The Great 21st Spam Meatball Audit Trail
In 1996, The Internet Was a Very Different World
This is the unedited message
trail of how 21st succeeded, without even knowing it, in Spamming the Internet
in 1996, and the High Interent Priesthood's Reaction. These messages are
For 21st editorial comments on this episode, see "Monty
Says Spam I Am!."
1) How the great 21st Spam all began:
On Jan. 4, 1996, 21st sent out a message to 22 usenet newsgroups announcing its publication on the Internet. Due to the multi-disciplinary nature of 21st, there was no easy way to pigeon hole the message in just one or two newsgroups.
This is the original message that went out:
" Announcing a new, cool, biweekly WebZine, '21st', covering technology convergence, including: Audio/Video systems & content,
computers, the Web, molecular computing, and human consciousness.
Sponsored by Mindwaves Institute, an innovative leader in personalWellness programs.
Publisher: The VXM Network.
2) A short while later, 21st got this message:
Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 16:04:33 +0000
Subject: EMP/ECP cancelled (Annc. 21st, Unique WebZine:
Organization: Despams 'R Us
There are rules on Usenet regarding the posting of multiple
copies of thesame article. When the thresholds are exceeded, the posting is termed"spam",
and cancels for the postings can be issued. The spam determinationis not determined
by content: only article count and cross-posting index.
A posting of yours exceeded these limits and was cancelled. There areinstructions below on how to avoid exceeding the limits.22 articles were cancelled in 22 groups. The Breidbart Index is 22.00 (BI2: 22.00)
Excessive Multi-Posting (EMP) means the same as the term "spam" usuallydoes,
but is more accurate and self-explanatory.
The Breidbart Index (BI) is defined as the sum of the square roots of how many
newsgroups each article was posted to. This posting (ECP) is also known as "Velveet".
If you have questions about how not to spam, or where "it is written thatI shouldn't spam" or
similar things, we suggest you consult the newsgroupnews.announce.newusers, or
the rtfm.mit.edu FAQ (Frequently Asked Questionsarchives), and read the following
- "What is Usenet", by Salzenberg, Spafford and Moraes.
- "What is Usenet? A second opinion.", by Vielmetti.
- "FAQ: Advertising on Usenet: How To Do It, How Not To Do It" by Furr.
- "A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community", by
Von Rospach, Spafford, et. al.
- "Rules for posting to Usenet", by Horton, Spafford & Moraes.
- "Emily Postnews Answers Your Questions on Netiquette",
by Templeton et. al.
The above FAQs are also mirrored at various sites, such as ftp.sunet.se,mirror.aol.com, ftp.uu.net, ftp.uni-paderborn.de, nctuccca.edu.tw,hwarang.postech.ac.kr, ftp.hk.super.net etc.
To ask questions or get advice about responsible advertising on Usenet,send e-mail to email@example.com.
The heuristics for cancels are based _only_ on one or more of the following measures:
1) 20 or more separate copies of essentially the same
article were posted (EMP), or
2) 5 or more separate copies of essentially the same article
were posted and the BI is > 20 (ECP), or
3) is a continuation of a previous EMP/ECP, within a 45 day
sliding window. That is: if the articles posted within the
past 45 days exceeds the thresholds in (1) or (2), it
gets removed. _Unless_ the originator has made a clear
and obvious effort to cease spamming (which includes an
apology and undertaking to do so in news.admin.net-
This includes "make money fast" schemes which passed the
EMP/ECP thresholds several years ago.
4) broken gateways regurgitating old articles with new
The first three are generically called "spam". The fourth is "spew".
General consensus puts the spam cancel threshold strictly as a BI of 20.
These cancels have nothing whatsoever to do with the contents of
the message. It doesn't matter if it's an advertisement, it doesn't
if it's abusive, it doesn't matter whether it's on-topic in the groups
it was posted, it doesn't matter whether the posting is for "good
cause" or not, if it breaks these thresholds and I detect it, it will be
Therefore, these cancellations are non-content based. They're not based on _what_ was said, they're based only on _how_ it was said.
