Wednesday, May 14, 2008


bacn noun [U]

impersonal e-mail messages that you have chosen to receive, especially automatic notifications and newsletters

‘It’s not spam, it’s bacn … New friend notifications on Facebook, weekly events newsletters … the list goes on. As web-based services have come to permeate our lives, so too have automated email updates come to permeate our inboxes.’
Financial Times 23rd August 2007

“Customer service announcement”, “Your latest bill has arrived”, “Your thought for the week beginning …” Any of us who regularly use e-mail will be familiar with message headers like these. This is the e-mail that pops into your inbox and makes you think: ‘Yep, must take a look at that some time, but not right now.’ Often we’ll deliberately spirit these messages away into a folder where they become less visible, secure in the knowledge that they’re there to go back to when we’ve got a few minutes to spare. This is e-mail that’s not unwanted, but not high priority - this is bacn.

Pronounced like bacon, the term bacn has begun to be used as an uncountable noun referring to a ‘middle’ category of e-mail: messages which are wanted, but not needed. This is e-mail that you have consciously opted to receive, so it’s not the same as spam (unwanted e-mail). However, bacn is characteristically less important to you than other kinds of message, and provides information that you can usually put off reading, often for some time, without causing any major problems. Typical examples of bacn are bill-payment receipts, newsletters from your favourite shops and websites, Google® alerts, and friend requests from social networking sites like Facebook®.

With most Internet-based activities requiring some kind of e-mail reference, whether it’s managing bills and accounts, online shopping, social networking or subscription to any website of personal interest, the potential for bacn to clog up our inboxes is huge. Solutions for managing bacn are becoming increasingly necessary, from good old-fashioned discipline through to sophisticated e-mail filtering. A dedicated website has been set up to raise awareness of the problem and discuss potential solutions.

The term bacn was coined in August 2007, at PodCamp Pittsburgh. (The expression PodCamp is now used in the online community to refer to an informal conference which connects people, both amateur and professional, who are interested in blogging, podcasting, social networking or other kinds of emerging media.)

Bacn was chosen because it extends the rather curious meat metaphor which began with the expression spam. A blend of spiced and ham, spam originally referred to a brand of tinned meat which people were forced to eat during World War II when ‘real’ meat was in short supply. Nowadays, however, spam's primary use is in reference to unsolicited e-mail. From spam came ham, which by analogy refers to legitimate e-mail messages (continuing the idea of ‘real’ meat as opposed to ‘fake’).

Bacn is therefore something which comes somewhere between spam and ham. On the same theme, meatloaf sometimes refers to unsolicited e-mail (jokes, anecdotes etc.) forwarded to a large number of people by an individual, rather than a commercial source. (The analogy here is of meatloaf as something ‘homemade’, rather than manufactured by a company.)

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