The E-mail Catastrophe
At the end of the 19th center, physicists throughout the world were grappling with the "ultraviolet catastrophe"--the observation that as objects got hotter their color did not increase in frequency along with their temperatures, as theory said it would. The problem was solved by a very great man, Max Planck; it marked the beginning of quantum physics.
Heroin Helper has its only little catastrophe: the e-mail catastrophe (EC). Intellectually, it is not on the same scale as the problem physicists were grappling with 100 years ago. Then again, my intellect is not on the same scale as Planck's. This is a problem, because the EC has implications for Heroin Helper that are as profound as those the physics community faced.
E-mail Delay Up To Three Weeks
We are now almost three weeks behind in answering e-mail. It is important to our mission to answer e-mail and provide what help we can to people in need. But it is slipping away. I spend four hours per day answering e-mail for this site--and this is not the only e-mail I must manage. The problem is clear: growth.
We're Growing Too Fast
One year ago, Heroin Helper had roughly 75 visitors per day. These visitors were regulars with much experience and few questions--they came largely from readers of the alt.drugs.hard newsgroup. At that time everything was fine--manageable.
Over the last year, Heroin Helper has steadily gained notice. We now get the majority of our new visitors from Google. Roughly 300 people visit per day, and we are about to apply to Yahoo.
The number of visitors is not the whole problem, however; in fact, it isn't even the main part of it. The demographics of our visitors have changed remarkably. These new visitors are overwhelmingly not users or former users; they are the loved ones of users.
This is a wonderful development from one standpoint: we believe the best way that we can help heroin users is by helping their loved ones. Heroin Helper is one of the very few calm voices they will hear. This is one of the few places they will hear that compassion is more effective than control. This is one of the few places that is honest about what heroin users face. This is one of the few places that proudly declares that their loved ones are humans who use heroin, not a simpletons who have been possessed by the Devil. We are glad to have this audience and we are working hard to provide more and better content for them. They now represent roughly 75% of our audience.
The down side of this is that the e-mail we receive has gone crazy. We get roughly 10 letters per day that require thoughtful answers. A year ago, we got questions like "I'd like to try to stop injecting, how can I smoke this?" That's easy: We'll e-mail a link and be done. Now it's common to get an emotional "core-dump" from the mother of someone who experienced a heroin-related sudden death. Such letters deserve more than a terse "God works in mysterious ways" or some other equally useless platitude.
Working on Solutions
We have been working on new technologies and procedures that we hope will allow us to handle the e-mail properly. Some of the things we are looking at are as follows.
- Better anti-spam software.
- E-mail lists focused for users and for families.
- Automatic reply of the site map to questions already answered on the site. (We mean no offense by this; with roughly 250 articles it is easy to miss things.)
- Affiliations with other sites that can better handle inappropriate mail. (We get a surprising number of cocaine questions, for example.)
- Daily updated auto-responders that provide how long we predict it will take to respond.
- Site re-design to remove most "e-mail ads". (Currently, every topic page starts with "Ask Dr. H"; we don't need new ideas for articles anymore.)
If you have any suggestions on how this problems may be approached, please let us know by sending e-mail that we won't get to for two or three weeks.
For now, we request your patience. We are working on the problem and are determined to continue serving our readership.[an error occurred while processing this directive]