image thumb77 If Gmail were Twitter: Making Progress on (Email) Spam

If Gmail would have been Twitter i.e written and engineered by the same folks and hosted on similar infrastructures, Evan’s latest post on the twitter blog would have been something like the following:

We’ve previously discussed our efforts to defend Gmail against spam. We are making progress—there are bugs while we find our way—but we’re making progress too. Recently, we’ve seen significant impact by introducing limits around how many accounts to whom you can send emails in Gmail under certain conditions. These limits are designed to not affect the vast majority of users. However, some people (who are not spammers) have (and will) run into them. We want to shed some light on what we’ve done and why.

A Work In Progress

First of all, let me note that these limits are still a work in progress. We’ve had some bugs in them that are still being worked out. And we need to tweak them to adapt to what we learn about our ever-changing system. However, it’s clear from our vantage point they’ve already had a very positive effect in reducing (though not eliminating) the most common type of Gmail abuse: "Email spam."

What is "Email Spam?"

Email spam is the act of sending mass emails to a lot of people, not because you’re actually interested in their emails, but simply to gain attention, get views on their product snaps (and possibly clicks on URLs therein), or (ideally) to get a buyer. Many people who are seeking to get attention in this way have even created programs to do the emailing on their behalf, which enable them to send emails to thousands of people at the blink of any eye.

As you can imagine, this is a problem. In extreme cases, these automated email accounts have sent emails to so many people they’ve threatened the performance of the entire system. In less-extreme cases, they simply annoy thousands of legitimate users who get an email about this new service only to find out their interest may not be entirely…sincere. On rare occasions we may see a person who sends emails to a lot of people and actually cares about every mail sent—there is an opportunity for us to learn more about this use case and work to provide a better experience.

There Is No Magic Number

So, our challenge is to curb this type of behavior without interfering with non-spammy users—some of whom may just be very enthusiastic gmail users. What is a reasonable number of people to whom you can send an email, anyway? Most users may have a hard time communicating with 500 people—while others would think a limit of 10,000 is too low.

Also, people approach email in different ways. Some think you should reply everyone who sends you an email. Personally, I don’t because that would render Gmail unusable for me. I "only" reply to about 700 accounts—less than 5% of the 16,000 who email me. (Mr. Obama may have time to keep up with 50,000 people, but I’m a busy guy!)

The point is, there is no right or wrong. And there is no perfect formula. We do our best by taking a multi-dimensional approach. We look at a number of factors—including how many people are mailing you back—before applying limits. We don’t reveal exact limits, because it’s somewhat complicated and, more importantly, if you were to tell spammers exactly what the filtering rules are on your twitter account or, say, Google’s PageRank, they’d just engineer their way around them much more easily.

Making Progress

Like I said, this is still a work in progress. The good news for most people is that we’re taking measures to reduce junk emails in the system—and it’s working. The bad news for some is that it’s possible you’ll run into a limit and get frustrated. If that happens, please let us know. We want to learn how people want to use Gmail. (Note: We intend to allow you to respond to at least as many people as email you, though there are cases where that might not yet be the case. We will fix that.)

But till than we would be limiting the number of persons to whom you can send an email to 200. We believe that this is a huge number and most of you would never hit this number in your lifetime. Just so that you are aware we already have limited the number of emails that you can send in a month to 2000 and the number of times you can sign into your account to 5/day.

By the way, this is only a small part of our approach to spam in general. We’ll be talking more soon about other measures we’re taking. Thanks for hanging with us as we figure everything out.

[Evan Williams, General Manager Gmail]

Alas! Gmail is a bit like twitter.

By the way, if you like our content you can add us on twitter.

Google company profile provided by TradeVibes

Twitter company profile provided by TradeVibes