Month: April 2009

Spam is good for you

Spam is good for you, at least better than you may think. Spam accounts for three quarters of all emails sent worldwide and some even attached carbon footprint to it (and here one of the reasons why it’s nonsense). But it’s good for you in ways that does not meet the eye very easily and very few people would even consider it as good in the first place.

Not only emails, think on how much regular mail you receive is really worthy and how much is spam, it’ll probably account for three quarters as well. How much of that is really mean, how that really hurts you so bad that you’d put the sender in jail for it?

Sure spam is a nuisance, sure it gets in the way of the real work, but at what cost are we, the society, willing to pay to eradicate such problem? Well, lets take a look on how spam really started…

Local business

You’re a window cleaner and recently moved to Shlobershire in a very quite little village. How would you let people know about your business? You can go on, talking to each one of the local residents but that’s a nuisance, so you print some pamphlets and post through the door of everyone.

Some will read and call you, some will be pissed off but most will just ignore you. You’ll figure out pretty quickly about those that got pissed off (if you live in a small village you know that already), but then you buy them a pint and everything is settled.

What’s the final cost? A few pamphlets, a couple pints and you got two great things: one or two windows to clean and the whole village knowing who you are. This is, by far, the cheapest marketing ever. The rest of us that can’t afford a real marketing campaign have to find ways to promote our business.

With all the fuss about global warming, organic farming and fair competition in business (if there is such thing), we want to promote and use more of local business than big brands. We’re loosing creativity, diversity and quality if we don’t.

ROI

Just like the local business, some people can’t afford big marketing campaigns. Either because they’re poor or because their business is not so legal in every country.

So, why people still send those stupid ill edited loosely formatted emails, even when it’s obvious what they want? Who wants pills, fake degrees or enlarge their penises? Well, apparently some do and the do reply and may well get what they want!

The return of investment is much, much better than most marketing campaigns. Take Microsoft’s campaign with Jerry Seinfield or the “I’m a PC” thing? It was the most expensive piece of crap ever done. Seriously, I prefer spam than that!

The return rate is very low, one reply in millions of email, but if they send billions of emails, go figure.

But that’s clearly bad, isn’t it?

Well, illegal activities are bad, of course. Either on-line of off-line, drug dealing is bad, banking scams are bad, but not all spam is a scam or a drug selling point.

First, people receive so much spam from normal companies (even those that they have explicitly opted-out) including broadband providers, software, telephone and TV etc and etc.

The smaller companies are still sending physical spam and it’s probably working much better than the electronic spam, but that’s the deal: it works and it’s cheap.

Second, what’s really illegal? Downloading a music you haven’t paid for is illegal? What if you will pay later? What if the author allowed you to? Ripping your CDs to MP3 to listen in your car is illegal? You have paid for it already!

Google has become target of many accusations of illegal behaviour because they host a number of websites, videos, personal profiles on social networks. If people started to massively upload child pornography to YouTube, would the Google guys be in jail? I bet my little finger they wouldn’t.

RIAA kills a kitten every time you download (or rip) a CD while governments detain people for years on maximum security prisons without a single charge, what’s really legal?

Pirate Bay scam

I still don’t believe it happened, even though it was on all major journals for a week, but the Pirate Bay guy actually got a jail sentence for owning a website that allowed people to share files. They’re not criminals, they’re not killing people or (more importantly) getting in the way of the course of business (after all, money is more important than peoples lives nowadays). They just set up a list of things.

File sharing is one of the biggest revolutions of the recent internet and more and more people are asking the industry to finally adopt the technique rather than fight it. Whether they like it or not, it will prevail.

What is worse, a few old ladies downloading very old music (unavailable from any shop in the world) or the fear that the recording industry poses on most governments today that allowed such a scam to ever being turn into reality?

One mistake does not justify the other, but many (sane) people are already saying: Stop fighting reality, come back to it, be part of it.

You can’t fight them, help them!

