cat /dev/DiBona/brain: ASK Me Again?

by Chris DiBona

"Pray. To ASK the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy." - Ambrose Bierce

In my last entry, I spoke about the installation of ASK on my mail pipeline. I received some vitriolic responses comparing me to satan/gates/spammers/ for daring to consider doing such a thing. The entire discussion of how we in the Open Source community treat one another (read: poorly) aside, there were some valid points in the responses.

That said, I did consider them before implementing ASK. ASK, you might remember, is a challenge response system. Any challenge response by itself fundamentally is part of the spam problem, as much as are those auto-responses from foolish spam firewalls telling you, the spoofed address, that you sent spam. This is why I slid SpamBayes into the pipeline before ASK. What I wanted ASK to do is to act as a gateway for stranger mail.

I didn't put enough things in before ASK and I realized, mostly after I wrote the article, that what I really wanted from ASK is not the challenge at all, but the white, grey and blacklisting. But then I got to thinking, let's see if the people are right in that the ASK program is a problem before implementing no-sending or using procmail for whitelisting.

The short answer is they are and they are not right about the problem that a properly pipelined ASK represents to the Net at large. The long and Boolean correct answer is you cannot run ASK without sending some e-mail to those who don't need or want it. It not as though I was sending out thousands or hundreds of these false confirmations a day, but I was sending out ten to twenty. If that was all there was to it--and I were a tad bit more selfish--I'd say that's okay and continue to use ASK. But the real problem was that some of the newcomers to Linux that e-mailed me simply couldn't get through the confirmation step.

Should I care? Should I use ASK as a "you must be this smart to e-mail me" test? I don't think so; plus, I'm not selfish, which is why I've pulled ASK out of the pipeline. So the mail pipeline now contains this: MTA - ClamAV- SpamBayes - Mailbox. Let's see how it does. If you care, I'll keep you posted, but I am aware of the intense boredom that erupts from "I get more spam than you" conversations. I'm also going to implement a Web form so people can add themselves to my whitelist from my TV FAQ or something like it.

If I can paraphrase Eric Allman (of Sendmail fame), he always tells me the rule about spam is everyone hates it, but they love to talk about it. So this is the second occasion on which I've wasted your time and mine with spam talk. There won't be a third, I promise. I'm not going to lie to you, there was some satisfaction in not seeing spam in my inbox for that period, but it was tempered by my nervousness at missing other mail.

Also, one project I thought I'd draw everyone's eyes to, if they haven't already seen it, is the Slimp3 audio streaming server. It doesn't require you to have the Slimp3 or Squeezebox hardware--although that stuff is really great--and it's a terrific way of organizing and enjoying your music collection. But, I'll talk more about how cool these all are another time.

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