Son of spam

Anyone who thinks there can be a rational resolution to the e-mail spam problem might first want to tackle issues that are slightly less emotional—like late-term abortions or the clubbing of baby seals.

My more-heat-than-light experience with the current state of spam discourse started when I speculated that much of the blind hatred of spam might have been prevented if, in the early days, spammers had eschewed fraud and followed some commonsense rules ("If You Must Spam," 4/16). The majority of responses I received were, to say the least, warming—not to my heart, but my backside.

E-mail poured in accusing me of being "mentally disturbed," of trying to "justify that most hideous of all acts," and of sugar-coating an "unacceptable abuse" of privacy. Writers compared spammers to cops doing drug busts at the wrong address, murderers, and Hitler—which presumably makes me Neville Chamberlain declaring, "No spam for our time." A couple of correspondents even took me to task for my aside about Kim Basinger's acting ability (OK, she deserves an Oscar as soon as there's a category for "Most Improved").

When the receipt of irritating electronic messages starts being equated to genocide, any attempt at intelligent discussion hits an emotional Great Wall. That kind of vitriol makes reasonable resolution to the very real problem of spam seem unlikely, simply because rational conversation with many ardent anti-spammers is nearly impossible. It's not that every response singed, or that every sender of a scorched-earth missive wasn't willing to discuss the issues—but far too much of the immediate reaction seemed to emanate from the bile ducts rather than the brain.

I don't condone spam, I routinely counsel my clients not to spam, and throughout Marketing Online for Dummies (the book that led to the previous column), Bud Smith and I repeatedly tell readers why spamming is a bad idea. In the current reality, the only safe and acceptable way to send bulk commercial e-mail is to deliver it to recipients who clearly say in advance that they'll accept the messages.

The "If You Must Spam" column was a thought experiment of the kind that questions conventional wisdom and tries to find out what underlies it. As with any thought experiment, it requires readers to set aside their preconceived notions and try to look at the subject anew. But thought experiments always come with a dangerous caveat—they presuppose everybody involved, even those wearing emotional blinders, want to think.

Needs a tow

In terms of longevity, the writings of Chairman Bill aren't following in the footsteps of those of Chairman Mao. Stacks of the once-best-selling 1995 Bill Gates book The Road Ahead were recently found at the Borders in Redmond Town Center near the Microsoft campus marked down from the original $29.95 to a mere $2.98. Does the obsolescence of Gates 95 mean it's time for the release of Gates 98?

Is it dead yet?

Sega, whose Saturn video game console garnered only 1.1 percent of all console unit sales in the first quarter of this year (according to market research firm PC Data), released a new title this month for its remaining customers: "The House of the Dead." Despite the fact that Sega recently discontinued the Saturn, the game does not take place inside Sega of America's Bay Area headquarters.

Who's on first?

Quick—what's the first name that comes to mind when you think of the most important software or hardware company for your firm's Internet efforts? Yeah, that was the same problem respondents to a recent International Data Corp. ( survey had. The leading response to the question "What is the one information technology company that will be strategically most important to the success of your company's Web-based business projects?" was None/Don't Know, followed at some distance by Microsoft, IBM, Netscape, Sun, and Oracle. Not only that, but in the past year None/Don't Know increased its lead, up to 46 percent in 1998 from 39 percent in 1997. Perhaps they should have included the Department of Justice as an option.

Byte back

Observations on how France has integrated bits of computer technology into daily life more effectively than the US has done ("Vive la DifferFrance," 5/7) prompted several readers to note that France's love of the pioneering and French-only Minitel online system has proven to be a double-edged sword when it comes to acceptance of the Internet. The online newsletter Iconocast ( confirms those musings, ranking French penetration of the Internet at 14th worldwide with roughly 5 percent of the population on the Net. By comparison, the US is first at more than 20 percent.

Still, it was the Parisian autopotty that got the most reaction. One respondent noted similar models were in use in San Francisco; a second warned that, technology aside, "Their toilet paper still leaves a bit to be desired"; and a third worried, "And just what happens when the Toilet OS crashes? I just know I wouldn't want to be anywhere near it."

Frank Catalano, a Seattle-area analyst for computer industry companies and the co-author of Marketing Online for Dummies, can be reached at

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