Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail: Empirical Analysis of a Digital Commons

Nigel Melville, Aaron Stevens, Robert K. Plice, and Oleg V. Pavlov
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 10, Number 4, Summer 2006, pp. 143.

Abstract: Unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) is a significant problem of the digital commons, but there has been little empirical analysis of proposed solutions and underlying mechanisms. This study, based on an analysis of 47 million inbound e-mail messages drawn from a cross-section of e-mail inbox owners over a one-year period, characterizes resource overuse in the e-mail commons. The absence of a growth trend in UCE message volume raises questions about the sampling methodologies underlying media reports about spam. The distribution of UCE messages reveals a cyclical trend, peaking in mid-week and subsiding on weekends, that can be explained in part by the trend of regular e-mail messages-an unanticipated finding given the difference between UCE and ordinary e-mail communication. Ruling out technological constraints and workweek conventions, the study suggests that these covarying patterns come about because UCE senders strategically exploit the unique features of the on-line commons, including instantaneous feedback, information transparency, identity misrepresentation, and technological progress. Analysis of these properties can lead to improved management of the digital commons.

Key Words and Phrases: Attention endowment, Box-Jenkins, common-pool resource, digital commons, exclusion, e-mail marketing, IS management, rival, spam, time series, unsolicited commercial e-mail.