A new report from Microsoft says that 97 percent of all email is spam
, reflecting the degree to which email systems worldwide are swamped with the messages. The figure seems high, but perhaps that's just because anti-spam tools have gotten better at deflecting spam away from most people's inboxes. But clearly enough is still getting through -- and enough people are buying
what it's selling -- to make it financially worthwhile for spammers. Personally, I don't see too much spam these days, as Gmail's filter works pretty well for me. But what I do see lots of is "soft" spam -- messages that come from web services, retailers, mailing lists and thanks to writing on the web, PR people
. Most of these messages come from things with which I've had some sort of relationship, commercial or otherwise, in the past, but most of them are still uninteresting and unwanted. While many of these people are pretty good about honoring unsubscribe requests, many are not, and also seem to share my email address with impunity. The result is that my email account is full of noise -- while my inbox isn't overrun by V1*GRA-type spam, all the other soft spam, as well as the bacn
, or messages I've subscribed to but never read, obfuscate the messages I actually care about, making email a pain to deal with.
The point here isn't really to complain about my inbox, but rather to illustrate how even as "real" spam becomes more and more hidden from many users, email still has plenty of problems. Eliminating the 419 scams, joe-jobs, fake drug spam and the like would certainly be great, but even beyond that, email still has its flaws, leading people to communicate through IM, social networks
and other means. To be sure, email is still eminently useful, but will that usefulness soon be outweighed by its detriments? And will it be salvageable?