A friendly virus: I’m honored

A friendly virus
: I’m honored to have received Nick Denton’s Plaxo contact update, which means I’m on his list (see his writeup here). This is how it works: He installs a light program that sends a notification to all his contacts with his latest contact info; we are then supposed to reply with our latest contact info; that updates his Outlook automatically; and, if Plaxo is lucky, we will all install the program and do likewise and so will all our contacts. It’s the Breck shampoo model: She tells a friend, she tells a friend, she tells a friend.

This comes from the people who brought us Napster and it is a brilliant application of the network nation: The more people who use the function, the more valuable the function becomes.

But I have some fears about it, for there are also dark alleys in this network nation where evil creeps lurk. It is easy to imagine someone creating a virus that looks just like Plaxo: It infects your machine and sends out an apparently innocent email to all your contacts getting them to hand over all their contact information and, if the evildoer is lucky, they all install the little program and it keeps spreading.

I happen to know that Nick’s email is legit because he wrote about it on his weblog. But what about the next one I receive; how do I know I should trust it?

: I also received a Plaxo update from someone else recently whom I don’t want to be able to reach me. I can see lots of little etiquette issues here: How do I not keep in touch with those with whom I don’t want contact?

: And, of course, spammers will stoop low in their moral dance of limbo. They filed a Freedom of Information request with the University of West Virginia for students’ email addresses and the university stupidly complied and now all the students are getting spam, thanks to their school.

: Even the President spams.

: At the suggestion of a very helpful reader who left a comment recommending it, I have been using Mailwasher, which lets me not only clean spam before it gets to my inbox but also bounces back to all the spammers telling them my mailbox doesn’t exist; it’s the email equivalent of playing dead; the idea is to make them stop bothering sending me email. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked; I’m getting as much spam as ever.

There needs to be a new generation of email. Just as Usenet was replaced by forums and web pages, email needs to be replaced by trustmail.

: Anil recommends Cloudmark in the comments.

: And my company is implementing an anti-spam service, Postini; all who have used it thus far love it.

: And I forget to link to the Slate article arguing that spam will kill email and that we will be left in a closed system where we get email only from people on our individual “white lists.” Let’s hope note.