Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Glen Quixote?

Thanks, Glen, for inviting me to blog with you for a while! I don’t suppose the world really needs yet another pro-market, technophile, law professor blogger. But neither does it really need, say, Two-Buck Chuck. I’m lucky that people enjoy a great many things that fall short of needs or, as seems more fitting in my case, that they at least forebear them.

You Agoraphile readers who know Glen only through his writings may not realize what prodigious charms he wields in person. Having taught with him at several Institute for Humane Studies seminars, I know better. Those IHS seminars include evening socials, where I’ve spent untold hours downing beers and swapping groansome jokes with Glen and the students who invariably surround him. Oh, the stories I could tell, even though I won’t, assuming I could remember them, which for the most part I don’t!

Instead, I’d like to discuss another aspect of Glen’s character, one only recently revealed to me: His willingness to carry on a worthwhile fight against all odds. I speak here not of his libertarian leanings or deep appreciation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but rather of his struggle against spam.

When Glen gave me the details about joining his blog, he noted that he planned to publish my email address as “tbell-AT-chapman.edu,” to fool spambots. I expressed doubt about his strategy, reasoning that the malfeasants who program spambots have undoubtedly noted and accommodated that widespread convention. I invited Glen to follow through as he planned, anyhow, saying that I’m resigned to getting spam. In a testament to Glen’s tenacity, he did just that.

I don’t see much harm in using the “user-AT-domain.suffix”convention, though I doubt it does much good. As this web design firm notes of such techniques, “Any decent spambot can decode them and get your actual email address.” On my own contact page I use a GIF image of my email address, a strategy that certainly costs more to implement but that probably foils spambots a bit more effectively.

Still, I have few pretenses that Glen’s, my, or anybody’s strategy to limit the supply of email addresses will substantially curb spam. Only David Friedman’s plan—forcing spammers to pay email postage to their intended recipients—seems to me both appealing and workable. To put it in Quixotic terms, while most of us tilt at windmills, Friedman has targeted a smartbomb on the real dragons.

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