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This may be a silly question, but why do people in academia tend to write their emails as jhon(dot)doe(at)gmail(dot)com?

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    I've seen this trend outside of academia too, mostly by technical people (e.g. programmers and software project maintainers). As I understand it, it's a rudimentary trick to defeat programs that look through webpages trying to find email addresses to spam. Don't know if that's the whole story, though.
    – chipbuster
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 5:22
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    Let's face it: if I want to farm mail addresses by crawling the web, I'll quickly hack up a regexp that defeats most feeble attempts at disguising them like the one you reference. The level of protection can be estimated to be nearly zero. I suspect that there are far more efficient ways to far (valid) email addresses nowadays.
    – Raphael
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 9:44
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not specific to academia. People outside academia do this as much as people inside academia.
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 10:11
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    Given that there are two answers addressing why academics specifically tend to use this somewhat outdated method of email address obfuscation, I must conclude that this is specific to academic and am voting to reopen.
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 3:25
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    Fun fact: if you paste the obfuscated address into Gmail's "to" field, it will automatically convert it to the proper address.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 8:14

4 Answers 4

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As others have said, it's to prevent email address harvesting. So why academic users mainly, and why do they use this pathetically ineffective technique?

Academic users were among the first to actually use the web for any purpose. Universities were the first large-scale source of email addresses, and when the web became available, academic users were the first large-scale group to take advantage of it. When spam started to become an issue in the early to mid 1990s, address obfuscation was actually an effective way of preventing address harvesting -- at least, for a few months, or a year or two, before spammers were doing the obvious corrections.

Even after spammers were correcting obfuscations, the early web users often continued to obfuscate: They had already done it and didn't bother changing it back, or they figured it might help and wouldn't hurt, or maybe they copied a template from someone else and just followed it. Again, these early web pages were not really designed as such, they were just some student or early-stage professor hand-coding html. If new web pages are still obfuscating, they're presumably just copying their mentor, or their mentor's mentor, without really thinking much about it.

That's the same reason you see this sort of thing among the other early-adopter classes of web users, like tech folks. People who put out pages in the early 90s had a more or less legitimate reason for it, and the tradition has just hung around.

(I just looked at my web page, first hand-coded with HTML in 1995, to see if I did this, but I don't even see an email address on my page any more. I don't think I ever bothered to obfuscate even when I did include contact links.)

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    Thanks. I think your answer is the only one that goes past the obvious reasons.
    – han-tyumi
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 3:51
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    It's the same reason why most academics users web pages look like they were last updated in 1995. Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 9:17
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    +1 from an early adopter (who got about 100 to 120 spams mails per day on my mid 1990 unui mail account).
    – Hennes
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 13:39
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To avoid email harvesting spam-bots. (As if someone can't write a Perl script to make the appropriate substitutions.)

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    It's worth noting that this occurs only on webpages (never in papers or non-web CVs). It's a 90s-era web convention, rather than an academic convention. Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 5:26
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    @Raphael That cannot be -- the average user gets (much) more spam than legit mails. What can be is that your email client or provider filters spam. But such filters are necessarily heuristic and cannot be perfect. There will always be false positives and false negatives. If you indeed get no spam it means that the filter is on the strict side, filtering a lot. Inevitably this must include false positives, i.e. legit mails which you never receive. You should at least regularly read a filter digest, something which many filters offer. They contain a one-liner per filtered-out mail. Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 8:24
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    @Raphael I see only now that you are a PHD student in the CS area, so all I have written was known to you, possibly better than to me. What is your own best guess then why you don't receive spam? It's very uncommon. Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 8:28
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    @Raphael See this. Over the course of 1.5 years, the "control" email received 1800 spam emails (~3.2 a day!), and it was simply written on a single webpage. The fact that you don't see the spam you receive is a testimony to the effectiveness of spam filters.
    – user9646
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 8:55
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    @Raphael You most certainly have at least one and (if in an institution) probably several upstream spam nets catching and silently filtering your mail. And you are glad you do, even if you think you aren't - you can be certain of that.
    – J...
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 10:05
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Academics have a vested interest in being very public facing at times - it's easier to be contacted by potential students, collaborators, the media, etc. if your email address is readily available. And there isn't an incentive to hide your particular identity behind a large-scale corporate account ([email protected] for example).

Putting your email address out in the world, in plain text, is a recipe for having it harvested by spam-bots. Examples like the one you give are an attempt to make the address (marginally) less machine readable while still making it perfectly human readable.

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    Is there any evidence that this is actually necessary? I have had my mail address in the open for years and I don't get any spam.
    – Raphael
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 6:58
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    @Raphael I have no idea if anyone's conducted that study. I, frankly, don't bother, as most of the spam I get is the result of publications.
    – Fomite
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 7:22
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    @Raphael Does e-mail obfusction work? @ SuperUser.
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 10:11
  • @gerrit Sorry if this comment is a bit off-topic, but this answer from the link you posted is hilarious: superuser.com/a/236257/310853
    – Mdev
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 19:13
  • @Raphael Many university/corporate email spam filter systems are more primitive and less reliable to say, gmail spam filters. Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 7:34
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Because those people (in academia or elsewhere) didn't learn proper ways to protect their e-mail addresses from spam bots.

Edit: I'm not sure how can I expand this without repeating Peter Schneider's comment. It is naive to believe that email collecting script would not be able to do basic regex substitution which defeats the use of (dot) instead of .. People writing their e-mails this way just make them less readable for people, not for bots.

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    Could you perhaps expand a bit?
    – jakebeal
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 14:27
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    Using recaptcha may not be an acceptable alternative. If you care about the privacy of your visitors, you do not want them to have to ping Google if they want to see your address. Also, if you care about their time, you do not want to require them to solve human intelligence tasks for Google to see your address.
    – a3nm
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 16:00

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