I can’t imagine a world where we wait people to deliver a pamphlet to hand-cuff them, or where someone is jailed for listening music in his player’s speakers. Unfortunately, we’re not that far from it.

Why spam works? Because there isn’t any other way for those people. Yellow pages? Who reads them? Journal advertisement? Banners? People got used to them and can ad-block automatically. Our brains are trained to ignore them, it’s just not effective any more.

Some companies say they can provide a much better ad experience for the users by spying their lives closer than their lovers. I would object that approach…

There are many (free) systems for local business, but none of them seem to cut it. Maybe because people are always trying to get money in return (weird world, isn’t it?) and end up putting paid ads bigger, colourful and in the front page, and let the real local business somewhere between marriages and obituary.

I have no idea how a system would get rid of spam once and for all and it’s not my cup of tea to think about it, but I’m sure there are many people that could tackle this problem, they just need a bit of money (from the government) and time. It’s not a matter of filtering emails, it’s a matter of removing the need to send them in the first place!

If governments are really worried about spam, let them be creative and help freedom, privacy and good relationships rather than the totalitarianism we’re seeing around the world.

A new world is rising, new machines are taking life much faster than most governments would like and the digital hand-cuffs are showing that none of them understand a bit of what’s going on. All blinds, living in their caves watching the shadows on the wall. Whoever cry wolf is right for no one knows what wolf really is and where is it. Technology is like children, the more oppressed they are, the more you loose control over them.

Einstein didn’t go to the US because he liked the land of freedom, he moved because he hoped (in vain) that they would know how to use wisely the technology he knew how to build. He knew that others would be able to build it and it was just a matter of time before any bomb was actually available. Holding it back was not the answer and he knew it.

I just hope people figure it out sooner rather than later, or 1984 will seem like a pretty boring fairy tale for our children…

Opt-out

Apparently, users are so dumb that they don’t even know what opt-out means, so Microsoft just wants to be really sure anyway…

Dear Windows Live User,

We are contacting you regarding your communication preference settings for Windows Live and MSN.

Currently, your settings do not allow Microsoft to send you promotional information or survey invitations about Windows Live and MSN. We would like to communicate important product updates to you, so if you would like to change your settings, please visit your account profile here to change your preferences.

Sincerely,
The Windows Live Team

Note: You can also change your Account settings by going to your browser and typing in: http://account.live.com. After logging-in to your account, look for ‘Additional options’ and click ‘Marketing preferences’. Then uncheck the top preference box and click ‘Save’.

Microsoft respects your privacy. To learn more, please read our online Privacy Statement.

Microsoft Corporation

Thanks for the fun, Rodrigo

How green can you get?

Recently the whole family has been engaged in a complete greenification and organification. We prefer regional organic food (fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products) than regular ones. We recycle everything we can, even if that means a car trip to the recycling centre every now and then.

But the recent trip to Scotland made us to want a new car, and the new car we wanted wasn’t green at all: the Toyota’s Rav4. It took me a while to have courage to actually buy one, but in the week I was listing them to get one on the local Toyota dealer, I saw a talk by Prof. David MacKay at ARM and changed my mind…

Besides being one of the key world figures on information theory, inference and learning, he’s also pushing hard on sustainable energy. His talk was great and it was then I figured out how much difference you can make with little things. Not getting planes unless you really have no other choice, changing your car to something greener and buying food from local markets does make a big difference.

It was then that we bought a Toyota Prius. I have to say that I’m impressed. Not only it runs on battery for quite a while, but the petrol engine is super effective, only turns on when needed and doing 60mpg (21 km/l) at constant speeds. Not only that, but the amount of gadgets and technology they put in those cars is amazing.

I’m not saving the world, I know, but does help a lot. If those cars were more common, if the globalization used more internet and less aeroplanes, and if people ate more local food, maybe we could reduce the energy footprint and than sustainable energy could be viable.

One thing is for sure, people do need to change their attitude towards life and comfort and be prepared to live more and complaint less.