Stop obfuscating your e-mail address and use a decent e-mail service!

I hate this:

phil AT philipjohn DOT co DOT uk

I’ve seen worse, too.

I hate it because all it does it show the world that you need to obfuscate your e-mail address because you get a lot of spam.

Presumably then, you’re a good target for spammers because your spam filters (if any) are so poor they let such garbled crap (not to mention the phishing e-mails) through.

Problem is those spammers scouring the web harvesting e-mails to spam probably picked up on the whole obfuscation game about two seconds after it was dreamt up by whichever dimwit thought it would ever work.

As a simple example, looking for ‘@’ in a regular expression (that’s how they search web pages for certain patterns of text) could just be turned into something like ‘@|AT’ to cover your obfuscation. Okay, so that’s not the exact syntax but it’s damn close!

Instead, stop using fucking Hotmail or Yahoo or even that free e-mail address you got from Freeserve three million years ago that you’ve just held on to through all the buyouts and re-branding and get yourself a decent e-mail provider that provides some semblance of spam filtering that works!

Also known as GMail.

I use GMail for everything, have done for years and at best I seem to see 1 spam e-mail per month. I’ve very rarely had a legitimate e-mail land in my spam folder and even then it’s been a mass mailing, nothing sent to me personally.

Rant over.

Edit: I forgot something. Not only does it NOT stop spammers, it also makes it harder for people to e-mail you because that have to take every [at] and [dot] and change it. If you invite prospective clients to contact you by e-mail you may as well go outside and piss into the wind for all the good it will do you.

Secondly, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had e-mails from my ‘friends’ using the likes of Hotmail that has been pure spam. Not only do you not get a decent spam filter, your account is used to send spam too! The words face palm spring to mind…






12 responses to “Stop obfuscating your e-mail address and use a decent e-mail service!”

  1. Pauline sargent Avatar

    lol..interesting post as I had always wondered why some people wrote their emails like that.

    Also, your right people need to start getting real about their e-mail addresses for other reasons as well. I recently went around to about 56 local businesses & was stunned by

    1) the amount who did not have an email address at all (approx 12)
    2) no business email address (about 22)
    3) how few were using gmail addresses (only 3 with gmail)

    I think no matter how small your business is today, you need to have a proper email address. It really is hard to understand how a small business can funtion without an email address these days.

    Thanks for the post.

    p.s Learnt a new word today, had to look up obfuscate.

    1. Philip John Avatar

      Thanks Pauline!

      Yes, very good point actually and that’s made me remember that it’s something I think hyperlocal sites could look at providing.

      I talk enough about advertising for local businesses (and doing a business directory) but what if they haven’t got e-mail addresses or a web page? It’s worthless to them…

      Food for thought!

  2. Andrew Beeken Avatar

    Very interesting! I’ve been wondering if I should put my email on my website for a couple of days – at the moment I’m using a Google Doc contact form on my “Contact Me” page, however I’m wondering if this is putting people off contacting me as I’m not seeming to get anything through (although that could just be that no one wants to get in touch with me!)

    I used to use a Hotmail account (I still do for some services, forwarding it to my Gmail account; although I’m beginning to phase it out) and did get a large amount of spam through it when I published my email address which, if I’m honest, has put me off publishing any personal email addresses.

    1. Philip John Avatar

      Ah see inadequate spam filters just started all this unnecessary obfuscation off in the first place! It’s akin to hiding the doors and windows of your house with a sheet painted to look like a wall so that you don’t get burgled instead of having decent doors & windows with decent locks on.

  3. Adrian Short Avatar

    Spot on.

    Here’s a design perspective on this. Gmail’s excellent spam filtering is an example of the application of Tesler’s law of the conservation of complexity.

    Tesler’s law says that every system has an inevitable amount of complexity that can’t be eliminated, it can only be moved from one place to another. So if you’re trying to make people’s lives easier by designing simple services (and you should be) then you have to decide: Who gets to deal with this problem — the users or the system?

    Spam is a real and complex problem. If you’re running a mail service you can’t directly stop people sending the stuff. So how do you deal with incoming spam?

    Let the users delete tons of it out of their inboxes?

    Let users go to ridiculous lengths to stop people getting hold of their email addresses?

    Build a world-class spam filtering system so that most users never see spam in their inboxes and can publish their email addresses with impunity?

    Gmail is simple for users because it’s incredibly complex on the inside. They’ve moved the necessary complexity of handling spam to the right place. The lesson for designers and developers is: Don’t make your problems the users’ problems.

    1. Philip John Avatar

      Brilliant! Such an excellent comment, thank you!

      You’ve explained why Gmail wins over obfuscation proving my point in a far better way than I managed. This comment will forever be linked to when ever I’m trying to convince people to switch to Gmail!

  4. David Pidsley Avatar

    Obfuscation a placebo.

    I support being transparent about how people can contact public service providers.

    Posting an image makes machine readability very hard in legitimate cases of reuse.

    Email obfuscation helps spammers identify which addresses they can spam effectively as the very act of obfuscation suggests the address is important to someone and insufficient spam filtering is being implemented.

    Let the recipient filter. Free the emails addresses!

    N.b. I have heard proposals for a nominal 0.01 penny charge for outgoing email, which is reimbursed when the email is approved of (opened) by the recipient. What do you think of that?

    1. Philip John Avatar

      No no no no no! 😉

      Images are much worse than obfuscation.

      Again, spammers can figure this out – if they don’t do it with OCR they have a bunch of drones doing manual input.

      So all you’re doing using images is making real visitors manually type your e-mail out, perhaps writing it down first. This is not only a pain in the arse it also increases the risk of human error and you not getting e-mails at all!

      Oh and don’t get me started on the 1p idea – a ludicrous suggestion that would never work. Think you can get every ISP throughout the whole world to implement that? Naa.

  5. Andy Mabbett Avatar

    Nice rant^W post, Phil.

    My related pet peeve is seeing the text “Email address protected by JavaScript.” where the address should be.

    1. Philip John Avatar

      Ah yes that old chestnut. Equally irritating!

  6. Simon Partridge Avatar

    I for one am perpetually perplexed by businesses that have taken the trouble to set up a website but then advertise a totally unrelated email address rather than using a mail@ or type address.

    I think it gives a really bad signal to prospective clients.

    Great rant by the way!

    1. Philip John Avatar

      Ha thanks Simon. A lot of people don’t know how to get their own domain e-mail address though… especially small businesses 😉

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