Is Entertonement Entertaining SPAM?

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For three days I have been immersed in an investigation that has led me to be deeply concerned. In following an extensive “digital breadcrumb trail” to and from the startup Entertonement, I discovered what appears to be a massive spam campaign, either being conducted by them or by others acting independently. The evidence of spamming is conclusive, and whether or not principals of the company are involved, such blatant disregard for site owners, communities and even vested interests is damaging to everyone, including Entertonement.

Entertonement was founded back in 2006 and initially targeted MySpace and the ring tone market. Their initial funding efforts by Redpoint Ventures principal and Entertonement co-founder Fouad ElNaggar eventually led to a $5 million round in late 2007. Subsequently, ElNaggar stepped down as CEO and co-founder David Aronchick (a former Microsoft executive) stepped up to the helm.

I spoke with Aronchick briefly about this vision and the current road map for Entertonement. The man was friendly, obviously intelligent, and his vision carried weight with me in as far as Entertonement monetizing. Entertonement has created a massive sound clip repository, which allows users great flexibility in using sound clips by; uploading, sharing, publishing and even editing them, but as far as being a top-notch, refined platform, Entertonement can only be described as “effective.”

Basic and useful, Entertonement is not overwhelming as a site.

Basic and useful, Entertonement is not overwhelming as a site.

Regardless of how perfect Aronchick’s road map is, I began to wonder, “How did a startup with a mediocre interface and literally no news, attract between 70,000 and 127,000 users (depending on the metrics source) in just over a year?” I asked my partner Mihaela Lica to do a preliminary SEO report on the Entertonement site to help answer this question. Those results revealed the proverbial trail of crumbs, which I will allow you to evaluate.

Wikis and Way Beyond

What follows are a series of screenshots taken from StumbleUpon, Digg, Twitter, Reddit, prominent blogs, and ultimately, Entertonement itself. From here on, I will simply make notations, followed by a summary. But first, perhaps the most descriptive and potentially damning comment on all this comes from some of the editors in the Wikiquote community, where a whole section is devoted to Entertonement. I’ll quote an excerpt:

They’re still coming. I’m removing them from everywhere I can, since after a few weeks, nobody’s argued for them to be kept; they’re spreading pretty insidiously everywhere…

Blogs

The most obtrusive spam for bloggers does not reside in their inbox, but in their valued comments. There are literally thousands of these comment spam instances across some of the most influential blogs in the world. For the sake of brevity, I include just a few, but from Huffington Post to Robert Scoble (where Fouad ElNaggar himself links to Entertonement) and beyond, the SPAM has been unrelenting.

Double on the Huffington Post.

Double on the Huffington Post.

Digging into one of the two profiles above reveals any number of comments by one possible spammer. Other screens reveal still more comment linkages from notable sites, as even Reuters is not immune to these “serial sound clip spammers”, whoever they may be.

Profile view showing 34 comments - 11 without link.

Profile view showing 34 comments - 11 without link.

More of the virtually unlimited linkage via comments.

More of the virtually unlimited linkage via comments.

This “rabbit hole” of link spam goes much farther than I had anticipated. Any skilled social networker, consultant, blogger, PR or even developer knows that blogs and other social destinations provide invaluable visibility, conversation and general community involvement. However, abuses are detrimental to the host sites and ultimately those that infringe upon them.

StumbleUpon

At least three stumblers have an inordinate number of Entertonement stumbles on their profiles. Any site is welcome to promote themselves on SU, but I am surprised these profiles have not been banned or terminated all together given the numbers and types of entries. One stumbler, Spiderbaby appears to be digging for Entertonement as Spiderbaby on Digg. However,the big culprit on StumbleUpon seems to be EnvisionThis, and a third appears in the screen below.

Stumbling one site over and over should alert someone.

Stumbling one site over and over should alert someone.

