According to Merriam-Webster Online – – the term “spam” has a fairly innocuous definition.  It defines spam as “unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses.”  Wikipedia takes a tough approach by defining it as “Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages” –

Both these definitions define spam as having the characteristic of being unsolicited.  What is implied when people speak about spam is that spam is not only unsolicited but unwanted. There is also an unstated inference that spamming constitutes some indeterminate number of unsolicited e-mails.

However, these definitions do not address a number of points:

  1. They beg the question of what constitutes a “large number of addresses.” Is a large number 50, 100, 100, 10,000, or more?
  2. Was the content of the e-mail identical or at least similar?
  3. Did the sender farm the e-mail address using electronic compilations or purchase the e-mail address?
  4. Has the sender established contact with the recipient other than through this e-mail?
  5. Is the information accurate, trustworthy, and not a scam?
  6. Can the recipient opt-out without triggering more unwanted e-mail?
  7. Should the recipient have expected to receive the e-mail?
  8. Was the e-mail of interest or of no interest to the recipient?

Perhaps the definition of spam should also include the concept of sending unexpected and unwanted similar content e-mails to at least 1000 email address. Perhaps spam is beneficial more often than not using the very loose definitions from Merriam-Webster Online and Wikipedia above.  

Let’s take a live case to consider. An organization has over 1,000 members. The members provide their e-mail addresses as part of joining the organization. The organization has not specifically asked whether they could send e-mail. They send an e-mail to each of the members announcing an event that is free, open to public, and provides free health screening services.

So what happens to the all the e-mails? Some e-mails are blocked by spam firewalls. A member opts-out of the e-mail list, even though he or she is provided his or her e-mail address. Some members have blocked attachments in an attempt to catch spam. Other members write thank-you notes for keeping them informed.

According to the earlier definitions this e-mailing is spam.  However, it is only spam to those who did not want to receive it. Some have let technology make the decision for them as to whether they should receive it. They will never even know it was sent to them.  They have given their power in this instance away.

Spam has value as long as the recipient wants to receive it. It only becomes spam to an individual when it is unwanted.  Are we placing ourselves in the position that we have to list everyone we provide our email address to as a safe-sender? How very cumbersome.

Consider whether your networks, groups, organizations, forums, companies, etc could be trying to reach out to you and may be blocked from doing so.  Add them to your safe senders list to ensure that you can receive their e-mail. On the other hand, do not provide your e-mail address to an organization if you do not want to be e-mailed.  Why join in the first place, if you are not interested in hearing from them?

Take responsibility for any unsolicited e-mail that you send. Work out a system to ensure that you do not become a “spammer” by default under the broadest definitions given to us above.  Be a good steward of your contacts and help them contact you.

Spam is not the enemy. Not all spam is generated with evil intent. Spam can be a good friend by exposing you to new ideas, new trends, or new people. Be a good steward of your contacts, and help them be good stewards as well.

What is your buzz about?