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Was spam invented to kill electronic communications?

Was spam invented to kill electronic communications?

This thought has occurred to me more than once and seems that there is some logic to this thinking, namely whether the main purpose of spam((I use this term to denote unsolicited electronic communication of all forms, not just e-mail spam, which is the most ubiquitous form)) is to kill electronic communication.

Take e-mail – one of the oldest forms of electronic communications still around. On my google mail ID, for instance, I have been getting a mountain of “detected” hard spam which get directly sent to the spam folder, but apart from that, I also get “soft” promotional spam from sources that have a legitimate reason to know my identity((the most common instances being, websites where I’ve signed up voluntarily, like e-commerce sites or my bank)) that I am forced to manually delete from the inbox every time because I also get genuine notifications from such sources. This has led to a situation where I judge that out of 100 e-mails I get, I hardly get around 2 or 3 from genuine human beings sending me an e-mail. If you don’t check your mailbox almost every day, you could be left with more than hundreds of unread e-mails, most of which are promotional mails and/or notifications from websites/providers. These days, e-mail is mostly dead as a human-to-human communication medium, except in a corporate context, where at least basic levels of anti-spam is implemented and security policies are periodically reviewed and updated.

Social media, another tool which began as a human-to-human connection and communication platform, has again been taken over by corporate advertising and promotional content, with a huge spam problem to boot. Instant messengers, including their modern avatars like WhatsApp have been taken over by business spammers who keep sending you unsolicited messages. The use of pre-recorded marketing calls for spamming seems to have increased tenfold, despite attempts by the regulatory authorities and governments to ban them, showing that the technology to prevent spamming at a mass level is still catching up. The pre-recorded voice calls are the worst, taking up your valuable attention and forcing you to attend or cut the call, and each such momentary distraction adding up to unproductive time. And of course, SMS spam continues unabated, with spammers increasingly adopting techniques that prevent the recipient from directly blocking the source. With the development of AI technology, I fear this problem of non-genuine electronic communication will only increase and make fighting spam tougher. On this very blog, I have to keep clearing the detected spam comments by the dozens almost every day, while comments from legitimate readers have almost disappeared completely. While I personally keep periodically reviewing my anti-spam measures, I doubt that most people bother beyond a point.

While I searched about this topic online, I found an article on ZDNet from twenty two years ago, highlighting how spam could destroy the internet. Back then, e-mail spam was the major source of the problem. Well, the internet is not destroyed, but it seems that we are still waging a tough battle against spammers who have now infiltrated every single form of electronic communication possible.

Ultimately I almost have to wonder whether spam was invented by folks motivated to destroy electronic communication. Why else would they bother? With so much spam clogging up the electronic bandwidth, increasing noise-to-signal ratio to unacceptable levels, and frustrating recipients everywhere, I fail to see how pure commercial interests lie behind this phenomenon. In fact, when I sometimes read some of the more nonsensical spam I receive I almost think that the main purpose of spam is to to kill electronic communication completely by flooding us with shit.

Are news paywalls still relevant in 2022?

Are news paywalls still relevant in 2022?

Or perhaps the question should be “were they ever relevant at any point of time?”

Recently I was checking for news about the ongoing political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka and came across a couple of articles that were behind paywalls. Needlessly to say I simply went on to click other links. In this day and age, I just don’t understand how this technique will generate revenue. If I don’t get the news from one source, I just click another link. The explosion of alternative media has ensured that there are a wide range of choices to get news and opinions from. It’s long past the era when one got the latest news from traditional newspapers like The Hindu or Times of India. Today you have these traditional media houses begging for subscriptions to keep them alive, appealing to support “free and fearless journalism.” Well, unless you offer really unique or specialized knowledge that is not available elsewhere, such tactics will fall flat.

While I don’t have any stats, I am sure that paywalling isn’t a successful business model. In an era of dwindling attention spans, getting people to read long-form text content is hard enough, while it’s just trivial to get the same news from some other free source. Also opinion pieces aren’t really worth subscribing to, even if they do come up with click-bait titles and clever previews.

I am divided about this: while I don’t necessarily trust traditional media to indulge in ethical journalism, I don’t want a world where Google, Facebook and Twitter have a stranglehold on delivery of digital content, including news, and monopoly on revenue generated from such content. At the same time, traditional media houses cannot simply use emotive tactics to get people to give them money. We’ve seen how this larger conflict between traditional media and tech giants has played out, with some countries such as Australia legislating that tech giants pay for news content and Canada also proposing a law for revenue sharing between tech giants and traditional news houses, with other countries likely to consider such legislation. It seems fair that when tech giants such as Google and Facebook make money from advertising off content they didn’t create, they must be asked to share the revenue generated from such advertising with the content creator. How effective such legislation will be in the long term remains to be seen of course.

I can well understand that online alternate media has made it difficult for traditional print media to survive and subscription is a tempting revenue source, but even so, charging for access to digital news content from end users does not seem the way forward.