Why e-mail petitions won’t work…

I hate getting e-mail petitions, because I never pass them on and often the people who sent them to me will get all offended if they find out.  But I have good reason, and here it is.

Your average e-mail petition says “Please add your name to the list, forward it on to all your friends, and e-mail X@Y.COM if you’re the 50th person on the list”.

Ok, so lets look at some figures….

sent to #sigs per mail #mails total sigs total unique sigs
1 1 1 1 1
5 2 5 10 6
5 3 25 75 31
5 4 125 500 156

If you take that down to 50 signatures per e-mail, you’ll get

sent to #sigs per mail #mails total sigs total unique sigs
5 50 1.77636E+34 8.88178E+35 2.22045E+34

So now poor X@Y.COM has 8.88178E+35 signatures, but only 2.5% of those are unique, so either X@Y.COM or the organisation that is being petitioned is going to have to filter through all that data to find the unique signatures.  Now, ignoring the computational abilities required to do that processing, lets just look at how much space would be required to store those e-mails.

Lets say that each signature is 20 characters, which we’ll assume uses only 20 bytes, Those 8.8178E+35 signatures would take up 1.665436E+28 gigabytes!  And remember, this is assuming that the mails are only sent to 5 people each time… Even if we reduce that to only 2, you end up needing 524288000 gigabytes to store that information!  So basically either X@Y.COM or the organisation are going to have their mailboxes completely filled with these e-mails, and they’re pretty likely to NEVER have the time to process them.  Any figures that they could draw from the petition are totally inflated, and would never hold up under any scrutiny.

So basically all that forwarding would be for nothing! You’ll only end up wasting the recipient’s time, and flooding the very organisation you’re trying to help with useless “petition” data.  And that’s why electronic petitions are no good.

[PS: Please feel free to correct my maths… I think I got it right, but I might be wrong…]

5 replies on “Why e-mail petitions won’t work…”

I’m actually trying to do something similar, and you’re 100% right. A better way, I found is to set yourself up as a kind of home base, and leave your details in the right areas (forums, blogs etc) and then just let people mail you. I also sent a spamy-kinda thing around, explaining what I was trying to do, and asking people to mail me directly if they agreed, instead of adding their name and forwarding it.

Then I just collect and sort the replies.

It’s working quite well, actually.


about damn time that someone actually came out and said sometihng like this! (maybe d’ave can manage to figure out how to do it successfully then him and i can go into business and make gazillions of dollars and retire off the coast of majorca?). personally, i just delete them. Less stress and bandwidth and all that jazz.

keep in touch dude.

p.s. when you and your wife coming over to london town? you know yous have a spot here….

p.p.s i don’t have email until saturday when i get back to the uk, as the computer boys have done something to currupt my pc (and i thought it was me?!) so will replicate then.



I have a possible solution to the "Great Petition Dilemma"… which I’ll blog about later… probably in a post entitled "The Great Petition Dilemma"… (just so you know what to look out for)

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