Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The father of spam

In the spring of 1978, an energetic marketing man named Gary Thuerk wanted to let people in the technology world know that his company, the Digital Equipment Corporation, was about to introduce a powerful new computer system.

DEC operated out of an old wool mill in Maynard, Massachusetts, and was well known on the East Coast, but Thuerk hoped to reach the technological community in California as well.

He decided that the best way to do it was through the network of government and university computers then known as the Arpanet.

Only a few thousand people used it regularly, but their names were conveniently printed in a single directory.

After selecting six hundred West Coast addresses, Thuerk realized that he would never have time to call each one of them, or even to send out hundreds of individual messages.

Then another idea occurred to him: what if he simply used the network to dispatch a single e-mail to all of them? “We invite you to come see the 2020 and hear about the DECSystem-20 family,’’ the message read.

As historic lines go, it didn’t have quite the ring of “One small step for a man,” yet Gary Thuerk’s impact cannot be disputed.

When he pushed the send button, he became the father of spam. [....]

In 2003, the federal government passed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, which is widely referred to as the CAN-SPAM Act.

The law requires people who send e-mail advertisements to offer recipients the opportunity to decline future messages. It also mandates prison terms for violators.

Early in 2004, motivated in part by the excitement of the new legislation—but also by the technology achievements of researchers and engineers—Bill Gates told a group of people attending the World Economic Fo-rum, in Davos, Switzerland, “Two years from now, spam will be solved.’’

Original source: "Damn Spam" by Michael Specter (The New Yorker, Aug 6 2007). Read: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4 & page 5

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