Eightball and Thundercloud's RANT

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
From InfoAve Premium Issue #101 - September 23, 2005
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Floyd Merkletot - The People's Postman

Last week we were inundated with letters from BellSouth customers who didn't get their InfoAve Premium newsletter. Some of them were quite upset with us - they paid for it and they want it! And they let us know in no uncertain terms they were not none too happy with us. We want them to have it as much as they want to have it. Trust me. We don't sit here and spend hours and hours each week writing this newsletter just so we can sit here and read it to each other. Honest!

Well, most of you, of course, got your newsletter last Friday without any trouble and we did send it early in the morning (Eastern time/USA). Apparently, BellSouth censored our newsletter for whatever reason. We personally took the time to write to hundreds of BellSouth subscribers and explain to them that the InfoAve Newsletter they paid for, was indeed sent to them. But it their ISP blocked them from receiving it. Many of them subsequently contacted BellSouth and let them know exactly what they thought about this censorship. Well, to make a long story short, BellSouth had a variety of reasons why this happened - mail server problems, spam filter problems, etc. So, I guess we'll never actually know what really happened.

Most of you, who have been subscribers for more than a few weeks know exactly what we think about ISP censorship (spam filtering) of an individual's personal email. We don't like it much and we've spoken out about it several times. Most recently in a Rant we wrote about AOL censoring our newsletters for a very poor reason (see http://thundercloud.net/infoave/aol-rant.htm ). Any time you let another (a company, a person, an organization, your ISP) interfere with your personal business, things won't be done the way you want them done. But, since the general consensus among Internet users is that ISP's spam-filtering is actually a benefit, perhaps we need to do a better job of informing people exactly why it's not.  So, here's a little story that will hopefully better explain our position in a fun, light-hearted way. The story is fun but the subject matter is very serious because it involves your rights and your responsibilities.

Floyd Merkletot, a graying 40ish, rather plump but pleasant man, lives in Anytown, USA with his wife and two children. He's been with the U.S. Postal Service for nearly twenty years and still enjoys his daily route delivering mail. On nice days he walks and delivers the mail to person personally. He gets paid well and has tons of benefits. Well, you know, it's a government job.

Anyway, the people along his route have become his friends. He's seen children grow up and get married, he's seen young families grow, and he's watched some of his friends die. He's part of the life of the community and each family on his route is part of his life.

Floyd, unlike many government employees :-), takes his job seriously. After hearing so many of his friends complain about receiving far too much junk mail, he decided to do something about it once and for all! Floyd was going to make sure than no one on his route would ever receive a single piece of junk mail again.

With nearly years experience he knew darn well what junk mail looked like! After all, he'd seen enough of it and, yes, delivered way too much of it. Just about everyone complained about it, but no one did anything about it. Now he, Floyd Merkletot, would change all that. He would protect his customers and deliver only good mail to them. No more junk mail! "Hooray" said his little voice inside. Floyd smiled and sat down to bowl of pork rinds, Heinz ketchup and turned his TV to watch Ball State vs. Cube State in the Salt Bowl. He was going to relax for tonight. Tomorrow a new era begins. An era free of junk mail! A big day for sure and he wanted to be mentally ready for it. There is nothing better than a bowl of pork rinds soaked in ketchup and a good football game to help a man relax, Floyd mused.

The new era began clear and cold. The sun had not yet risen when Floyd awakened. He smiled. "Today is the day!" he whispered to himself. Indeed. Today is the day.

Floyd got to the post office ninety minute early that morning. And he would arrive ninety minutes early every morning from now on. He was a man on a mission! He sorted through the entire mass of mail assigned to his route and began throwing out all the junk mail: the flyers, the sleaze, the junky bulk-mail, and anything else that his experience told him was junk. Nearly twenty years teaches a man a lot and certainly Floyd knew junk mail from good mail as well or better than anyone in the world. No longer would families along his route ever have to deal with this garbage again! The world would be better because Floyd Merkletot was in it.

Three months passed and everyone on Floyd's route was thrilled with Floyd's new "No Junk Mail System". But trouble was brewing in paradise.

Everett B. Shankum was livid. His insurance company said they mailed his check over a month ago and he had not gotten it. He'd gone 'round and 'round with them for a week now, and always got the same old lie: "Your check is in the mail". Only in this case it really was.

On the other end of the route, was a lady named Bertha B. Biggs who had won a contest for five free dinners at Red Lobster. The company running the contest assured her that five coupons for free dinners at Red Lobster had been mailed nearly six weeks ago. Bertha called them some choice names and was sure she had been scammed by the contest company.

But...

The insurance company really did mail the check to Everett and the contest company really did mail the coupons to Bertha..and we really did send all BellSouth customers their InfoAve Premium newsletter last Friday. Floyd, in his over-zealous attempt to protect his route from junk mail, tried his best but he could never be 100% sure what was junk and what was not. He could only rely on what he had learned over twenty years. Spam filtering is never 100% effective and paradoxically the more effective it appears to be the less likely you are to receive 100% of the important "good" email sent to you.

Any time you allow another person or organization to take control of your email and delete what it thinks is unsuitable for you it's censorship. We agree it's not done by your ISP with malice or bad intent, but no one can ever be 100% accurate when determining what you want and what you don't want.

You need to accept that it is your responsibility to control the spam that is sent to you. It is your right and your responsibility to decide what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. But never should you allow your ISP or anyone else to make decisions for you. You can control spam by using your own common sense and delete it manually. You can install a software program to assist you with separating the spam from the legitimate email (but don't ever trust any program to be 100% accurate). The spam filtering programs that claim they "learn" from you are not 100% accurate either, no matter how long you've been using them. The spammers "learn" faster than the filters.

Only you can determine what is spam and what is not. No one else can do it for you. If you let someone else do it for you, we can assure you that you will miss good, even important email as well.

So, don't let your ISP protect you. Don't let your ISP play Floyd. We urge you to tell your ISP that you don't consider spam filtering a benefit at all, you consider it censorship and an infringement on your right to receive all email addressed to you. And, it is your right and responsibilty to determine the disposition of all email that arrives in your inbox and not your Internet Service Provider's. If spam filtering continues be seen by the public as beneficial - there will come a day when many good and decent companies providing good and decent products and services will simply fade away. And newsletters like ours will fade away too. No matter what you hear, RSS is never going to replace newsletters as a form of direct communication between an organization and its subscribers.

Last week we spent over eight hours of our time trying to ensure that everyone who paid for InfoAve Premium got it. And BellSouth was the latest to block our email newsletter from its subscribers based on whatever criteria its spam filters were using that day. There have been others and they'll others in the future we're sure. All these ISP's watching out for you. But, are they really?

Last Friday, many customers blamed us when they didn't their newsletter. But we can assure you, if it's Friday then the Premium newsletter was sent.  If ever there were an emergency a problem or some other reason we could not send the newsletter on Friday, we would send a note to everyone explaining why and post a notice on the InfoAve Premium Home Page and our Start Page. So, if you don't receive your newsletter on Friday and you've seen no notice from us - and nothing is posted on our Web site- You might want to call your ISP and tell them it's not much of a benefit to have a newsletter, you paid for, censored.

Floyd might be a nice guy, but he's got no business meddling with you mail. So, just say no to Floyd. As nice as he is, he's still can't make decisions for you.

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