The "cancel." and "cyberspam" conventions have been followed. Systemadministrators wishing to ignore the cancels can "alias out" the site"cyberspam",
and the cancels will not affect your system.
One copy of the article is appended to the end of this posting.
@@BEGIN NCM HEADERS
@@BEGIN NCM BODY
@@END NCM BODY
|From: (Francis Vale)
|Subject: Annc. 21st, Unique WebZine
|Date: Thu, 04 Jan 1996 11:41:52 -0400
|Announcing a new, cool, biweekly WebZine, '21st', covering
|technology convergence, including: Audio/Video systems & content,
|computers, the|Web, molecular computing, and human
|Sponsored by Mindwaves Institute, an innovative leader in personal
|Publisher: The VXM Network.
All postings to news.admin.net-abuse.announce are unconfirmed and
unverified unless stated otherwise by the moderators. All opinions
expressed above are considered the opinions of the original poster,
not the moderators or their respective employers.
For a copy of the guidelines to this group, see:
So, we read this lengthy message carefully, and we did what it said we were supposed to do; namely, post a public apology:
From: (Francis Vale)
Subject: An open apology from 21st
Date: 4 Jan 1996 23:00:08 GMT
"This an open apology from 21st webzine.
We were very much aware of Spamming before we sent out our post. As we understood it, Spamming involves *indiscriminate* posting to those who may find the post useless, or a waste of bandwidth. We took great care in selecting only those groups who may have an interest in reading our new WebZine, 21st. Our WebZine has multiple editorial sections, each with a different focus. Hence the potential appeal to a broad range of user groups.
We sent the post to 22 groups, apparently exceeding the spam threshold by 2.
Regardless, ignorance of the 'law' is no excuse. Sorry for any
inconvenience this may have caused.
4) Right after making this public apology, 21st got this message:
Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 16:11:47 -0800 (PST)
To: (Francis Vale)
Subject: Re: An open apology from 21st
X-Newsreader: TIN [version 1.2 PL2]
You wrote this on 4 Jan 1996 23:00:08 GMT:
: This an open apology from 21st webzine.
[focused on interested groups...]
: We sent the post to 22 groups, apparently exceeding the spam
: threshold by 2.
: Regardless, ignorance of the 'law' is no excuse. Sorry for any
: inconvenience this may have caused.
The problem is that you could have done this without exceeding the
threshold by 2 and without cutting out any groups.
Please try to learn about the difference between crossposting and multi-posting. When you crosspost to 22 groups, it takes up about 1/20 as much disk space on thousands of computers around the world as posting separate articles. Additionally, if I read 10 of those groups, I would read your article only one time if it were crossposted. The way you did it, I would have had to have read the same spiel 10 times. Trust me, no one is that interested.
5) This was the 21st editor's (Francis Vale's) reply to Adam's message above:
> . Trust me, no one is that interested.
In what, Adam? Me? The 21st? New ideas? Good journalism?
I appreciate your advice, and it is *well* received. But the last bit of your message strikes me as gratuitous, if not fatuous.
I publicly apologized to Usenet. Was this not enough for you?
-- Francis Vale
6) Adam then wrote back the following to Vale , at 21st:
On Thu, 4 Jan 1996, Francis Vale wrote:
>>. Trust me, no one is that interested.
>In what, Adam? Me? The 21st? New ideas? Good journalism?
Try quoting more context. No one is interested in reading the same message 10 times. At least, if they are that interested, they'll save the article and come back to it. I don't think they'd like to download 10 separate copies onto their hard disk. I was extolling the virtues of crossposting.
>I appreciate your advice, and it is *well* received. But the last bit of your
message strikes me as gratuitous, if not fatuous.
I hope it strikes you differently now.
>I publicly apologized to Usenet. Was this not enough for you?
No, because you seemed to regret crossing the threshold, not excessive multi-posting when it was unnecessary. Glad you liked the advice.
