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Friday, September 22nd, 2006, 5:34 pm

Identifying Personal E-mails and ‘Botmails’


STUDIES which analyse large volumes of communication have always been interesting. For instance, most of the E-mail traffic nowadays is identified as SPAM; and over 80% of it is said to come from compromised Windows PC‘s. However, for a change, this is not what I wish to discuss today. I don’t want to have yet another bite at the effects Windows has on the WWW. It leaves me bitter.

Earlier today I read that only 37% of all E-mail at the ‘average’ office are personal E-mails. The rest are not. Some E-mails these days are invoked from a system rather than a human. Typically these are less interesting, less urgent, or can be altogether ignored. Some of that is mass mail, automated and despatched using address databases.

It is sometimes hard to discern between a personal message–one to which a response would be polite–and one which is targetted at a wide audience and whose content is carefully doctored to appear personal. I would like to recommend and promote a personal tip of mine. It is a little method I thought about for detecting and telling apart computer-generated from human-generated mail. When entering your name (e.g. at registration stage), for example, always append extra spaces that serve no purpose but preserve the integrity of the name. Having done so, you challenged the wisdom of the bot. Before punctuation, for example, you can see if a human inserted the name properly. A naive algorithm will not bother to crunch spaces, so the automation deems self-evident.

In other circumstances, having the recipient’s addresses within sight may help. Full headers can be very informative and various Thunderbird extensions even simplify text with representative figures (e.g. routing information as a series of flags, mail client name as an icon, signature as an icon, etc.). It makes the information easier to digest and it adds a wealth of knowledge that is often missed. Lastly, never discount the BCC tricks. A seemingly personal message can reach anyone ‘on the same wagon’.

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