Calls for papers are spam

(First I must do my confession : as an event organizer I’ve been on the offending side of CFP writing more times than I cared to count. Last time was maybe past week. I deeply empathize with the anxiety of program chairs and organizing committees : folks, I’ve been there. No, I am there ! But let’s all agree that this madness must stop.)

I’ve debated with myself for a while, but I now reached my verdict : formulaic calls for papers are spam.

Deciding what is spam is complicated. I am adopting Paul Graham’s definition : unsolicited automated e-mail. I will not take the time to defend it, Graham already did it better than I would. It is not perfect1, but it works for the purposes of this discussion.

Unless your recipient has explicitly asked you to do it, do not send him/her formulaic calls for papers.

You may still send relevant2 formulaic CFPs for mailing lists that explictly accept them, for example, the Brazilian Computer Society mailing list. And for aggregator sites, for example, the WikiCFP.

You may still write a one-to-one message to a friend, or a colleague that you know personally. I am talking about something in the spirit of “Hi, how are you doing ? Last summer you’ve told me about your research on anti-gravity belts. I think that the attached call on flying devices from the Mad Science Society will interest you. Cheers  !”3. I am not talking about something in the spirit of a boilerplate message that you write and then cram your entire contact list in the BCC. That’s unsolicited automated e-mail, even if it’s you acting as the automaton.

* * *

No Junk MailNext time I receive your formulaic call for papers in one of my personal, whether professional or private, e-mail addresses, I will not click “archive”, I will not click “delete”. I will click “mark as spam” without a second thought.

You have been warned.

1 One problem with Graham’s definition is emergency messages. If a flight gets cancelled/modified, or if there is an extreme-weather alert, I argue that unsolicited automated e-mail alerting people of those events should be considered bacon. If you have concrete evidence that missing your CFP will cause people a hassle as big as missing a flight (or threaten their life), by all means, send them the message.

2 “Relevant” means that your call for papers’ and the mailing list’s interests intersect appreciably. If your call interests that community only very tangentially or indirectly, abstain. If you are in doubt, abstain.

3 If you write a robot4 to try to pass your formulaic CFP as a personal one-to-one message, know there’s a Circle of Hell just for people like you.

4 If your robot is AI-complete, and it/he/she knows personally the recipient, it/he/she may write a personal one-to-one message to your recipient.

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