It wasn’t long ago that tech pundits and antivirus software makers could think of nothing other than the way the promise of email and the Internet was getting overwhelmed by cretins who were using the Internet as their personal trashcan, swamping every inch of space available in anyone’s inbox with spam and junk mail. Workplace efficiency researchers went to town tabulating the amount of time and resources that was wasted in reading junk e-mail, in dealing with the malware that the spam brought, and so on. At one point, the eastern US state of Virginia even prosecuted spammers with several years in prison; and spammers today are fined millions. Spam has come to be perceived in relation to the Internet, how reality shows are to television.

As powerful as the spammers are, spam is slowly ceasing to be an issue. How did this happen? Did Bill Gates’ idea that you could return a spam to the spammer it came from, and fine them achieve something? Or did EarthLink’s solution tackle the problem – that one could only send out mass e-mails from well-vetted e-mail IDs? Or maybe it’s just that Google and Yahoo, with experience gained from years of dealing with spam, have found the answer to the problem of distinguishing legitimate communication from meaningless advertising? Why, you could say it was the Internet equivalent of an AIDS cure – having the body suddenly be able to tell its own cells from viruses.

Yahoo for example, has an algorithm that looks at how regularly anyone sends out mass e-mails, in order to work out if it is spam, or a proper newsletter. They maintain lists of servers that spam is known to have originated from in the past, and blacklist them. With traditional spam ceasing to be a real threat anymore, one wonders how the people selling discount software and remedies for great teeth, will make their comeback.