Twitter

Twitter is possibly the most vulnerable site when it comes to spam of this type. One of the traced links in the SEO inquiry led to this profile. This individual (or bot) has over 12,900 updates containing links to Entertonement.

entertonement twit

The End! … For Now Anyway

The data you see here is just the tip of the iceberg, if you can believe it. There are so many back links, comment links, Twitter updates and links from other sites, including Mixx, BuzzFeed, Propeller, ABC News, WebProNews, CNET, Wired, Think Progress , and even Eddie Murphy’s Wikipedia page, that it is actually astounding.

These links bear an SEO value for Entertonement on Yahoo!, though the no-follow links probably do not effect Google rankings (and Google does not seem to value Twitter links very highly). Overall, however, these incidences of SPAM seem to be part of a multi-pronged effort to pollute the discussions on high profile blogs with back links under dubious authors (like “Chief Editor“). It represents a shotgun approach to spamming social networks, and gaining favor on Yahoo! search via valuable dot org links from Wikipedia and other sites.

As I said, I will leave the judgment of this episode to our readers. I’ll leave you with two more screensshots, one of links to the domain Entertonement.com, and the other of Reddit, where users have recognized the Entertonment spam and voiced their outrage. It should be noted that no current spam relating to Entertonement is apparent on Reddit, so this community must have purged all attempts, and probably banned the domain.

Yahoo! displays all links.

Yahoo! displays all links.

Reddit may have waved bye bye.

Reddit may have waved bye bye.

Author’s Note: I welcome a response from the management of Entertonement. From my impression of David Aronchick, it seems highly likely he knows little or nothing about all this, but I have been wrong before. Person or persons at work, with an interest in Entertonement beyond simply loving their sound clips, is clearly evident here. I should also point out that I have made every attempt to withhold even an inflection of my personal opinion. If any such “opinion” is perceived, it is obviously my own and should not be construed as that of SitePoint.

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  • Lisa

    Like everyone else, I cannot stand spam either. However, there are PR firms out there that do tell their clients to spam like this (amazing, I know). I wonder under whose direction this is all being done by.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Lisa,

      Thanks for stopping by. I am like you and hate what I determine is spam. My definition is not unlike yours I will bet. I know of these same practices for PR too Lisa. In this case I do not think the PR in question even knew about any of this. Some people do consider winning at all costs a way to go however.

      Thanks Always,
      Phil

  • http://successcreeations.com/blog/ ChrisCree

    The big challenge of spamming is that it can be effective. When site owners don’t hold the line abuses like these can thrive.

    And the problem is getting worse every day. According to Akismet’s stats they are trapping twice the number of spam comments that they were when I wrote about it in December 2006. Today it’s nearly 12 million spam comments. Per day.

    I find it interesting that their percentage of legitimate comments has gone up 11% since then. It makes me wonder if sites such as Entertonement have found a way to get themselves “white listed” despite their spamish practices.

    If that were ever found to be the case it would be a huge scandal.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Chris,

      Thanks so much for taking the time, it is crucial that experts like yourself address these issues where they arise. I guess you know about how many are willing to actually weigh in. As you say, effectiveness is all that some need regardless of what we ar talking about. We are innundated by so much useless information these days, our lives are full to the brim with it. If anyone could figure out a way to erradicate it, no one would have to write another “self help” book on getting more time ni our lives, we would have eons.

      Like Mihaela, I bet we can find out anything that is predicated on the almost insulting adolescence of acts like this. There are too many mistakes made when people feel they are above, outside or otherwise not responsible to community. Again Chris, I admire your nature, professionalism and candor in commenting. There is nothing to fear from trasnparency, far too many opt out of discussion.

      Always,
      Phil

  • Joey

    Wow, that is frustrating. I work hard at promoting and delivering content in an ethical way and to see a site like this spam bomb the internet to feign a user base really ticks me off. I really hope entertonement responds. Nice work on finding this out.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Joey,

      Man I know you bust it all the time, and it is frustrating when we hear of “sideways” things like this, imagine how I felt. I know that the folks at Entertonement will respond to these things and I look forward to it. I actually love their ideas for monetizing and I am a huge fan of sound clips for various applications. The site can be a very nice and profitable one. I just know that in testing this site, I could not ignore or in fact hide something like this. As I said, it is far too much to ignore. There had to be a froum on it regardless who made it.

