Filtering, email, and differences from Usenet

March 2, 2011

Yesterday I told the story of how and why I started filtering Usenet and suggested that the same evolution applied (or would apply) to email. Well, maybe. Today it's time for a counter-argument:

Email is fundamentally different from Usenet in one core way. For the most part (and definitely if you were not a frequent poster), Usenet was simply free-floating information going by. Some of it could be useful and some of it could be interesting, but none of it was essential and none of it was specifically for you.

Email is not like that. Or rather, some email is not like that. Some email certainly is like that; it is the same sort of general free-floating information and notification and whatnot, where it doesn't really matter whether or not you read it. But unlike Usenet, some of the email you get is specifically intended for you and is in fact actively important. It is not just useful to read that email, you need to read it.

You may or may not care if your spam filters take out some of the interesting free-floating information email (it depends on how far along the Usenet evolution you are). But you definitely will care if your spam filters take out email that you need to read, because reading only some of that email is not good enough. This means that you can never have the sort of aggressive, throw away almost everything filtering on email that people wound up with on Usenet.

Or to summarize pithily: on Usenet it was acceptable to throw away some of the baby along with the bathwater because it wasn't your baby. In email, it is your baby and throwing any bit of it is not acceptable.

(Well, okay, you could see such aggressive filtering on email if email became Usenet-like, ie if people stopped getting this sort of important stuff by email, leaving only the Usenet-like stuff. I tend to think that this would be a net loss.)

Written on 02 March 2011.
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Last modified: Wed Mar 2 00:58:46 2011
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