Counting the email torrent

by William Crawford

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This afternoon I was sitting at my home computer writing about JavaMail best practices for an upcoming O'Reilly release. I also wrote about JavaMail in the second edition of Java Enterprise in a Nutshell, and while I was working on that chapter I hit a moral dilemma: what if someone reads this book and uses the knowledge gained to start spamming? After all, I even described how to use JavaMail to send HTML email. What was I unleashing? Thankfully, I came back to my senses and decided that JavaMail was too useful to leave out, that I didn't want to be a technology censor, and that Bob would just get somebody else to write it anyway.

So as I was writing I started to wonder: exactly how much email gets sent on a daily basis. My initial estimate was something on the order of "an awful lot," but it seemed like someone must have taken a slightly more scientific approach to the question. This will make a great footnote, I said to myself, so I went off to do some research, leaving the actual issues of JavaMail Best Practices aside for the moment.

Surprisingly, Google failed me. I found some interesting statistics on Spam volume on particular systems, including a sample from, a webmail provider, that indicates approximately 25% of their incoming message traffic is Spam. They've also processed 1.5 million messages for 150,000 users over the last six days, and blocked another 500,000 in spam. But not knowing how many of those accounts are active it's hard to scale. But assuming no growth of change in volume, this one mail provide will process over a hundred million messages this year. And out of all of my email correspondents only one of them users this particular service.

So while my initial estimate of "an awful lot" has been validated, I'm not any closer to real numbers, but I am taking suggestions. If you have any idea at all, please leave a comment below or send me a note. To get my email address, click on my name at the top of this page.

Any suggestions? What do the numbers look like, and where are they?