      Always,
      Phil

  • http://www.ewriting.pamil-visions.com/ Mihaela Lica

    Chris… I don’t want to dedicate my time to finding this, but I think I could.:)

  • http://successcreeations.com/blog/ ChrisCree

    Mihaela, Not only do I not want to invest the time, I’m not sure I want to hear the answer if there was something unsavory going on.

    The good news is that I highly doubt there is anything untoward on Akismet’s end. Everything I know about the good folks at Automattic is that they are, well, good folks. Besides I owe nearly all my business to the open source platforms they create and constantly improve.

  • BillyWarhol

    Jealousy Jealousy Jealousy Phil!!

    One Man’s Spam is another’s Black Angus Philly CheezeSteak!!

    I don’t think any of the instances U’ve shown are Overwhelming or Obtrusive – + Yes I’ve had to BLOCK Phil from his far too many Comments on my Brilliant Blog!!

    ;))

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Hi Billy,

      You caught me red handed man. I wish you would let me back on your site. I promise not to proliferate links to all my vested Silicon Valley interests or to clutter your otherwise “beautiful” images. :) As for seriousness, I think “one man” with arrogant free license does much damage to the subtle quiet type. If our “one man” has any power over right and wrong, or even the perceived wrong done to others, well that is a philosophical discussion for another time. If I hurt you, tell me so, and I will correct it, is my motto. That is of course, if you do not need hurting and badly! Thanks for your objective point of view as always Billy.

      Always,
      Phil

  • aronchick

    Hi Phil – David Aronchick here. First, let me say without question that we do not spam or encourage people to spam. To the extent that anyone for any reason has been spamming on behalf of us, I’m asking right now, please stop. It doesn’t help, and it’s making the Internet ugly.

    Certainly, we like talking about the site; for example, due to all the political content during the election, we did post a few relevant links on some of our favorite sites where we were already part of the conversation. However, for many of the links that you’ve uncovered, I can safely say that a lot of what you have discovered appears to be active users being passionate about the site. As a comparison, in January alone, we have people embedding our player on thousands of different sites and being viewed (and listened to) by hundreds of thousands of users – those numbers go up to millions of users if you count since going live in July. There’s no way it could all be just us.

    As a side note, I did build the Twitter notification myself, it goes off once every 10 minutes and all is no-follow. I just thought it would be a fun way (if people subscribed) to see what’s going on the site right now (or now (or now)).

    I do take some issue with you calling it entertainment spam – our users have been both incredibly engaged both on our site and across the web. People spend more than 5 minutes on the site, every time they come. Even better, users are using our site as a platform; we see constant growth, not just in terms of visits, but people actually contributing to the community. All our content has been uploaded by users, with hours of content flowing into the site every day – not just random quotes, but meaningful content from Portuguese Radio and Television Shows to people’s personal stories through the (National Day of Listening.

    One more thing to note is that in nearly every case you show above, they appear to be no-follow links. And because over 75% of our traffic has been from search and direct, I would argue that this spam has had little to no effect on our growth at all.

    We want people to use our content to reinforce their points, to bring in a funny joke, or to post something touching. Ultimately, we want to be an in-browser audio platform … to make everyone’s experience better.

    I will respond to anyone either here or to my direct email (aronchick@entertonement.com) regarding this (or anything else you’d like to talk about I suppose). We also welcome other feedback about the site through our User Voice forum (http://entertonement.uservoice.com/).

    Thanks again for your time. :)

  • Alina

    I cannot say if this is spam or not, as I am not an expert. What I know is that I am definitely a very passionate user of quite a few services, but I’d never fill my Stumble Upon page with their content! Just my two cents :)

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Hi Alina, and welcome.

      I expect one does not have to be an expert to decide whether or not someone or something 8in the case of bots and the like) is bugging them. I know of several social networkers and even simple users who have had their accounts suspended because of one heck of a lot less than what has been perpetrated here. I think sometimes those with resources figure they can use them any way they wish. In many cases this is actually true, for the common man’s time is often much more infringed upon out of simple socio-economic pressures. Deep, I know, but none the less a fact.

