The Beagle virus does NOT target online activists

Marty Kearns is sounding the alarm bells
because he received a copy of the new “Beagle” virus with a return address at PoliticsOnline, the online newsletter about e-campaigning. Marty hypothesizes that perhaps hackers are attempting to target online Democratic GOTV organizing efforts.

Now I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but it seems to me that the most likely explanation for receiving a virus that appears to be from PoliticsOnline is that someone at PoliticsOnline got the virus via email (bad on them) and that Marty was in that person’s email address book, so the virus emailed itself out to him, faking the return address so that it was from another random user at PoliticsOnline.

If you check the Symantec info on Beagle, you’ll see that it notes that “the from address will be spoofed such that it will appear to come from someone belonging to the same domain as the receiver.”

Spoofed return addresses are very common with email viruses, and the address that a virus email appears to be from doesn’t tell you a thing about where the virus really came from, the intent of the virus sender, or anything else.

Social Circles: Visualizing email list traffic

“Danah Boyd”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2004/01/18/mailing_list_visualizations.html links to social circles, a tool from marcos weskamp that can subscribe itself to a mailing list and produce some simple pictures that map the traffic on the list.

Danah raises the obvious (and important) concern about the temptation to create public visualizations of private listservs.

And, in a related post, Danah also asks “why visualize social networks?”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2004/01/18/why_visualize_social_networks.html

I’d like to map some of the 600 “email discussion lists”:http://lists.onenw.org that ONE/Northwest hosts for the Northwest environmental movement. I think this would help the list participants (i.e. Northwest environmental activists) do a better job of identifying the “rising stars” of the movement. And I definitely think it would help newcomers to a collaborative network identify the key players.

I would love to see an inexpensive (or better yet open-source) version of a visualization tool like social circles or Valids Krebs’ “InFlow”:http://www.orgnet.com/inflow3.html. Roland Piquapaille presents a “list of social-network mapping tools”:http://radio.weblogs.com/0105910/2003/03/16.html#a398 which is about 10 months old.

Pew study on Internet use by region

Gideon notes a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

As you might expect, the Northwest (which Pew unfortunately defines as only Washington and Oregon) is one of the most wired regions in the country.

The thing that most jumped out at me was that we have a larger proportion of seniors online than anywhere else. This is good news for environmental groups with greying membership bases.

One counter-intuitive finding was that folks in the Northwest consume online news at a somewhat lower rate than folks elsewhere. “[A]lmost three-fifths (59%) of American Internet users have gotten news online, led by 64% of users in the Border States. However, in the Northwest, only 53% of users have done this, one of the smallest proportions of any region in the country (other regions that score low in this category are the Mountain States at 51% and the Upper Midwest at 55%).”

While I wonder whether 6% is a truly significant deviation from average, this is definitely interesting, as it also correlates with other findings that Northwesterners tend to engage in most web-related activities at lower-than-average rates. (We’re big email users, though.)

AOL sued for over-zealous spam blocking

Noted with interest/approval:

Slashdot | AOL Sued For Over-Zealous Blocking

“America Online has been sued by CI Host, a Texas-based hosting company for defamation, interference with contractual rights and unfair competition. CI Host has been awarded a temporary restraining order, though AOL has apparently not complied. This may be the first such in a series of suits leading up to, perhaps, to class-action status relating to AOL’s recent zealotry in anti-spam policy resulting in the presumption that shared-hosting providers are guilty (of spamming) unless proven innocent.”

SpamBayes 0.6 released

The SpamBayes Outlook Addin continues to evolve rapidly. (This is my preferred Outlook-compatible anti-spam product.) New in this version:

# Bugs for non-English users fixed.
# Most installation/registration errors finally fixed.
# Some “message read/unread flag” bugs fixed. We change the way we save the Spam score, which has solved at least some such bugs. There is also a new save_spam_info configuration option which allows you to disable all saving of the spam score, should these bugs persist for you.
# New experimental option allows you to use a timer to process the spam. This is designed for people who find that SpamBayes misses messages, or conflicts with the builtin Outlook mail rules.
# New option to automatically check if you are running the latest copy of SpamBayes.
# Installer makes sure Outlook is not running before installation.

Free World Dialup and IConnectHere: interesting VOIP services

Free World Dialup is an interesting VOIP service. It’s not PC-to-Phone (ala Vonage), but a very easy way to interconnect to other VOIP users in a semi-standardized way. The site is still a bit long on jargon, but definitely worth keeping an eye on.

IConnectHere is a very interesting Vonage-like VOIP>Regular Phone service. Very flexible service/pricing options, unlike Vonage.

This stuff might be just about ready for primetime. Hmm….

Salutations and Response Rates to Online Surveys

The crack email newsletter and online relationship management researchers at the Stanford Alumni Association have an interesting bit of research available: “Salutiations and Response Rates to Online Surveys.”

A previous work, entitled “@Stanford and Institutional Advancement” is an outstanding look at the many impacts of email newsletters.

Both studies can be found on the homepage of Jerold, Pearson,
Stanford University’s Director of Market Research.

Nielsen on “low-end media”

Jakob Nielsen’s most recent “Alertbox” article, Low-End Media for User Empowerment, is particularly good.

Key concept is that “low-end media” — pictures and text — are much more usable than “high-end media” — animations, video, sounds, 3-D models, etc.

One of the interesting exceptions he mentions is email newsletters, saying that “In usability testing a broad range of newsletters, we found that HTML newsletters were better than plain-text newsletters. Although I still recommend offering an ASCII version for users with low-bandwidth connections or who otherwise prefer a low-end newsletter, most users prefer HTML. The reason? Enhanced layout makes articles easier to scan, and a few pictures can add to the newsletter’s communicative value.”

Email Newsletters Rising

There’s (finally!) been a surge of interest in email newsletters among our clients. I think this is due to a convergence of several factors, among them:

* Several years worth of repeating the message “effective online strategies are based on email.”
* The widely-noted success of email-based antiwar organizing
* Our recent launch of new, powerful, easy-to-use Sympa email list hosting software. (Huge props to Adam Bernstein, who helped us get up and running.)
* A sense of frustration with the costs, difficulties and low returns of over-focus on the Web

Whatever the reasons, I’m pleased to see it. We’re going to be really working hard over the next few months to deliver the next generation of email newsletter and email list functionality to our community.

Why all this spam?

A new study, entitled ‘Why all this spam?” suggests that the main reason many email addresses get spammed is because they’re posted on public Web sites. The suggestion: disguise your email address on your public Web site — all you have to do is write “jon at onenw.org” instead of “jon@onenw.org.”