Thursday, March 17, 2011


I received a couple of odd unsolicited e-mails this week. Odd not because they were spammy (spammish?), but because they were clearly personalized and "hand-crafted" (or at least hand-cut-and-pasted-into-a-mail-client). See for yourself below.*

Here's the first one:

Subject: Star Trek creative writing

I see that you've listed Star Trek as an interest in your Google profile. Would you be interested in joining an online Star Trek creative writing/simming group? Basically, about 10-12 fans from around the world collectively write the story of a starship and her crew through email. I'd write a piece of the story (called a post), then you might post, then another might post, and so on.

You can spend as much or as little time with it as you like. Some people post almost daily; some once a week; and some only a couple times a month -- there is no set quota. If this is something you might enjoy, email me back. We'd love to have you join a new adventure. This is just for fun; no pressure.

Thanks again for your time. If you're already a member of another group, just ignore this email.

[signature redacted]

That one, at least, is friendly, if somewhat clueless. A quick web search of the sender's e-mail address revealed that he (and others from the same group) have been contacting others, including posting to forums and blogs, with nearly identical messages. I wish them well, but writing fanfic is really not for me.

Now the second message:

Subject: Hello from Facebook - Have you tried our puzzles?

Hi Curtis,

I hope all is well with you. I came across your name on Linkedin and I see that you're a puzzle enthusiast! That's very cool!

Out of curiosity - Have you tried out Facebook's Puzzles?

In any case - I wanted to reach out to you to see if you might be interested in exploring engineering opportunities with Facebook?

We are currently experiencing tremendous growth with 600+ million active users and we are looking for great engineers to join our team. With our data growing daily with photos, users, feeds, etc., we are dealing with many interesting challenges and unique problems relating to scalability, capacity, reliability, performance, etc. Our team is relatively small with roughly 500 engineers, so the exposure and chance to impact such a large technical environment and user base is very exciting.

Interested ..or not... please let me know!

Thank you in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.

[signature redacted]

I'm not looking for a job, but this wasn't a complete waste of my time. I helped my former employer run a puzzle-based recruiting campaign back in the day, so I was curious to see what Facebook had come up with. I was disappointed to find that their "puzzles" are all computer programming exercises. Dude, if I wanted to do problem sets, I'd be in grad school.

Obviously, all spammers play the percentages--send out enough e-mails, and the fraction of a percent of suckers you hook will more than pay for the negligible costs of running the campaign. In the two cases above, the perfunctory targeting of each "cold call" doesn't really improve its chances of getting a response. They made it past Gmail's spam filter, but my human intellect is not fooled.

* For the record: If you send me a message, and I find it amusing or otherwise notable, there is a possibility I'll blog or tweet about it. Especially if I don't know you. Strangers have no reasonable expectation of privacy when sending me, well, anything.


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