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I've always wondered why professors write their emails like this:

john dot doe @ harvard dot edu

I am trying to figure out some benefit of this but I can't think of one. It is definitely not more clear. It is more work if you are actually trying to email the person. Why not just write your actual email?

I come from math so maybe this is just a math thing? I have no idea.

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  • 6
    xkcd.com/1808
    – user4574
    Apr 28 at 23:33
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    – cag51
    Apr 29 at 18:14
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It's most likely to avoid Email address harvesting. There are bots that scrape webpages to pick up email addresses for spam purposes. An easy way to avoid this is write your email in a way that's harder to read for a bot that's scanning for email addresses.

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    It could be added that writing email addresses in the form "john dot doe at harvard dot edu" (or "joe dot bloggs at oxford dot ac dot uk" or equivalent) isn't a foolproof method for preventing harvesting.
    – J W
    Apr 27 at 10:20
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    @JW It's perhaps foolproof against efficient harvesting
    – user2768
    Apr 27 at 11:44
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    The efficiency of this approach has been debated here already.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Apr 27 at 11:45
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    And the time period that this was more prevalent (10+ years ago) is about when many departments insisted on creating web pages for all the professors, and is likely the last time any of them looked at them...
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 27 at 13:34
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    This was a fad for some time, I think professors are just particularly well-preserved relics of their earlier days.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 27 at 15:19
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As user2723984 notes, academics often scramble their email addresses ostensibly to prevent web crawlers from harvesting their email address and spamming them. But it still allows humans to obtain their email address.

The effectiveness of this is debated. While it is true that more sophisticated web crawlers could circumvent much of this, most are not sophisticated. Thus it does help protect against generic spam (but that stuff is mostly caught by spam filters anyway).

However, most academics continue to receive plenty of academic spam. This is because academic spammers harvest email addresses from papers via repositories like arxiv, where people do not use any kind of protection. (I know this because I receive academic spam at email addresses that only are in my papers.)

At this point, I think it is more of a piece of academic culture than a well-motivated practice. At least in computer science, most people do it. This encourages others to copy the practice and so it carries on. Some people go a bit further, e.g., "firstinitial dot lastname at thisuniversity dot edu", where you must fill in the name of the university as well as their name. (I personally find these riddles annoying. I put my email in an image on my website, but with the usual riddle as alt-text for blind people.)

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    "email in an image" I guess if you hate blind people...
    – Nobody
    Apr 27 at 21:15
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    I recall that my dad once put his email address in an image on his resume. The funny thing was that when printed, the email address looked horrible, because the image was based on the screen-based rendering of the text, rather than the print-based rendering (which is several times higher in resolution). Apr 27 at 21:32
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    @Nobody Good point. I do have alt-text for blind people.
    – Thomas
    Apr 27 at 21:42
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    @Thomas - if you have alt-text, then a bot can read it just the same... This is another option I use (with an image as backup if javascript is not available).
    – IronEagle
    Apr 27 at 21:58
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    @IronEagle the alt-text is still obfuscated.
    – Thomas
    Apr 28 at 4:57

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