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March 17, 2005

So Who Gets It?

This article at the New York Times made me laugh quite a bit this morning:

Right Name, Wrong E-Mail In-Box

LAST fall, David A. Green was looking forward to his new job at a Manhattan real estate brokerage. Finally, he would be able to shed the e-mail confusion that plagued him because of the two other David Greens at his company.

No such luck. At his new company, Cushman & Wakefield, there was yet another David Green. And that Mr. Green already held the coveted e-mail name David_Green, following the company's convention for e-mail addresses.

At his old company, CB Richard Ellis, he had been, reluctantly, David.A.Green. Now he became David_A_Green. Hundreds of his e-mail messages went to the wrong David Green.

"I would have been better off being at his desk than at mine," said David A. Green, noting that the original, initial-free David Green is "most gracious about sending me the volumes of e-mails that go to him." [via New York Times: Technology]

So why did I find this amusing? This isn't a new topic. The sendmail FAQ has had a question on this forever (or at least since 1997). It still amazes me that people don't think that this might be a problem. When I was in college pretty much everyone had four character email addresses in the format (first initial)(second initial)(random alphanumeric)(random alphanumeric). Mine was gb1d. I can still remember pretty much all my friend's addresses from then too. It also helps to keep out people just spamming by sending emails to any old firstname_lastname address.

Posted by snooze at March 17, 2005 08:44 AM

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The problem with your last bit is that spammers clearly can and assuredly do also randomly generate short addresses -- all I have to do is look at the spam I've gotten at work to russ, russab, etc. I grant you that if your first and last name are in, let's say, the top 1000 most common of each (including spelling, mind you!) that 10,000 attempts will find you. But it's not clear to me how many people are in that grouping -- there's a lot of variety in names. (Granted, _I_ am certainly in that category.) On the other hand, if you have a 4-character mailbox (alphanumerics), 1679616 attempts gets you no matter who you are.

It'd be interesting to see some statistics. So far my longhand home address, which I will not quote here in text, has gotten 0 spam, but time will tell whether in fact it will be namelist-generated as you say.


Posted by: R. Smith [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 17, 2005 11:53 AM

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