest hits a spam folder I can look at and delete all of in a couple seconds.
The admirable Michael Fraase, mentioned in this space before, hits the spam target dead on in an article about how he's taken to filtering major ISP's email. Likewise, Adam Curry is wondering if he should just abandon email. ____ ______'s difficulties are documented as well, but he points out, There is no alternative other than to stop using email altogether.
That's the reality of the commercial marketplace. You could be like Lawrence Tribe, legendary defender and analyst of the First Amendment and simply tell people that their mail is heading for /dev/null: Professor Tribe will not be online until at least January 28, 2002. He is taking a break the essence of which is: no more e-mail until the break is over! Understand, please, that this means your message will NOT be forwarded to, or read by, Professor Tribe or by anyone on his behalf. Refreshing!
But could any of the rest of us get away with it? Not likely.
I like Adam Curry's notion of using existing tools, such as Userland Radio and other software, to create channels of email between known entities. That's what I was getting at the other day in the sense of using whitelists, not blacklists: let me define who I want to hear from, not a list of those who are banned. Some telephone companies offer a whitelist service in which some callers get right through, while others listen to a brief message explaining that unsolicited phone callers should hang up or be in violation of federal law for disobeying the message. As I've been using Entourage over a few weeks, I've gradually increased my whitelist by using the This is Not Junk Mail link on mail Entourage thinks is junk mail and adding mailing list rules, adding folks to my address book, defining individual pieces of email as not junk.
Meanwhile, the group at XNS.org had and has a solution for this problem, but it requires a lot of sign-off by application developers, email users, and mail transfer agent (MTA) builders like sendmail and Exchange. It's not impossible, and it's a beautiful and elegant (and legally binding) solution. Unfortunately, it requires too much buy-in to work across the whole Net. Yet.