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October 28, 2008

Legislative Email Oops

Last week, hoping to drum up attendance at the Vermont 3.0 Creative/Tech Career Jam among policy makers, I emailed dozens upon dozens of Vermont senators and state legislators.

I know my emails reached some of these public servants — I heard from several of them, and saw some of them at the event (yay!).

But some of those emails, which I procured from the state's legislative directory, went astray. I got a bunch of bounce backs, and on Sunday morning, I received this curious missive:

Dear Cathy Resmer,

Will you please get your act together.  I have written e-mail, after e-mail, to all you political servants in Vermont or wherever you're from.  My name is William Jewett, not Willem, and I am not a Vermont lawmaker.  I live in Florida and am very happy here.  So please take me off all your e-mail addresses and get his correct e-mail address from Willem.

Thank you very much.
William G. JEWETT

Oops! Sorry, William.

And another complaint about these lawmaker emails — whenever I got a response from anyone, their reply always flagged my message as "PROBABLE SPAM." That was a bummer. My invitations were totally not spam.

I think there is some disagreement over what constitutes "spam." Let's break it down: you were using a list of emails that included (at least some) recipients that you don't personally know, and you sent them all ("dozens and dozens" of them) the same email entreating them to come to an event that you have a financial stake in. That sounds a lot like spam. That by no means makes you on the same level as Nigerian 419 spam-scammers, and I have been guilty of the practice occasionally myself for personal projects, but it's still technically spam.

The legislative directory exists (I assume) for just this sort of purpose, so I don't think you're breaking any rules or even committing a social faux pas. "Spam" has taken on an understandable pejorative connotation, but I don't think that evil, greedy intent on the sender's part is necessarily part of the word's definition.

I thought about this way more than I should have. Too much caffeine!

Does it matter that I wrote personal messages on each of the emails that I sent? Because I did! And I basically targeted legislators in Northwestern and Central Vermont, and people who sit on the economic development committee (or whatever the official name for it is.)

Point taken, Bill. But in this case, my spam wasn't solely for my own economic benefit. In this case, my own financial stake was also entwined with the overall good of the companies that comprise this sector of the economy.

I didn't want these legislators to come to the event because I would make more money. No one paid to get in. I wanted them to come because I think Vermont lawmakers could really benefit from talking with the kinds of companies and students and workers who attended.

Legislators help set the state's economic priorities, and it would help everybody there if our lawmakers knew more about the issues we all care about.

I don't question that your intent with the emails was good, Cathy. That's just my point. The word "spam" has nothing to do with intent, it has to do with practice. And yes, I think it matters that you included personal notes in all of the emails, but again, there is no according-to-Hoyle definition. I was just pointing out that despite your lack of evil intent, sending out mass email most probably = spam to most folks.

It was your sentence "My invitations were totally not spam" plus too much coffee that prompted me to respond. If I read your post now that I'm all relaxed at home I wouldn't have even commented.

Some people drunk dial. I comment wired. :)

Is there a term for playing scramble on facebook obsessively when you wake up in the middle of the night? That's what I do. I'm a midnight Scrambler.

I appreciate the distinction you're making. Thanks for your thoughtful, caffeinated commentary.

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