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Culture

How long does spam keep, anyway?

Two men have decided to save the world's junk e-mail for future generations...

Most people's response to seeing the usual spam in their in-box is to hit Delete. Two men, however, have decided to save the world's junk e-mail for future generations.

Stephen Newton has opened the virtual doors of his spam museum, where he aims to preserve the messages pushing porn, pills and other nonsense that are sent to him via unsolicited e-mail.

Newton says in his blog: "Millions--billions--of messages outnumbering all the legitimate stuff is hurled through cyberspace every day...only to be deleted in anger and frustration. So I've decided to rescue some of it."

He added somewhat optimistically in a statement: "The museum will ensure that should the spammers be defeated, we'll have a place to go and remind ourselves what the fuss was all about."

Newton, from Manchester, England, has posted his e-mail addresses on his Web site to try to attract more spam for the museum. All messages received are posted to the site as is. While there's been surprisingly little porn, Newton said the Nigerian financial scams have been plentiful.

Across the pond, Raymond Chen--a Microsoft employee--claims to have cataloged every piece of spam and every virus he has received to his work e-mail address since mid-1997.

Unlike Newton, Chen doesn't want to preserve spam for posterity. He said on his blog: "Occasionally, it comes in handy, for example, to add naive Bayesian spam filter to my custom-written email filter."

While not publicly displaying the results of his spam deluge, Chen has charted the rise of spam and viruses for seven years. He found by studying the contents of his in-box that the spam phenomenon started to boom in 2002 and that the most "spammy" viruses were Sobig and Netsky, with the worst day for viruses--around the time when Sobig made its appearance--was Aug. 23, 2003.

Chen's work e-mail has so far received 227.6MB of spam in around 19,000 messages and 61.8MB of viruses in about 3,500 messages.