spam, reloaded



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Posted by: stak
Posted on: 2006-11-29 23:53:04

so i was thinking more about the spam problem, and i realized that one of the things i didn't fully realize before was how much spam just follows economic theory. the problem isn't that spammers are trying to sell blue pills and gold watches; it's that the market for said blue pills and gold watches is hugely inefficient. there's a legitimate supply, and there's a legitimate demand. what there isn't, is an easy way of the suppliers finding the demanders. spam is just a byproduct of this inefficient market.

think about it this way: if the market for the blue pills were efficient, it would be no different than the market for books or clothes. the people selling the products would be easily able to find the people likely to buy the product, and send only those people the ads. nobody else would get the ads, since the sellers would know that they weren't interested in buying. of course, it wouldn't be called spam then, it would be called targeted advertising. but the point is that in this situation, everybody wins: the spammers, because their mail-to-sale ratio goes way up; the people with erectile dysfunctional problems, because they get their blue pills; and the rest of us, who don't get the spam anymore.

the question, then, is: why is the market for blue pills so inefficient? i think the main reason this happens with viagra and not with books or clothes is simply the social stigma factor: people buying viagra presumably don't want anybody else to know. this means they don't really want to buy it through traditional channels, which lack anonymity; buying it online solves that problem. i think there's also the fact that the people who want the pills are reluctant to actually go out and actively buy them; therefore, the demand is muted, and it's up to the suppliers to be aggressive in finding the demand for their market. there might be other factors here that i'm overlooking, but this is the only one that i can think of now that makes sense.

and finally, how to fix the spam problem? make the market efficient. ironically, this involves helping spammers achieve their goal. they want to sell viagra. if we (where "we" == "society") make it easy for them to find the people who want to be sold viagra, then it is actually in their benefit to stop spamming the rest of us (since it costs them some tiny fraction of a cent per spam, and they know it's not going to result in a sale).

i haven't thought about this fully yet, but it seems like one of those problems where the counter-intuitive, backwards-ass solution is actually the correct one. by actually helping the spammers find their target market more easily, we can make it beneficial to them to stop spamming the world, and therefore stop the spam problem. well, at least the v1agra and c1al1s ones. nigerian scams are a whole 'nother cup of tea.

Posted by rohan at 2006-11-30 18:41:29
wait they actually sell viagra through spam? i thought they sent that stuff out to annoy us and spread viruses. don't you need a doctor's prescription?
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Posted by stak at 2006-11-30 23:15:35
well, they wouldn't do it just to annoy us and spread viruses. that's just the means to a larger goal.

as for the doctor's prescription, i'm not sure. if so, then even more reason to get it anonymously (and illegaly) online.
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