Wordsligner • Dissident • Webwright

E-mail, Spam and The Magic Plus

Published 18 November 2007

One weekend in elementary school, my dad cooked us breakfast, as was his habit. Something was sizzling in the pan and smelling almost delicious. It wasn’t bacon. Nor was it sausage. I asked him what it was.

“Breakfast Meat!”

Meat designed for only one meal? This could not be! I pressed him, and he repeated himself. I checked the fridge, and sure enough an oblong tin cheerfully announced itself as breakfast meat. Something was off. I refused to eat it. What animal did said meat come from? The can did not say, and my father only hazarded guesses.

Hence my war with spam began.

A List Apart just published an article on some pretty graceful e-mail obfuscation, which is pretty impressive (although a bit encumbering). The author’s major problem: he encodes the “@” and “.” of addresses with a plus-sign, stating:

e-mail service providers typically don’t allow user to create addresses that contain a plus sign

And right he is! Gmail, however, allows you to use The Magic Plus™, as do any procmail-using Web hosts (like these jokers). You haven’t met him? Here’s how it works.

The Magic Plus

It’s quite simple. Your e-mail address has two parts, the user and the domain. Spiffy mail servers, however, allow you to add a third part to the address, specified by a plus:




And the important part is that both go to the same place! So next time you’re being hassled for an e-mail address for your Kroger card and you’re afraid they’re going to sell your address to angry spam monkeys, simply give them user+kroger@example.com and you’ll know!

Spam.la is voodoo Magic

And if you have to sign up for a really shady place, use spam.la. Great for forums that you need an e-mail to register with. Anything sent to that domain shows up right on their home page.

What do you do, Ryan?

Using my Web designer wizardry, I brazenly post my email right on my homepage. “What?” you gasp, “this goes against all Web designer principals!” You should be employing some kind of crazy javascript hack! The problems with this, however, are numerous, namely:

  • The effect of such hacks on devices are unclear
  • The usefulness of Microformats and other Web 2.0 goodness is seriously limited.
  • Philosophy an d ego: if I let spammers dictate my markup, the terrorists have already won.

So flying right in the face of Zeldman’s advice, I just filter it. Twice. Dreamhost has this fancy pants procmail thing that goes through my spam filter, to a magic Gmail address, and then back to my inbox. Amazing!