By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Spam scorecard

I think I’m in love. Google’s Gmail service is doing a phenomenal job of screening my e-mail for spam. Based on my results so far, I’d recommend this to anyone.

To review: On Saturday, I started forwarding my personal e-mail to a Gmail account I had just established. I also set Gmail so that I can download my mail to Entourage. In order to get a handle on what was going on, I would also examine the spam folder in my Gmail account every time I downloaded my mail to Entourage. (Earlier items here and here.)

Between Sunday at 10:50 a.m. and today at 10:30 a.m., I kept track and got the following results:

  • Good (that is, non-spam) e-mails downloaded to Entourage: 114
  • Bad (spam) e-mails downloaded to Entourage: 33
  • Good e-mails mistakenly caught by Gmail’s spam filter: 4
  • Bad e-mails properly caught by Gmail’s spam filter: 178

This is phenomenal performance. I’m especially impressed that only four good e-mails were labeled as spam. False positives are far more annoying than false negatives, because you end up wasting time inspecting everything in your spam folder. Ideally, there would be zero false positives, but four out of 329 (1.2 percent) is something anyone should be able to live with.

Frankly, I’m so impressed that I’m considering forwarding my Northeastern mail to Gmail and doing everything on the Web. That would involve transferring my Entourage address book and calendar to Google, and, of course, it raises some privacy concerns.

This topic has already generated some great comments. Any thoughts about putting your life online instead of on your hard drive? Am I nuts even to consider it?


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9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I’m using Gmail for all of my email correspondence and to save records like confirmation messages for bills paid online. I love it.One caveat: Their support is strictly automated. (Basically, you get a form letter saying, “RTFM.”) I tried for weeks to get a message to a human and finally gave up.Gmail is excellent, but back up important messages.

  2. mike_b1

    Any thoughts about putting your life online instead of on your hard drive?Google and others are counting on it.

  3. Anonymous

    Dan, I think you can do even better and cut down further on the false positives. My university screens for spam in some high powered way that only takes out the obvious stuff, and we never see it. In a couple of years, I have never heard from anyone that they sent me an email that I didn’t see, i.e., whatever our IT dept. is doing, it only zeroes in on stuff that is definitely spam. Can NU do this for your account there?Then, I add a second layer of spam removal in my email program, by labeling the sender of each unwanted message as spam. (Even though the “address” we see when we get spam will look unique, they’re often from a very small circle of spamming outfits.)

  4. Anonymous

    The nice thing about the dual approach I described is that while a very small number of spam emails still make it to my in box here and there (I’d say between 2 and 10 per week – a very manageable number), I never have to worry about false positives. I’d rather delete spam every now and then and not worry that I missed something important.Also, the thing about putting your life online – you’re joking, right? Let the NU email server do the job – they presumably have backup and all kinds of protections against hackers, and it is probably NU policy to respect your privacy – and save crucial stuff to your hard drive.

  5. another face at zanzibar

    Dan, I got a Gmail account a couple of years ago. I was skeptical at first. But I’ve grown to love it–and I’ve moved all my personal e-mail over to it because it’s so darned great.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Managing my mail on the Gmail website instead of downloading it seems harmless enough, although there are two issues:1. It’s out there on the Web, and thus could at least theoretically be looked at.2. There are actually fewer legal privacy protections for e-mail stored on someone else’s server as opposed to your own hard drive.But let’s say I decide to do it anyway. Well, mail just doesn’t work all that well without my contact information being available. So now that’s on Google’s servers.And if I do all that, the only thing left, really, is my calendar, which isn’t that big a deal.Hmmm … what to do?

  7. Jim Bowen

    Dan, if someone REALLY wanted to look at someone’s email, I am sure they could figure out a way to do it regardless of whether it was on Gmail or on a hard drive. I wouldn’t stay up late worrying about the first point of your question because there is not much you can do either way about it.As to the second issue, I presume the Patriot Act has a hidden provision for accessing leftish commentators’ emails wherever they are stored ;)For what its worth, here is how I deal with spam:I really love Gmail and have found the spam filter to work very well for everything except lately I have been receiving an extraordinary amount of Nigerian check and “You won a million dollar lottery” scam emails. I did notice that Gmail now has a “report Phishing” link on their webmail, so hopefully this will help them sort out this problem. I use Thunderbird to download my Gmail and also the built-in junk filter that “learns” how to recognize messages you consistently list as spam. That pretty much takes care of everything. I also download my Earthlink account which is 50% spam, and Thunderbird does not learn as fast as spammers learn how to avoid spam filters for Earthlink.Jim

  8. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – I have more than one Gmail account; a faux personal one, using my name which is on automatic forward to my ‘real’ email account (it still holds back the spam) and the more public Porcupine email address that I use thither and yon. You can have both a dkennedy and a medianation address, which will further help sort your mail. I like using my faux address when I have to give an email address to register for something, etc.Also, you use Blogger, as I do. One of my biggest gripes about Blogger is that you cannot back up your site. I have blogger send each post to my Porcupine Gmail address, wich I then place in a folder. Voila! I will not lose all my posts if Blogger, as a platform, crashes. Alo, there really is no size limit.Gmail is working on adding a calendar, but I will probably use Outlook to schedule all my secret lunch dates with Dick Cheney, etc. One thing to keep in mind is that a web based calendar is more easily hacked, and Dick HATES it when our meetings leak out of the undisclosed location!

  9. Anonymous

    Your math is not correct. Out of 118 “good” e-mails, gmail falsly identified 3.5% (4) as spam.This means that you have 2 choices:1) Accept that you will loose 3-4% of good mail2) Have to look though the spam anyway.Personally, as (2) makes the spam filter pointless, and (1) would not be acceptable to me, I am not sure what the good news is?As far as keeping things online vs. on your disk — is this a question at all in 2006? Let me put it in evolutionary terms: We keept e-mails on disk in 1990 (16yrs ago). Do you think anyone will keep them on disk in 2022 as well? If not, why not embrace the future?

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