      Always,
      Phil

  • Anonymous

    So blog comment spam is not spam if it is no follow?

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Anony, LOL! No, even those 400 pounds of sale papers in you garbage can are Spam because it is so hard to follow them back to Wal-Mart LOL! Wikipedia has a definition that may refine our view.

      Spam is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages. While the most widely recognized form of spam is e-mail spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, Online classified ads spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam, junk fax transmissions, and file sharing network spam.

      Always,
      Phil

  • CB

    Link spam in comments makes me insane. As a reader, it’s clutter. As a publisher, it’s work: I don’t allow it on my sites. Certainly not to the extent you lay it out here, Phil. Twitter? Fair game — it’s opt in. I have no problem with a publisher Stumbling their own stuff, if they’re actually participating in the SU community. But what’s here is no accident. Someone has gone to great trouble to orchestrate this.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      CB, Volumes have been written about this, and I will defer to you as a “straight up” member of many social communities. Reciprocity is what this is about to a large degree. The give and take of life s what needs to be balanced. There are predators of wall types as we all know. Taking inordinately in any form, means some are losing. More deep philosophical stuff from Phil I know, but we are supposed to share I thought.

      We are, as we have always been, in a battle over resources, time and property still being the most valuable. No one minds giving to receive fair value, but many give no value only to take. We step all over one another and wonder why we have problems. Just my thoughts. Here is a quote from Wikipedia by John Stuart Mill, one of the great philosophers of his time, and to a degree ours:

      The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right…The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

      Always,
      Phil

  • aronchick

    Hi–

    Certainly I’m not going to out-quote Mill or come up with a better definition for spam … I’ll leave that to the Sitepoint community. :)
    For Anonymous’s and Mr. Butler’s comments on the “no-follow”, I mention it because Mr. Butler questioned how we grew in the original article. Because all the links he mentioned are no-follow, and we get so many users from Search and direct traffic (such as people sending to each other in email), these links by the community have not been valuable in the growth of our business. We’re just providing a service that people enjoy, and that’s been what the community has participated in.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      David, First of all, thanks for taking the time to try and clarify all this. As for Anonymous’ comment, I think they were referring to “stuff” residing whether or not there is a follow attribute or not. Stuff by definition in this case, unwanted or irrelevant data.

      As for the “no follow” issue, I addressed this partially in the post. It is just a mention in an otherwise lengthy presentation, but I assumed anyone commenting with authority would have noted this.

      These links bear an SEO value for Entertonement on Yahoo!, though the no-follow links probably do not effect Google rankings (and Google does not seem to value Twitter links very highly).

      For further clarification of this point beyond my partner’s expertise, a graphical and textual explanation appears on SearchEngineJournal, from Loren Baker’s post on the same topic. As indicated there, Yahoo! and Ask are susceptible.

      So, for this part of the argument’s sake, we have to assume that anyone either spamming or trying to get indexed so, would know this. A Yahoo! and Ask link campaign, though not as huge as if Google indexed these pages, would still potentially result in huge numbers in the end – theoretically that is.

      On other issues, I intend to hold my opinion for further evidences, but on the issue of creating a Twitter (bot – for lack of a better term). Though I appreciate the transparency on this, the seemingly cavalier way in which you iterated this is somewhat indicative to me. I will not go into my opinion on that, but creating something that puts thousands of pages (yes each Twit actually creates a page) on Twitter is not something “fun” for anyone. These Twitter pages build up on the servers their (imagine 100 people doing this), and Yahoo! and Ask do attach value to these, thereby indexing Entertonement higher. The end SEO explanation of all this may be necessary, but I do not thing it is appropriate for the comments now.

