Personal for Elliotte Harold

Some people use very obnoxious spam filters that require you to type some random string in your subject such as E37T to get through. Needless to say neither I nor most other people bother to communicate with these paranoids. They are grossly overreacting to the spam problem. Personally I won’t even click the links some people send out to verify that I’m a human (though I am sorely tempted to click those links when some worm starts forging my e-mail address and I get a bunch of bounce messages and spam verifications back.) However, I recently I noticed that I have an internal filter that may also be causing me to lose some legitimate personal mail.

I subscribe to a few dozen mailing lists ranging from high volume (xml-dev, wwwac) to quite low (www-xml-xinclude-comments). They’re all on subjects I’m interested in, but often if time is short I’ll just delete a new thread or two rather than plowing through it. I usually just judge the thread by the subject line.

The problem is that not all mailing list posts are clearly identified as such. While some lists include the list name in the subject line (e.g. “[eBird] Red-Shouldered Hawk”) not all do. I recently came very close to missing a personal message because its subject looked like just another mailing list post I didn’t have time for right now. However, this one was on the borderline and I actually opened it. What worries me is that undoubtedly I have mistakenly deleted other personal messages I should have responded to. Doubtless the correspondents think I’m simply ignoring them.

If you’re somebody who regularly sends me personal e-mail and only personal e-mail (my agent, my spouse, my family, etc.) then this isn’t a problem. I’ll recognize the sender and read it. However if you’re not known to me, or if you are known to me but regularly post on mailing lists I read (especially true for XML folks) then you run the risk of me not noticing your personal letter.

Here’s a suggestion: if you’re sending a personal e-mail to me or any other technical colleague you know from the same mailing lists, add something that will identify the message as personal to the subject line. For example,

Subject: Personal to Elliotte: New XML web site

It doesn’t need to be standardized, just intelligible. This is to pass a human filter, not a machine.

5 Responses to “Personal for Elliotte Harold”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Will do. I’ll probably pester you on the board here instead, though.

  2. Brian Says:

    I once deleted an offer to interview for a very good position for this very reason. After I realized that (months later), I changed the way I filter my email.

    Almost all mailing lists automatically include the “Mailing-List” header and/or special headers from RFC 2369 in every message. I use these headers for a primary filter for all messages sent to mailing lists. Additionally, I have a secondary filter that uses the subject line marker, e.g. [eBird], for people that like to reply off-list to my mailing list messages. I assume that everything else is personal email.

    There are times when people reply to my messages off-list and there is no subject line marker. These messages end up in my personal email folder. Sometimes they are personal messages, and sometimes I manually move them to the correct mailing list folder.

  3. Adrian Says:

    How about filtering (automatically) using the “To” field rather than the subject?

  4. SusyQ Says:

    One night last week I got 6000 of those bounce-message/undeliverable mail spams. (I raised my Earthlink spam filter to high.) What should I have done?

  5. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    Use them to train your spam filter.

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