7) Vale then replied to Adam:
> No, because you seemed to regret crossing the threshold, not
> excessive multi-posting when it was unnecessary.
So, the act of Usenet public apology, no matter how courageous, is only valid when accompanied by howls of inner moral pain. The act of Usenet Contrition, to be valid, must be deep indeed. As a lapsed Catholic, I can really dig where you are coming from.
I also better understand the motivation behind your final comments.
Thanks. I do see things differently now.
-- Francis Vale
Note: Adam was not heard from again.
8) This message then arrived at 21st from the Usenet admin. who sent us the original Spam warning message. It contains some usenet posting advice.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Chris Lewis)
Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 20:27:02 -0500
To: (Francis Vale)
Subject: Re: EMP/ECP cancelled (Annc. 21st, Unique WebZine:
(Francis Vale)) @@NCM
On Jan 4, 16:25, Francis Vale wrote:}
Subject: Re: EMP/ECP cancelled
(Annc. 21st, Unique WebZine:
} Thank you for the advice.
} We were very much aware of Spamming before we sent out the post. As we understand it, Spamming involves *indiscriminate* posting to those who may find the post useless, or a waste of bandwidth. We took great care in selecting only those groups who may have an interest in reading our new WebZine, 21st.
} Our WebZine has multiple editorial sections, each with a different focus.Hence the potential appeal to a broad range of user groups (please check this out for yourself -- http:// www.vxm.com)
} So, we ask you for your advice here: If there are multiple news
}groups who may have an interest in reading 21st, and we therefore
}have legitimate cause for sending them this post, then what do we }do?
Hi, thanks for being understanding and thanks for your apology, but you didn't need to apologize to me.
In order to be able to control spam, we have to define it in impartial,objective
terms. "indiscriminate", "off topic" and other qualfiers, whilewe understand
what they mean, they leave us open to accusations of bias orcontent-based censorship.
Therefore the thresholds are purely numeric. The number "20" was chosenby consensus
of the system owners, because it is believed that any articleposted to more than
5 groups is wrong at least in some of them. So, wewere conservative, and multiplied
the threshold by 4 ;-)
This is what I propose to everyone that asks:
- choose the 10 best groups.
- send out _one_ posting that lists all 10 in the Newsgroups:
line. (each group separated by a comma, no space).
This is one posting, "crossposted" to 10 groups. According to the descriptionof the BI index, the BI index of the result is 3.3 (sqrt(10)) - well underthe threshold. Your newsreader should allow you to crosspost. If you'renot sure, ask your system administrator. You can do a small test to,say, "alt.test,misc.test" and
ensure that the bounces you receive from thetest reflectors list both groups.
Then, post your message no more often than once every two weeks.
Also, you should note the reference to the "commerce" list:
} >To ask questions or get advice about responsible advertising on Usenet,
} >send e-mail to email@example.com.
Also, you can put a short blurb (4 lines or less) as your signature.
Everytime you post to ask a question, answer a question - participate
in Usenet - you get a free ad of a type that people don't complain about.
People object to unsolicited broadcast messages, whether they're advertisements or not. We have to tolerate small amounts. People don't tolerate large amounts.
Chris Lewis: _Una confibula non sat est_
Latest psroff: ftp://ftp.uunet.ca/distrib/chris_lewis/psroff3.0pl17/*
Latest hp2pbm: ftp://ftp.uunet.ca/distrib/chris_lewis/hp2pbm/*
NNTP AUTHINFO GENERIC info: ftp://ftp.uunet.ca/distrib/chris_lewis/generic/*
9) This e mail then arrived at 21st. Notice how the sender's advice (presumably an expert on these matters) contradicts the prior advice given above.
Date: Fri, 5 Jan 1996 08:22:26 -0500
To: Francis Vale
Subject: Re: An Open apology from 21st Webzine
In article - Francisvfirstname.lastname@example.org>,
Francis Vale wrote:
>This is an apology from 21st WebZine.
