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spim also spIM

noun [uncountable]

unwanted messages and advertisements sent via instant messaging systems

spimming

noun [uncountable]

spimmer

noun [countable]

'… researchers warn that spim is growing at about three times the rate of spam, as spammers adapt their toolkit to exploit a rapidly rising number of new instant messaging (IM) users.'

New Scientist 26th March 2004

'The trend of spimming – unsolicited messages sent through an instant messaging (IM) service rather than to inboxes – is becoming increasingly popular …'

ITWeb, Johannesburg 23rd August 2004

'It is thought that "spimmers" have developed the idea because of the attention-grabbing nature of IM, and the increasingly effective spam filters that specialist companies have developed.'

BBC News 22nd August 2004

First there was spam, unwanted e-mail, and just as technology had developed more widespread strategies for dealing with it, a new fly in the ointment of cyberspace has begun to emerge, coined spim. Spim is similar in design to spam, but instead of working through e-mail inboxes, it attacks users through instant messaging (IM) services.

spimmers often use bots … to pose as people in chatrooms, persuading others to allow them onto a 'permitted' list of friends who can send them messages

IM software allows users to exchange text messages and files from a computer or mobile phone. Spim exploits IM technology to make messages appear automatically when a user is connected, messages which are much more difficult to ignore than unwanted e-mails, which usually have unlikely subject headers betraying their source. Though the number of spim messages sent is currently only a fraction of the amount of spam messages, analysts estimated that the volume of spim would triple in 2004, with 70% of the messages being porn-related.

The activity of sending spim messages has been described as spimming, and the perpetrators are spimmers. Spimmers often use bots (programs which run automatically) to pose as people in chatrooms, persuading others to allow them onto a 'permitted' list of friends who can send them messages.

Predictably, products are already being developed in an attempt to keep the spim problem under control, and in this context the new adjective antispim has been coined, as in antispim software/products.

Background – spim and spIM

The term spim, sometimes also written spIM, first appeared in 1999 as a blend of the word spam and IM, the abbreviation for instant messaging. In 2004, the New Scientist reported that spam and spim had been joined by the new blend spit, spam sent over Internet Telephony (a method of making phone calls using the Internet instead of conventional telephone lines). Spit is the latest in the plague of unwanted messages threatening to bombard unsuspecting Internet users, and there is already some evidence for new senses of the nouns spitting and spitters, which describe the activity and the perpetrators respectively.

The word spam, a blend of spiced and ham, originally referred to a brand of tinned meat dating back to the 1930s. Its use in Internet contexts is allegedly based on a sketch from the British comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus, in which every item on a café menu includes spam:

Waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg, bacon and spam; egg, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam; spam, sausage, spam, spam, spam, bacon, spam, tomato and spam; spam, spam, spam, egg and spam; (Vikings start singing in background) spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam …

The title of the new Monty Python musical Spamalot alludes, of course, to this famous sketch.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 21st March 2005.

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