      As for other aspects, such as “passionate user” Wikipedia and other activity, my friend Jimmy Wales and others have yet to get back to me with more detailed instances and etc. I think the most important thing for the reader or developer in this discussion might be; “Where is the line in as far as what is acceptable and what is not?” As for Twitter, the notifier does not appear to directly conflict in the exact wording of their TOS, but it does crowd the line I know. I will get back to you guys with more as I compile it, but perhaps we should just let others express their opinions and experiences and I will stay out of it for a time.

      Thanks again, David – it is important to talk about these things.

      Always,
      Phil

  • aronchick

    I appreciate the continued conversation.Just FYI, I have added a comment to Wikiquote asking to help in any way to prevent spamming of our links: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Village_pump#Entertonement.
    On the Yahoo and Ask questions, we receive an incredibly small percent of our total search traffic from these engines, so I can safely say that if it was my (or any users) intent to generate a campaign of traffic by spamming these engines, it was a complete failure. Just curious though, in the article you linked to, Loren Baker quotes Yahoo as saying:

    Yahoo : If we find a link we make it available to our algorithms to find new content, whether it has a ‘no follow’ attribute or not. However, if the ‘no follow’ attribute is present, it means that no attribution is given to the target from the source of the link.

    Wouldn’t that mean you would get no SEO benefit?
    As I said, the only reason that I put the twitter bot up is that it was fun to bounce over to the page just to see what was active. Subscribe, don’t subscribe, we just wanted to make transparent all the activity on Entertonement in every possible way.
    As always, our community is what is making the site great, and I’m happy to engage further, either offline or here.

  • Lars Teigen

    I think any open communication platform may be abused. The more people on the platform, the more attractive it is to any person with an advertising agenda.
    Twitter has been changing from a public conversation platform into a public announcement platform. Part of the problem today is that there is no clear separation of advertising messages and personal communication.

    I don’t know how Twitter is going to keep the intimacy in their conversations as they continue to grow, but I am sure that the practices of Entertonement don’t contribute to the quality of the core user experience.

    Companies should be allowed to use Twitter and similar communication tools to spread their commercial agenda, but we should expect that they follow a normal code of conduct and try to create meaningful conversations.

    My owm company, secondbrain.com has used Twitter to announce Daily Collections and news about releases, but this has been limited to about 1 tweet per day.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Hi Lars,

      I thank you for taking time to give your opinion. I know from our many talks that we covered this territory many times. It is no secret either, that all of us are to an extent social networkers. In our efforts, whether blogging, consulting, building or doing PR, communication is key to us all. We suggest, contact, ask, share and essentially do all the things people do in the digital world. There is a line however. I expect I have profiles in a hundred place or on various sites I have tested. Each place is a community to an extent. SecondBrain certainly is, even though we all know that we are a much larger community of people intent on any number of efforts via the Web.

      Business, as you say, should be conducted in a very transparent and “governed” way here. Twitter is my least favorite network, but still, one that should be primarily interested in the user experience. Spamming such a network of people, regardless of the marketing value there, is an affront to the individual and collective community. The marketers are part of the community, but in the end, if not kept in check, they will be sellling to themselves. This is already the way it is if you look at it.

      Asking friends to look at a post, a product or anything else, is a personal thing. Even if there are sometimes business relationships present, a friend or community associate can always say STOP. In my case, if anyone says they are not interested, I do not bother them no matter what. PR and marketing 2.0 needs to be about telling a story, not selling a story. People always claim to be on the up and up, and then later it is discovered they were not. Often too late to minimize damage. The whole Web is now in danger of being invalidated to a degree, by the very types of business that cause the dot com’s to fail. Traditional methods taking over what we thought would be a new era.

      We were not fooled, we have just been followed by the very foot soldiers of a system we tried to leave behind. World 1.0 values and sales followed a technology and an idea and of course conveluted it once again. We have to talk about these things and try to find better ways to deal with one another on every level. announcing SecondBrain or any other good idea is a good thing. Of course there is the piper to pay, but if we do our job well enough, and with sincerity and credibility, the piper will get his money. The problem is in allowing the other influences to grab a disproportionate amount of resources.

      Just my thoughts Lars,

      Phil

  • Deborah

    It surprises me to hear anyone questioning whether or not something is considered spam simply based on whether or not the links are under no-follow.

