[conspire] A satisfactory end to the developerWorks problem

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Oct 10 14:56:10 PDT 2002

Mr. Michael O'Connell is editor-in-chief of IBM's developerWorks Web site.  
I won't forward his explanation (because it was private mail), but 
here's my reply.  

Among O'Connell's points was that the developerWorks representative used
changing Yahoo addresses not to hide or to conceal the IBM affiliation,
but rather to avoid having ibm.com itself overwhelmed by spam(!)  He
says they'll find better ways to verify that announcements will be
welcome before broadcasting them to mailing lists and newsgroups.
(Accordingly, I've removed *.yahoo.com from the "hold posts for
listowner approval" list.)

----- Forwarded message from Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> -----

Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2002 14:48:41 -0700
From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
To: Michael O'Connell <moc at us.ibm.com>
Subject: Re: Spam mail advertising DeveloperWorks being sent to Linux user groups' mailing lists

Dear Mr. O'Connell:

Thank you for your reply.  There are indeed ironies to be found, and my
calling the postings "spam" was regrettably a bit polemical.

In part because of the pervasive problem of (actual) spam, unmoderated
mailing lists have increasingly switched to holding for approval any
post from a non-subscriber.  Your dW representative's posts thus tend to
require manual handling by listadmins -- which alone does not endear

As you'll have noticed, my Linux group's mailing list is very
low-traffic and local in focus.  Many others are like that, too -- with
a deliberate attempt to keep their S/N high.  Such lists are easily
swamped and functionally destroyed by "announcement" posts from people
not involved with the sponsoring group -- and such has in fact happened,
repeatedly.  That experience is another reason for the widespread shift
to holding mail from non-subscribers:  It's like having your bridge
match interrupted by strangers entering your living room to bellow out
public service announcments.

(As an aside, the notion that the dW posts weren't "commercial" because 
they aren't selling anything is a bit thin:  If International Business
Machines has stopped being commercial, I'm going to have to sell my stock.)

Then, too, most of us already follow developerWorks.  Even if we don't, 
we nonetheless have digest mechanisms like LinuxToday.com, lwn.net, and
comp.os.linux.announce to call our attention to articles, events, and
software releases of interest.  

Relevant to that, and as a point of information, I've seen each posting
from your dW representative repeated about twelve times, once on each of
various technical mailing lists.  You may think of them as individual,
handcrafted messages to reach various on-line communities, but, because
of those communities' interconnectedness, the effect is rather

I also have a suggestion:  All you really need to do is create a
broadcast-type "developerworks-announce" mailing list.  (By "broadcast-type",
I mean a list to which only the listowner or designated insiders would
be able to post.  Other recipients would be unable to reply on-list.)

Not only would individuals be then able to receive announcements if they 
so chose, but also so would Linux community mailing lists.  That is, for
example, if I as listowner of CABAL's mailing list wanted to ensure that 
our members received all such announcements, I would need only to
subscribe my mailing list to "developerworks-announce".

I quite sympathize with IBM's dilemma as to how best to filter incoming
spam.  Perhaps the most practical solution would be interpose a Unix 
host (Linux, AIX, or whatever suits your IT staff) as a mail forwarder
prior to Lotus Notes receiving the mail, and use either SpamAssassin 
with Vipul's Razor or Bogofilter to attempt to trap unwanted mail.

There is one non-technical obstacle to such remedies, which I know
from bitter experience in decades of IT work:  Spam tends to become a
corporate political football.  Some corporate staff will reflexively
suspect any filtering of incoming mail, and never be satisfied that mail
_they_ want/need isn't being discarded.  This is why IT departments tend
to shy sideways from the problem, rather than meet it head-on.

In light of that obstacle, one workaround is to have SpamAssassin or
Bogofilter merely mark inbound mail (e.g., insert "X-Spam-Status"
headers) and pass it through:  The user can then, at his option, either
quarantine suspect mail or discard it, by using the filtering abilities
of his user mail agent (e.g., the Lotus Notes client).  Or do nothing
with it at all -- or even autoremove the markings, if he so wishes.

Relevant URLs:
http://spamassassin.org/   SpamAssassin
http://razor.sourceforge.net/  Vipul's Razor
http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/bogofilter/  Bogofilter

I hope this is of use to you.

Best Regards,
Rick Moen

----- End forwarded message -----

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