Spam Messages Disturbing the DX Cluster Spot Lists
Volker Grassmann, DF5AI
May 18, 2004
There is certainly no need for an article explaining the importance of dx cluster information in VHF dxing. However, there is a need for critical discussion in order to address the huge amount of spam messages affecting the dx spot lists. Quite frequently, this fine dx information service converts into a chatterbox distributing an endless stream of junk messages, e.g. online greetings and salutations, various types of useless announcements and disturbing notifications including 'self-spots', messages trying to convince dx stations to do this and that, unfriendly comments violating the etiquette in ham radio and, most annoying, even automated messages promoting useless stuff nobody is interested in. As a result of all this spam messages, VHF dxers start ignoring the dx cluster which means: this operators stop sending dx information to the cluster - a quite damaging consequence, in fact.
Figure 1. Screenshot of a dx spot list taken by chance from the 144 MHz dx cluster while writing this lines (callsigns and names blurred by the author).
VHF operators need to have both: dx news and chat messages
Where does this problem come from? The answer is quite simple, in my view: in the practice of VHF dxing, we wish to have both, i.e. the dx news and the chat function. The dx news function denotes the dx cluster (in its original sense) and the chat function denotes online communication between VHF operators wishing to exchange sked information, operational hints and other type of information via the internet. The term 'chat' is misleading, in fact, because VHF operators are generally little interested in online chats but in dx QSOs, i.e. they actually want to access fellow hams currently working on the band by using a backup channel. Puritans dislike this concept, i.e. they consider an internet backup channel in parallel to a 'real' QSO the fall of ham philosophy. Real puritans even dislike the concept of dx clusters but this is another story which I do not want to address here. In the following, I will continue using the term 'chat' but it is used synonymous with, say 'QSO-backup-channel-via-internet-online-communication'.
Using ham radio chatrooms
All what we need to do is demerging the dx news and the chat function by considering independent platforms. The dx news platform is already perfectly organized, see, e.g., the DX SUMMIT dx cluster which distributes latest dx information between 1.8 MHz and 10 GHz 24 hours per day and 365 days per year. However, pushing the chat function onto the dx cluster network damages the news function considerably and there is actually no need to misuse the dx cluster in this way. We already have ham radio chatrooms which all fulfill the QSO-backup-function almost perfectly. For example: the ON4KST and the DXERS.INFO service both support VHF/UHF/SHF and even WSJT and EME chatrooms. This services even provide separate browser frames displaying actual dx cluster information, i.e. there is absolutely no need to send chat messages into the dx cluster network. Using those chatrooms is a much better idea and this is what many VHF operators actually do. My recommendation to all dxc spammers: please go and visit those chatrooms and you may find sked partners much faster and more easily than sending disturbing messages into the dx cluster network, guaranteed.
Another opportunity is perhaps worth to mention, i.e. the popular 'Instant Messaging Service' which is freely available in the internet. By using AIM, Yahoo, ICQ or any other version of Instant Messaging, radio amateurs may create personal chatrooms by a simple mouseclick within seconds (see, e.g., the authors personal chatroom at http://www.df5ai.net/Software/AIMChat.html). Instant Messaging is very fast, reliable and very easy to use and may support amateur radio in various aspects. From an operational perspective, Instant Messaging works similiar to packet radio and, very important in my view, you do not have to deal with the internet chat community or any unknown internet users, i.e. it is only you and fellow hams appearing in your chatroom. Dxpeditions, EME and meteor-scatter operators may all implement personal chatrooms in order to organize skeds and to communicate lastest information to the ham community. Imagine you wish to arrange a sked with the, say CT3/DF5AI dxpedition (which is a fictive callsign, of course) connect to the CT3DF5AI chatroom in the internet and, voila, there is a direct line to the dx operators. And there is another feature which is valuable in practice: the Instant Messaging service tells you which chatroom is active and which is not. Imagine a list of chatrooms on your computer screen indicating all EME and MS operators ready prepared to launch dx propagation tests - click on one of it and you guys may immediatly arrange a long distance sked. I am actually pretty much surprised that Instant Messaging is not yet considered a powerful tool in the practice of VHF dxing.
By convincing the dxc spammers not to send chat messages into the dx cluster but to dedicated systems such as ham radio chatrooms and Instant Messaging services, we may reduce disturbing messages in the dx spot lists, perhaps. I believe those dx cluster spammers do not realize what they are doing. Thus, we need to tell them not by answering spam messages in the dx cluster, of course, but by communicating alternative methods in personal discussions, in ham radio magazines and elsewhere. I wish we could find a team of experienced VHF dxers willing to develop an integrated concept of internet online services supporting VHF dxing. In this concept, the purpose and the usage of dx clusters, ham radio chatrooms and Instant Messaging services is explained in detail and it would provide recommendations how to use those services and when. This concept would tell us how to use all this secondary platforms more efficiently in order to optimize the primary platform, i.e. VHF radio. I am convinced this concept may also attract the interest of young computer enthusiasts in ham radio because it would explain a highly attractive combination of internet applications and radio communication.