Classify "interesting stuff"
Spam is "legally" the name of a pressed meat product sold by Hormel Foods. Folks that survived on the George Hormel "pressed meat product" during World War II may have special feelings for this product.
As used on the Internet, Spam takes its origins from the Monty Python "Spam" sketch, where people are told that they need to have some "Spam" whether it relates to what they want or not. Excite search for +Monty +Python +Spam
Spam is the term generally used for undesired or otherwise irrelevant mail and/or news that is "carbon copied" in profligate fashion to enormous numbers of users or news groups. "Spammers" consider this activity to be "valuable marketing." Most of the rest of us recipients consider this rather to be very annoying. I don't buy from "spammers," and encourage others to refrain from supporting their actions too.
It describes messages posted gratuitously across many newsgroups that are irrelevant. The typical news server is getting filled up with undesirable messages relating to:
Illegal pyramid schemes "Hi, my name is Dave Rhodes..."
Multilevel marketing (MLM) Scams
I worked on the design of one with a high-school business teacher. (He was serious about it; I had only academic interest.) Based on that analysis that appears to fairly nicely represent any MLMs that I've seen since, the only way to get rich on MLM is to start the system and be the bottom level distributor/manufacturer that sells to everyone else down the chain.
The principle is also reasonably applicable to franchises.
The point is that as the "manufacturer," you get to make a significant profit on every unit of product sold at every other level. If, as is likely, the manufacturer can take out 20% of all sales in the overall organization as profit, that beats out what anyone else can possibly make on the deal. And it requires no time-consuming saleswork.
Heading back to relevance, the essential point here is that while MLMs may be a profitable thing to the people trying to sell you on getting in on them, it is entirely unlikely that they represent a good thing for you, unless it is your goal in life to basically treat your "friends" and family as marketing targets.
There is a whole class of African scams where the basic idea is that you are sold the story that a high official in an African country has died, leaving a large sum of money or gold or other valuata hidden away. They require your help to get access to the valuable material, and will be happy to share some of it with you.
The eventual problem is that you will have to pay out money to cover some form of "administrative fees," and the scam is for them to try to extract as much of these sorts of fees as possible from you.
People have apparently been flown to Nigeria and been shown vaults full of gold in order to justify the "reality" of the big deal. This class of scam is apparently one of the biggest businesses in various parts of Africa, enjoying the support of corrupt government officials.
Phone Sex/psychic Ads
It's objectionable, and represents a scam to "fleece" people who are lonely in our increasingly-weirdly-connected modern society who can't connect to other people.
People are afraid of people, but nonetheless have the basic human desire for some form of intimacy. Which gives a perfect opening for unscrupulous operators who can provide an illusion of intimacy for a few bucks per minute.
Otherwise inoffensive but irrelevant junk mail
"I'll build PCs for you..." or flowers/chocolates/teddy-grams by mail; possibly devices or treatments that they claim will increase the size of " censored body parts" or help you otherwise retrieve characteristics of your youth...
Cameron Simpson's Low Maintenance Accurate Per-User Opt-In Anti-Spam technique...
If you're a resident of Washington State, there is relevant statute and case law against spammers. Some Washington residents are using this to actually get judgements and penalties against those that send illegal spam.
A system of clients and servers that collect checksums relating to mail messages, for the purpose of detecting "spam."
The idea is that if messages are being received at several locations that have many of the same headers, this is rather suggestive that they may represent "bulk spam."
A combination of "white lists" to indicate traffic known not to be spam along with blacklists involving unwelcome domains known to be spam sources as well as some dictionary of IDs known not to exist locally may be used to "tune" the parameters to reject the bad whilst letting legitimate traffic through.
Mostly seen in news; as soon as a discussion touches any of the following topics, discussion degrades instantly:
Robert A. Heinlein: Greatest Science Fiction Author of All Time, or Sexist-Racist-Fascist Pig Supreme?
Picard or Kirk: Who's the best/worst Enterprise captain?
(It's quite clear to me which of Patrick Stewart and William Shatner is the better actor. On the other hand, both are eminently successful entertainers.)
Virtually Any computer comparison:
Monolithic kernel vs microkernel
Microsoft Windows NT vs Unix
Apple II vs Atari 800 vs C=64 vs TRS-80
Atari ST vs Commodore Amiga vs Apple Macintosh
Motorola vs Intel
Microsoft Windows vs Macintosh
USR Pilot vs Apple Newton vs WinCE
iPhone vs Android vs Windows Mobile
RMS vs Bill Gates
President Clinton is (great|a bozo). As a foreigner, the sources of my opinions fundamentally differ from those of Americans...
Controversial political "hot potatoes" such as abortion, gun control, capital punishment, affirmative action...
Really Important things: Texas A and M vs UT, BBQ Pork vs BBQ Beef
Most of these issues are not of particular "personal" importance to me. I've used every one of the languages listed, and have no problem with someone preferring to use a particular one.
But some peoples' preferences are based primarily on some personal bias. They should add in the following "disclaimer" at the bottom of their postings: " ...and hence I'm right in my opinion that xyzzy is the best. Anyone who disagrees with me is obviously a know-nothing idiot with **** for brains..."
