January 13th, 1999.

Dark city.

So far this year I have been offered "hot Russian women to wed", "free subscriptions to 100's of top mags", "best deals on low APR finance", "free false eyelashes" and on my Birthday I was offered "the most convincing wigs ever"! But this is no dodgy back street of a dark city, this is the information superhighway, the technical revolution that will empower us all, this is the internet.

Needless to say, I never once asked anyone on the net (or otherwise) for a "hot Russian bride" or "convincing wig", but somehow someone out there has gotten hold of my email address and decided to sell it, along with millions of others, to someone who has gone hunting the net for someone who is indeed looking for their perfect 'hot Russian bride' or 'convincing wig'.

Such mass mailings have earned the nickname 'spam' and are now the No1 cause of annoyance on the net. I manage to avoid it for the most part by using a web-based email address when entering my email details on any form. My private mail address has as a result remained relatively spam-free. Even my business email address hasn't suffered too badly. But get on one of these lists and the problem can become so serious that there is often only one way to fix it, terminate the email address completely!

According to a survey carried out for Novell by Benchmark Research "Junk email is fast becoming the scourge of business in the United Kingdom and could severely curtail the Internet's progress as the business medium of the next century"

Spam could be costing British and Irish businesses more than 5 billion pounds a year ($8.3 billion), the report showed. Novell said junk email may become such a threat to recipients that professional advice and specialized software will be required to curtail it. The results of the survey were based on interviews with 801 employees of information technology companies.

"Seventy-five percent of the people surveyed receive up to five spam emails a day, with a further 16 percent receiving between six and 25 spam emails a day," Novell said in a statement. "In dealing with these emails, 75 percent said they wasted up to 15 minutes a day reading, deleting, filing, or responding to spam and an amazing 15 percent wasted an hour doing the same."

As yet there are no laws that make 'spamming' illegal. Service providers have taken to implementing their own solutions by limiting the number of emails a person can send in one go. While this is effective to a point it only stops an inexperienced spammer, and perhaps more seriously it adversely affects those with genuine mailing lists (like my Mad Mail list).

Despite this, mailing lists are still the No1 way of keeping in touch with a client base or potential client base. More and more sites are offering email lists to give visitors some special service that may, for example, alert them of a sale or some such offer. These are called 'opt-in mailing lists' and can't be classed the same as spam. I am on two daily email lists, one for Mac tips and one for marketing tips. The plus point to these lists is that to my knowledge they have never sold on my address to another company, and at any time I can remove myself from the list with very little effort.

The other scourge of the net has to be porn. We have all heard horror stories of pedophile networks at work on the web, these stories have damaged the web industry and general perception of the net as a whole. All of us, I'm sure, want to see these networks shut down and their members brought to justice. But what of the 'everyday pornographers' at work on the web?

Let's not make any mistake here, I am one of the 'atypical' net users right now. I am a male between 25 - 35 years old. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why there is so much porn on the web in the light of those statistics. However, I am not lying when I say that I do get annoyed with web porn turning up in all sorts of places I didn't expect it and all sorts of places I didn't want it.

While I have no objection to the notion of porn, I do have a big problem when porn could damage my company. Recently I purchased the domain name MADMAIL.NET. I had missed out on MADMAIL.COM after hesitating to purchase it. However, for ages, MADMAIL.COM had no website online and therefore was not a concern to me.

My Mad Mail site is a PG-rated humor site that is growing in popularity. It's a site that I invest a great deal of time developing and one that I hope to see a return on this year. I am still building the 'Mad Mail' brand and, it seems, I am having quite some success doing this.

Imagine my horror then when MADMAIL.COM appeared as a porn-related free email service! The site (which is still yet to be formally launched) pictures some barely clothed girl flaunting her whatsits and a free web-based email account. In itself this isn't a huge problem for me, however, MADMAIL.NET may one day include free web-based email service as well as other things. With the domain name being MADMAIL.NET it's not hard to see that my visitors may accidentally end up at the porn mail site when they want to revisit my site.

Worse than this is the threat that 'Mad Mail' could become a flagged word by search engines as they strive to cut porn from their listings. This would have a devastating effect on the MADMAIL.NET site. One that would not have been anything to do with anything I have done.

Despite the setbacks, I am still a believer in the World Wide Web. I want to see more companies develop better sites, I want to see the cost for personal access tumble yet further and the acceptability to online ordering grow. I want to see people begin to embrace the web and its potential. Sure porn and spam will always be there in the background, but I hope that people and businesses will begin to see that the web has more to offer than 'stolen honeymoon videos' and 'hot Russian brides'.