Move Over, Spam: 'Bacn' Is the E-Mail Dish du Jour "Bacn" (pronounced "bacon") is e-mail you want to read — just not now. Bacn is better than spam, but not as good as a personal e-mail. And unlike spam, bacn is self-inflicted. Some, though, say this new term offers more sizzle than substance.
NPR logo Move Over, Spam: 'Bacn' Is the E-Mail Dish du Jour

Move Over, Spam: 'Bacn' Is the E-Mail Dish du Jour

"Bacn" (pronounced "bacon") is e-mail you want to read — just not now. hide caption

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Bacn Spotting Guide

Spam versus bacn. How can you tell the difference? It's easy. An e-mail offering you an incredible deal on Viagra is spam, since you (probably) didn't solicit it. Bacn is e-mail you asked for, and eventually want to read. Below are some examples of bacn:

  • An e-mail from an airline updating your frequent flier account
  • An e-mail from you favorite pet store announcing a sale on gerbil supplies
  • An e-mail from your local newspaper with a rundown of the day's headlines
  • An e-mail from Facebook announcing that you have a new friend
  • An e-mail from your bank with your monthly balance

First there was spam. Now there is bacn (pronounced "bacon"), the latest buzzword to infiltrate the Internet.

What is bacn? According to the bloggers who invented the term just a few weeks ago, bacn is e-mail you want to read — just not now. It's Facebook notifications, bank statements, Google news alerts, or any of the other sundry e-mails that you asked for, yet quickly pile up unread--like a week's worth of newspapers.

"It's not spam – you signed up for it, and you actually do want that information. But yet it still feels like it's wasting your time," says Tommy Vallier, a Canadian blogger who helped invent the term at a recent conference in Pittsburgh. Vallier says he receives about 150 pieces of bacn every day—and so do his friends.

Bacn is so-named because it's better than spam, but not as good as a personal e-mail. And unlike spam, bacn is self-inflicted. The catchy (some say annoying) term is new but the phenomenon, of course, is not. People have been receiving quasi-important e-mail ("personal spam," some call it) for years. The volume, though, is increasing.

More and more companies and news organizations (NPR included) now offer regular e-mail updates about the day's headlines, "special offers," online newsletters and other items that can quickly clutter an inbox.

"We're not against bacn," Vallier says. "I do want to know the headlines from The Toronto Star, or that a local pet store is having a sale on gerbil supplies because I have gerbils. So automatically deleting bacn is not a solution. Some bacn I want to keep."

Homer Simpson Would Love It

Bacn, like spam, can be annoying, but it's a specific kind of annoyance. Like pornography, you know it when you see it. An e-mail from your wife is not bacn — that's personal. An e-mail from Nigeria offering to send you $3 million is not bacn—that's spam. Bacn is everything in between, the "middle class of e-mail," Vallier says.

Perhaps it's a name only Homer Simpson could love ("Hmmmm. Bacn.") but the new term is catching on fast. The blog tracking site Technocrati rates "bacn" as a top search term. There's an official bacn Web site. And already, derivatives have popped up, such as "FakinBacn"-- spam posing as bacn.

Some see bacn as a troubling phenomenon, an e-mail menace worthy of hand-wringing and international conferences.

"That attention-breaking ability is the sneaky evil of bacn," writes Eric Skiff, in his blog GlitchNYC. He adds:

"Even services that I adore like twitter and flickr can be a little obtrusive at times. All of those little flow-interrupters mean that you spend a lot of your day getting back up to speed on whatever you were working on before you... hang on, there's another email... eh, more comments on my photos, back to... wait, what was I doing?"

More Sizzle Than Substance?

Blogger Davey Winder agrees: "Let's go on an e-mail diet, cutting out the messages and alerts that just add fat to our mailboxes. Let's reclaim our e-mail for what it should be, a truly useful communications medium, rather than the chore it has become."

Others, though, dismiss bacn as yet another trendy—and annoying—cyber-term and predict it won't sizzle for long.

"I don't buy it," says Bruno Giussani, a popular Swiss blogger. "So five or six geeks meet at a conference, start tossing names around, and then pretend to have identified a new trend."

Giussani says the solution is simple and already exists: filters that allow you to channel e-mails into designated folders and read your bacn at your convenience.

Vallier concedes that bacn may have already enjoyed its 15 minutes of Internet fame, and that's OK. "All we wanted to do was draw awareness to the situation. We're getting more and more and more e-mail of this nature every day, and we wanted people to wake up to this phenomenon."