    Spam is spam is spam is spam. Hated it as a kid for luncheon meat, and I get really miffed with it on the internet. And “a rose by any other name is still a rose.”

    The way that I see it, is that David has even spammed this post by providing numerous links to the site repeatedly in his comments. If we weren’t aware of the site prior to the article, we certainly are now, including where we could find it. Providing even more numerous links to it was uncalled for IMO. It didn’t simply stop at one to validate his statements.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Hi Deborah,

      I am with you on Spam, just comments with no links at all which are out of context, obtrusive, or even too numerous can be Spam. As for your comments on linking here, I for one seldom put links at all unless there is some superlative example of some complex concept or etc. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

      Always,
      Phil

  • Deborah

    My pleasure, Phil. I was simply calling this particular rose by its real name :P

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      :) I am trying to hold my tongue in case you can’t tell Deb. Phil

  • Kris

    I know I can’t stand all the spam comments I get on my blog which is about 50%. They are looking for a dofollow link. My blog is nofollow now although it used to be dofollow and now since my blog is listed on all the dofollow lists, it’s a viral effect that I can’t stop.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      @Kris, I know, I bet half the Web is really spam on a zillioner servers :)

      Thanks for your opinion and we are all in this boat together. No-follow does not really do us that much good as long as Yahoo! and others give it weight. I actually think Google takes them into consideration but will never admit it. They watch every scrap of data on every page. Information of any kind is too valuable to disregard. The way these people think, data unused today can be tomorrow.

      Phil

      @ Deb – I know gal, it is tough not to just cut loose. Always, Phil

  • Deborah

    As was I, Phil ;-)

  • digilante

    Sorry to join the discussion a bit late in the game :) We are all so involved in technology that we sometimes forget to stand back from it all and remember the big picture, that ultimately technology should serve humans. Thus, for me, a technical argument about whether adding a no-follow to a link makes it less spammy or more valuable to whomever seems to indicate that perhaps the authors lost sight of that big picture.
    Further, as Phil quoted from Wikipedia, spam has a more or less formal definition. To me it’s not enough. Humans are far too diverse and fuzzy for something as subjective as spam to be boxed into a fixed definition. Not only that, but our personal concept of what constitutes spam differs per situation and through time. For example, as a loyal Amazon customer for over 12 years, last week I finally made the decision to redirect Amazon mail to my spambox. The frequency of mails increased, the content brought me less and less value, I haven’t received a freebie gift voucher in years… Yes I probably opted into this 12 years ago, but now it’s just spam.
    Given the above, it seems clear to me that if a certain usage of technology is irritating people and offers no clear value to them, then it’s spam, no matter what the legalese definition says and no matter the hows and whys of the technical implementation. I think Phil has shown to our satisfaction that people in quite a few communities were not impressed with Entertonement. Case closed.

    On the other hand, let’s be honest: Any one of us who was ever involved in the launch of a new public site has probably gone a bit too far onto the dark side in trying to get those statistics looking good, so as to get the next round of funding, or to break even as per business plan. For the sake of my own reputation I won’t go into details :-) but I guess Entertonement went a bit overboard on this one.

    • http://www.pamil-visions.com Phil Butler

      Hi Digilante,

      Right no on every point. We all ride a razor’s edge in appropriateness, and for me at least, it is fairly easy to tell when one goes over it. I honestly do not think this is the case for many. Perhaps this is part of the problem. Maybe there is a generation gap, or an ideal gap? I am not saying any of us are perfect, just that today things seem to be much more gray than in the past. Not trying to cut anyone too much slack either, but I think we are on the same page. I always think of these things like this; If someone tells me I stepped on their toe, whether I did or not, it is incumbent on me as a decent human being to at least address the issue. The injured party feels injured no matter what our opinion is. An investigation often reveals and sometimes alleviates the distress. I know that is way philosophical and nebulous, but I think it is one good way to look at dealing with others. In the case of Spam, I am pretty sure everyone knows what that is.

      Always,
      Phil