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September 22, 2005

How To: Eliminate 99% of Your Spam Right Now.

How to eliminate 99% of your spam email in 5 minutes flat and keep your email address.

1. Use Vanquish.

That's it - one step. You're done.

Vanquish is a server side spam shield that protects your email addresses from receiving spam primarily by leveraging one simple fact: most spam email is not sent from a valid email address.

Vanquish uses a whitelist combined with a challenge and response mechanism. In short, if you're on my whitelist and send me email, it will go to my inbox. If you're not on my whitelist, then a polite, understandable email is sent back to you telling you that your email to me will not be delivered until you click a link in the email and prove you're human via a captcha. If I have my options set to do so, you will then be added to my whitelist and all future email from you will end up in my inbox.

But that's too simple - there are too many problems with the monolithic whitelist approach. Vanquish has put a lot of thought into this problem and come up with some very interesting tools.

To loosely quote Phil Raymond from Vanquish:

Spam isn't necessarily bad because its unsolicited, it's bad because it's irrelevant to the recipient.

He's right. Mortgage spam is very prolific right now, but that's only bad for me if I'm not in the market for a mortgage. If I am looking to buy a house, then unsolicited mortgage email might be of interest to me.

To that end, another tool you can set up is a 'Smart Subject'. You can tell Vanquish to let all emails with certain words in it through to your inbox, regardless of whether the recipient is on your whitelist or not.

Further, using the Vanquish SMTP server for your outgoing email opens up a plethora of powerful features that I missed for the first few months. When I configure my email client to use Vanquish's SMTP server, two things happen when my email is sent:

  1. The receipient is added to my whitelist (if I've configured my account so), and
  2. The subject of the email is added to my Smart Subject list. This allows people who I may not have sent the email to originally to reply to the email and it will get through.


Consider this: I send you an email telling you that we're all getting together somewhere after work to celebrate a coworker's birthday. You know that Bill would like to come to this event, but I didn't send Bill the email. You forward the email to Bill so he knows what's going on. Perhaps Bill can't make it, so he replies to 'ALL' (which includes me) with some lame excuse. I will get that reply even though Bill isn't on my whitelist because the subject (assuming Bill didn't mess with the subject) matches a subject of an email I sent out. Therefore the system figures that it must be relevant to me and lets it through to my inbox. Very clever.

What do you have to do to set it up?

  1. Create an account a vqme.com (there's a 15-day free trial and then it's something paltry like $25 a year after that)
  2. Forward your existing email(s) to your vqme.com account
  3. Change your email client to POP your email from vqme.com and send your email via vqme.com rather than your current ISP's servers.

That's it. You're done.

Disclosure: I am a Vanquish customer and have been for almost a year. Further, I interviewed Phil Raymond and Frank Urro last Spring on a podcast. That's the extent of my relationship with Vanquish. I wrote this post because I truly am a legitimate 'happy customer'.

Posted by jon at September 22, 2005 04:27 PM

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