by Remy Porter

Much to his shame, Gary sends spam for a living. Not the spam that promises to enhance your sex organs, or let you view teenagers engaged in acts illegal in 43 states. He sends those newsletters and promotional notices that you delete unread on behalf of that company you bought something from once and have since forgotten about but can't be bothered to find the unsubscribe link at the bottom. So, not spam spam, but the content you couldn't care less about, nonetheless.

At one point, Gary was polishing up the data set underlying the company's largest campaign yet. Any campaign was complex, although this was an order of magnitude beyond that. Gary had to build an analytical model off of their address pool, isolating the target market segment, tacking on some demographic modifiers, and get that bundled up and handed off to their third-party bulk-emailing service. While he did that, swarms of graphic designers and copywriters actually built the promotional materials; they fought it out over the proper values for kerning in the banner and what color the footer should be. And again, all of that needed to be packaged up and handed off to the bulk-email service.

When launch-day rolled around, Gary's development team was relaxed. The "Big Moment" was high stress for everyone else in the company, as they struggled with last minute modifications, but the development team simply waited for the go-ahead to "push the button."

"Can I push the button?" Clayton, the business manager asked. His eyes glowed at the prospect of sending out 50,000 emails with a single click.

"Sure," Gary said. After all- it was just a button. What could possibly go wrong?


Gary handed Clayton the mouse and pointed him at the third-party emailer's website. Clayton clicked. Ten seconds later, when Clayton hadn't seen any response, he clicked the button again. And again.

It happened too quickly for anyone from the development team to realize what just happened. It wasn't until the monitoring email address they used dinged for a new message not once, but three times. By then, it was too late to do anything about the 150,000 emails that had just surged out. Gary's company was billed three times by the bulk emailer. And ten times as many people bothered to find the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the message to cut down on the spam. And Gary's team got a stern lecture about being cautious about these vital campaigns.

Clayton never asked to push the button again.