You could call anti-spam experts the Foley artists of e-mail. If they’er doing their job right, you don’t even notice them.

Foley artists are the people responsible for over-dubbing sound effects on movies. If you hear heavy footsteps, a squeaky door, a car door slamming, or the wind rustling through the trees, those noises were likely created (or recreated) by a Foley artist. Ideally, you don’t even realize they’re involved in the film-making process. If you do, it means a sound they created just doesn’t ring true to the ear.

Google blogger Brad Taylor, the company’s “Spam Czar” doesn’t directly relate to Foley artists, but his message is the same.

“When Gmail’s spam filters are working perfectly, no one talks to us anti-spam engineers. But as soon as something goes wrong, our users, our friends, and even our Google colleagues who use Gmail for their corporate mail are sure to tell us. That’s just the way we like it. Spam is not something people should grow numb to and accept as a fact of life. We *want* people to complain. That’s the only way things get better,” he writes in the Google blog.

When Taylor says he wants people to complain, he’s most likely referring to the “Report Spam” button that’s available in Gmail (as well as just about every other browser-based e-mail software).

If anything, Taylor should be hogging more of the limelight. It’s through his work, and the work of people like him, that e-mail is even remotely tolerable. Without spam filters, it’s just about impossible.

I can personally attest to that.

When IT World Canada merged with the IT Business Group back in February, all ITBusiness.ca employees were given e-mail with the filters off. The reasoning was that we might be missing crucial e-mail that would be otherwise trapped by a filter. The result was, in e-mail terms, catastrophic. We all received somewhere around 500 messages a day, the Foley equivalent of falling snowflakes being replaced with the sound of heavy artillery. Naturally, less than 10 per cent of the e-mails were legitimate. Even with so-called legit e-mail, less than half of that is something you actually need to look at.

It’s hard to say how many hours we wasted going through and deleting all that mail. In Taylor’s informational movie (posted as a YouTube clip below his blog entry), he estimates that each piece of spam takes a person five seconds to recognize and delete. The temptation when you’re overwhelmed with spam is just to delete everything. That way at least you’ve got plausible deniability if someone ever asks if you received their e-mail.

If someone ever calls me with that question, my usual (and honest) answer is, “I don’t know.” Maybe I did delete their message, and maybe I didn’t. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve asked a person to resend a piece of mail because I can’t find it in my inbox.

But with spam filters, we can at least begin to tackle the problem. The IT Business e-mail filters were finally turned on, cutting my e-mail by about 75 per cent.

Spam specialists like Taylor don’t make a lot of noise, but like Foley artists, their actions speak louder than words.

nsutton@itworldcanada.com

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