This has got to be one of the worst parts of being online. Such an immense amount of time is wasted on clearing out your mailbox that could be utilized so much more productively in some other activity.
The origin of the term is from the Monty Python sketch of the same name. The sketch featured a menu which had the processed meat product with every single item. The idea of it being all-pervasive lending itself very nicely to the electronic phenomenon of unsolicited, junk mail.
I can understand that hackers, crackers and seedy marketers would use it as a medium of deception and promotion. It is rather perplexing though, how educated and ( seemingly ) intelligent people can forward mail with information that is pretty obviously fake. I get so many forwards about sick and dying people, victims of accidents and fires, fantastically dangerous drugs, free money being given away that it's a wonder I get any time to check any of my actual mail! I actually get messages that read '...if you forward this sms...'. Alright. I've heard of convergence of different technologies. But since when did messages make the leap from telephone networks into email and remain ( supposedly ) trackable?
On Orkut too, people now forward spam as messages. I've started sending out mails to all my friends when I'm sent any spam ( and no, that does not count as spam! It serves a higher purpose! ). The latest ( but actually quite old ) trend seems to be forwarding messages claiming to be from someone at Orkut and warning people that if they don't forward the message, their account will be closed. Really? Don't they have a news page for where they make announcements? Doesn't anyone stop to think why a member of Orkut would contact some random person and hand them the rather big responsibility of telling everyone what is going on? What if that person doesn't login anymore? And wouldn't the person from Orkut, being in charge of Orkut and all that, be able to message everyone at one go without having to depend on some unknown member?
Similar messages come in on Yahoo! Messenger as well. And I've ticked people off for that only to be told that they knew it was fake all along and were only forwarding it for a few laughs. There is nothing funny about spam! It wastes time and resources and increases costs because providers have to compensate for the extra bandwidth use.
And how believable is it that some major corporation is giving away money for forwarding a mail? Seriously? That's just dumb. No one would just give away money like that for some 'test' ( ostensibly for checking if you're using a particular browser! I'm pretty sure there is no field in an e-mail’s header which tracks what browser you're using! And so much of mail goes through other mail clients like Microsoft Outlook; where does that fit in? ) which would probably not even give proper results. What if you just kept forwarding the mail to yourself? And how would anyone guarantee that the mail would remain trackable across networks, especially if it was converted to plaintext ( assuming that the tracking was being done by some active code; I can't think of any other way ). That said, there is no ethical, legal ( or even foolproof ) way of tracking an email that any major corporation could use. Imagine the privacy concerns.
How can anyone imagine they're helping someone out by forwarding a trail of electrons across the network? Maybe it's because we feel guilty about not doing anything and since hitting the forward button is easy, we take that option and feel like we've done our bit in helping out the world. I'd like to see how many people would forward these messages if they mails read '...your bank account will be debited $1.00 each time you forward this mail. Forward to as many people as you can! Thanks...' instead of '...will donate $1.00 each time you forward this mail. Forward to as many people as you can! Thanks...'. Not as many as right now, I think.
On the lighter side, Google's GMail show's links to Spam recipes on the top of the spam folder. That's rather cute, you must admit. :)
There are quite a few sites on the net that list out all these hoaxes and various, popular spam messages. Here are a few that I find quite useful when I'm sending out an enlightening message to all my contacts who forward spam.
The next time you get the urge to send out some suspicious mail, do take a moment to check if it is a known hoax or not. And do use your common-sense. You are sensible, aren't you? Then prove it. And do your little bit for the good for the Internet community as a whole.
Now, send a link to this post to everyone in your email contacts list, messengers' buddy-lists, MySpace / Orkut / Facebook / Friendster / Gazzag/ or whatever else it is you use friends' lists in the next 2.5 milliseconds otherwise your newspaper will fall in a puddle of water tomorrow morning and you will have to read it all soggy-wet. You have been warned! :D