On-line Communities, Hold the Spam

by Don Marti

People who are new to on-line communities are naturally concerned about all the spam they might get. What? Post your address publicly, for all the spammers to put on their CDs? It's true, you do start to get a lot of spam if you're active on publicly archived lists or run a web diary or blog. But don't be too afraid of spam. A world without spam would be a world without a lot of other things, too.

You could stop spam with one global uniform internet law, strictly enforced worldwide. But before any such law made any impact on spam, it would shut down a lot of stuff you like that your least favorite country convinced the global spam conference to ban.

You could change your address constantly and throw away anything sent to an old address. But there goes your chance to get mail from new people.

You could do what some companies and members of the US Congress are doing and turn the process of mailing you into a little dance with an automatic challenge that's impossible for spamware. But apply the Golden Rule for a minute and imagine if everyone you wanted to write to did that to you.

A total end to spam would be worse than spam. If you want the benefits of mail, you're going to have to put up with a little spam. But how little can you get away with? Gary Robinson is pushing the limits of automatic spam detection with some mathematical research on page 58.

Then, on page 52, Richie Hindle takes a look at how to set up Spambayes to start marking and filtering your spam right now. Spam-filtering developers are coming up with new math and new functionality all the time.

Sometimes I think Google works as well as it does because Doc Searls and his friends thoughtfully link to the good stuff on the Web, thereby pumping up the “Google Juice” of interesting pages. How do you become a commentator, tastemaker or diarist? Pick a blog package and start typing. Naturally Doc and I disagree on which software is best, but he's the man where blogs are concerned. See for yourself on page 66.

On page 72, Marilyn Davis explains that true democracy needs both elections and deliberation. Most systems offer one or the other, but not both. However, Marilyn's eVote system makes it possible for any user of a Mailman-based mailing list to start a wide variety of single-choice or multiple-choice polls. After the initial setup, there's no need for an administrator.

Every once in a while, face-to-face contact is a good idea, too. Fortunately for us Linux users, there are many ways to meet off-line and have been since the beginning. Check out the “Groups of Linux Users Everywhere” (GLUE) link on the Linux Journal home page, give your carpal tunnels a break, and meet some Linux people face-to-face too.

Don Marti is editor in chief of Linux Journal and usually finds the answer right after he asks a dumb question on a mailing list.

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