Watching a vigorous "flame" thread can sometimes be quite cathartic, but it's not valuable in providing useful information.
You may have the correct and rational answer to one of these issues. THAT DOESN'T MATTER THE SLIGHTEST BIT. All rational thought will be lost in the flames.
A common convention is that discussion stops upon the first mention of Adolf Hitler or Nazis. See Godwin's Law on the mention of Hitler on the Internet
I used to keep a copy of William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich close at hand at home so I that could make correct statements about Nazi policies and claims rather than the puerile and irrelevant comparisons people typically make. Suffice it to say that there aren't many city councillors or software developers who have set up policies involving the deaths of millions of people...
A most appropriate quote I recently saw: "There are parallels to be drawn between the FSF/GNU/Linux and Marxism, but if you've shown one thing clearly by your post, it is that even the mention of Marx is too politically charged to allow any such parallels to be profitably discussed. "
Rewriting this as a generic template: "There are parallels to be drawn between Foo and Bar, but if you've shown one thing clearly by your post, it is that even the mention of Bar is too politically charged to allow any such parallels to be profitably discussed. "
Things that can reasonably be filled in as substitutions for Bar would include:
Anything relating to Adolph Hitler
Anything relating to Richard Nixon
These days, Microsoft...
Note also the essay How should I react to crackpot messages? This is a discussion of how to deal with "crackpots" on Usenet.
The author assumes that certain sorts of beliefs are "crackpot beliefs," which some might consider controversial, should you happen to regard some of those beliefs differently. But the suggestions of how one might try to react seem quite sound, the essence of the matter being Don't feed the Troll.
There are indeed topics on which attempting rational discussion has proven futile on a forum like Usenet; notable examples would be The Abortion Debate, cosmology, numerology, and a wide variety of other "counter-scientific" theories. There are also people that have peculiar positions on taxation and legal theory (commonly leading to conspiracy theories involving Evil International Jewish Bankers) where rational arguments seem futile.
The critical point here is not that it is inherently impossible for people to have rational arguments that happen to differ; the point is, instead, that it is futile to pursue rational arguments on such matters on Usenet.
There are people that either innocently or in a desire to start a fight make rash statements/claims that result in great controversy with little useful dialogue. This is normally called trolling. "Heh, heh! If I ask the right dumb question about some bug in MacOS and crosspost to some a mixture of Linux, MS-Windows, and Macintosh newsgroups, I can get 20 people to flame me publicly, and then 500 people will flame them. I'm a K00L D00D, aren't I?"
It may cause a certain kind of entertainment, but isn't terribly "k00l," and certainly isn't useful at communicating useful information.
There can sometimes be a fine line between "advocacy" and trolling.
A quite fair-minded discussion of advocacy of FreeBSD by a BSD advocate. The author notes that there are bigots on all sorts of sides and that the oft-waged "Holy Wars" often involve intentional obstructive misunderstandings. He primarily points out offenses on the BSD side of the fence, which is probably the most constructive thing to do...
Net Kooks commonly plague Usenet.
The best solution to these characters seems to be passive-aggressive, refusing to feed their need for attention by refusing to respond to them.
Spam and flames eliminated, we're still left with a lot of uninteresting news to go through. With millions of possible participants, someone is likely to say something:
Irrelevant to me.
Over 90% of the traffic on comp.os.linux.hardware relates to equipment I neither have nor care about. PPP users have to wade thru a whole lot of Ethernet misconfiguration information in comp.os.linux.network, and vice versa. Problems running XFree86 on graphics cards I'll never use.
It's not a flame; it's not spam; it's just wrong information.
Sometimes the entrance of newcomers can disrupt ongoing discussions, particularly when the discussions are highly directed towards action.
For instance, discussions on Linux newsgroups concerning the continuing development of improved C libraries (GLIBC ) were plagued by the repetitive rehashing of issues by newcomers, along with the flaring of politicized opinions. The technical facts about GLIBC have proven to be relatively unimportant in the flaming/discussions.
Discussion that actually matters has moved to mailing lists so as to avoid anything that doesn't relate to how the code is being written.
The basic thesis is that crossposting exposes posts to the union of the respective sets of newsgroup readers; it is only the intersection of those sets, that surely represents a minority, that represents interested readers. Thus the vast majority of readers aren't interested in the crossposted articles, and if they misunderstand the cross-disciplinary discussion by directing it towards their preferences, discussions degrade.
I also have large quantities of desirable email to wade through:
Mail from friends and relatives
My parents and brothers live strewn across eastern North America, and all have web pages and use email quite a lot. We hardly ever send "real" letters anymore, particularly at higher international postage rates.
Mail from mailing lists, sometimes including:
Linux in Business
Informix on Linux
Ifile (mail filter system)
Ical (calendar system)
There's some portion of this stuff that's not particularly desirable:
Mailing lists occasionally get hit by "spammers"
The R/3 list is very active (sometimes over 100 articles per day), and discusses piles of things about R/3 that I couldn't care less about. (e.g. - As a "techie," I could care less how they build a "document workflow" for the Human Resources module.)
Responses to news postings
Technical Recruiter solicitations