Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hotmail’s Spam Bodyguard

Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by certain tube ads – those that so badly designed or convey a message in such clumsy fashion that one spends far longer wondering about the brains of the people who designed them than in absorbing the meaning of the content, if any. And today I present to you a specimen of singular interest.

On the face of it this is something about Microsoft's web-based email service, Hotmail. I have nothing against Hotmail. I use it myself from time to time. My interest is in what I can only describe as the ineffable naffness of this ad.

What on earth is a "new busy"? Busy is an adjective. You cannot have a new one. You can have a new, busy person (although that does not have very much meaning, unless by new you denote a synthetically produced human). In the 1930s the word busy was slang for a policeman in the UK and I am pretty sure that nobody in Microsoft's advertising department will know that. So what do they mean? Beats me. There is the outside chance that they think this is popular usage for Businessperson. If so it still produces a meaningless image. Businesspeople do not use Hotmail for business. It is a personal email product, not suitable for collaborative use of email, calendars and resource scheduling, archiving of mail to meet legal requirements and so forth. But let us move on.

What is a spam bodyguard? Why would it be personal? Spam is impersonal mail sent by people you do not know or wish to do business with. If you know them then their emails are not spam, though their receipt may be irritating. So there is no such thing as a personal spam bodyguard. Only an impersonal one, based on identifying emails that are being spammed indiscriminately can do the job. Otherwise you start with the idea that everything you receive must be ok unless you flag it as spam, and this is a model which has been shown not to work.

What in any case is a bodyguard in this context? Viruses, worms and web exploits, all part of the general class of computer software known as "malware", can cause real damage and require a degree of protection for unwary computer users. But spam? Clogs up the mailbox and wastes bandwidth to be sure. But does it do real damage? No. So the image of a bodyguard is without foundation. Possibly this particular bodyguard also protects against malware. But the ad doesn't bother to tell us.

And now we turn to the image itself, the attention-grabbing part of this strange publication. A rusty, corrugated-iron fence nearly meets a crumbling concrete pavement. Poking its face and paws into the gap is a sad looking animal, probably a dog, though wolf, gerbil on steroids and baboon-hound from the Planet Tharg all come to mind [not sure what a baboon-hound is, but I don't know very much about Sci-Fi so let it pass: Ed]. This creature is about to cut its forehead quite badly on the sharp part of the fence and will no doubt go whining back to its owner, or Thargian overlord, as the case may be. But it is associated with the idea of being a bodyguard? Would you entrust your safety to this animal? Not me, Mr. Gates, not me.

So there it is. I don't know what they are advertising or why I should care. I do not wish to be called a "new busy". I don't need, or even believe in the existence of, a "personal spam bodyguard". And nor do you. But if you would like a copy of my new book "Rogue Baboon-Hounds from Tharg destroy the Galaxy", please do get in touch. And Ed – only dorks call SF "Sci-Fi".


  1. Anonymous3:44 pm

    his explains it all fully ;)

    or not

  2. You don't really think I am going to waste my time reading this stuff just because some adman has tried to coin a new phrase, do you?