>We were very much aware of Spamming before we sent out our
>post. As we understood it, Spamming involves *indiscriminate*
>posting to those who may find the post useless, or a waste of
>bandwidth. We took great care in selecting only those groups who
>may have an interest in reading our new WebZine, 21st.
Spamming is posting the same article, separately, to many newsgroups. Even if the newsgroups were selected with the utomst discrimination, this is the wrong way to post.
>Our WebZine has multiple editorial sections -- from computers to
>human consciousness. Hence the potential appeal to a broad range
>of user groups. Regardless, our posting to 22 groups apparently
>exceeded the Spam threshold by 2.
Because you posted 22 separate messages. Instead, post 2 or 3 messages, each cross-posted to 7-10 groups. Put a Followup-To: header in the message to indicate where you'd like discussion of your
message to occur. I encourage you to repost your notice, but
this time do it properly.
Thanks for apologizing, and I hope you'll stay around.
[posted & e-mailed]
10) This e mail message from another party then arrived. It contains some good information. But also please note the offer at its end to 'proofread' Usenet messages such as ours for $100.
To: (Francis Vale)
Subject: Re: An Open apology from 21st Webzine
From: "Sten" Date: 05 Jan 1996 12:54:38 -0600
(Francis Vale) said:
FV> This is an apology from 21st WebZine. We were very much
FV> aware of Spamming before we sent out our post. As we
FV> understood it, Spamming involves *indiscriminate* posting to
FV> those who may find the post useless, or a waste of bandwidth.
FV> We took great care in selecting only those groups who may have
FV> an interest in reading our newWebZine, 21st. Our WebZine has
FV> multiple editorial sections -- from computers to human
FV> consciousness. Hence the potential appeal to a broad range of
FV> user groups. Regardless, our posting to 22 groups apparently
FV> exceeded the Spam threshold by 2.
Spamming is posting many multiple copies of articles, discriminate or indiscriminate. If you post 22 articles to 22 groups, your server stores your posting 22 times. Disk space costs money. Your server then sends your posting to other news servers, which probably pay for their connection based on the bandwidth they have. Your 22 articles require 22 times the bandwidth and 22 times the disk space of 1 article. Bandwidth costs money. Disk space costs money. This repeats around the world. Then, finally, there is the end user who reads all 22 groups, and has to receive, and, if they aren't on a free or unlimited connection, pay for, your article 22 times. Compare this to crossposting your article in the 22 newsgroups. Your server stores your posting once. It sends it to other servers once per server. The end user, if using one of the news readers that handles crossposts properly, receives and pays for your article once. My point: spam isn't necessarily indiscriminate, but it is always inconsiderate, and, in the long run, expensive for people other than the spammer.
Unsolicited email advertisements will be proofread for a US$100 fee.
11) The following message is interesting. It came from the same person above who offered us his proofreading services for $100. Notice how he seemingly contradicts the advice given us by 'Ron' (RN) about how to do a proper crossposting:
Subject: Re: An Open apology from 21st Webzine
Date: 05 Jan 1996 15:05:57 -0600
The following message is a courtesy copy of an article that has been posted as well.
(Ron ) said:
RN> Because you posted 22 separate messages. Instead, post 2 or 3
RN> messages, each cross-posted to 7-10 groups. Put a Followup-To:
RN> header in the message to indicate where you'd like discussion of
RN> your message to occur. I encourage you to repost your notice,
RN> but this time do it properly.
If you want to repost the information, you will need to rewrite it, because reposting substantially the same article will be considered to be a continuation of the same spam.
12) Finally, we also received voice mail on this subject at 21st. One caller (who left no name nor telephone number) left a long message.
This caller said he very much disagreed with 21st for making a public apology
to the "Net Nazis" He went on to give us some information (which we later found out was erroneous) that the usenet administrators forged a person's name in order to remove the offending messages. This caller finished by saying that "he
wouldn't ever buy anything from someone who caved into Usenet pressure"
21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com