This week there has been an ongoing discussion on one of my mailing lists about spam, definitions, use of the this-is-spam button and permission. One small part of the discussion centers around the definition of spam. Is spam unwanted email or is it unasked for email? If a sender doesn’t have permission from recipients to send mail, but the sender manages to keep their reputation at major ISPs clean enough to get good delivery, is the sender doing anything wrong?
My own answers really sidestep the question. I believe spam as a term is so ill-defined as to be meaningless. I try not to use “spam” when describing any mail. Even mail that comes to my own personal spamtraps and spammer-created email addresses, if I’m describing it to people I try to be more descriptive than just “spam.”
Coincidentally, Ken had an article in his newsletter today pointing out that the term opt-in has been rendered meaningless. First, he points out that all lists should be opt-in. Marketers shouldn’t have to describe a list as opt-in, it should just be opt-in. He then goes on to tell a story about an email marketer, who bought or purchased a list with Ken’s email address on it. The marketer claims the mail is opt-in, but it’s not. Ken ends the article with some advice to marketers.
It’s these [bad practices] over the last 10 or 12 years have turned the term opt-in from something meaningful to an eye roller.
And no, I’m not expecting marketers to stop using the term opt in. I would simply like more of them to know it has been so diluted by abusive e-mailers that when people hear it, a significant percentage reflexively think they’re being fed a load of crap.
Both of these anecdotes are examples of how the language surrounding delivery, bulk mail and email filtering is still evolving. I spend a lot of time defining my terms and making sure that I am correctly conveying concepts, not just random words. “This mail is opt-in,” is a lot less precise and open to a lot more eye rolling than, “The only source of email addresses on their list is through signups on this website.” For all of us, particularly those trying to mediate between senders and receivers, it’s important to remember that what we’re saying may not be what the other person is hearing.