In previous posts on our blog, we talked about how we’ve reduced true spam in the inbox to under 3% using SmartScreen™ filtering. But we realized that getting rid of true spam wasn’t enough, because 75% of the email messages that people reported as spam are really legitimate newsletters, offers, or notifications that you just don’t want anymore. We call this type of unwanted email graymail, and we’re excited to announce five powerful tools to help you take control of your inbox, get rid of graymail, and keep track of the email that’s important to you.

What’s in your inbox?

In the early days of email, most mail in the inbox was from someone you knew, but today’s email is used for much more, and so the inbox is different. More than half of the mail in a typical inbox is newsletters or deals, 17% is social updates, and about 14% is person to person email. The rest represents mail from group distribution lists, shopping receipts and commerce, and true spam.

Percentage composition of the Inbox

What is graymail?

The problem with today’s inbox is that it is easy for it to get filled up with mail you don’t want. It could be newsletters you signed up for and forgot about (but keep getting), or it could be newsletters you get when you join a new service (and forgot to uncheck that pesky box that says “send me lots of email!”). Or it could even be updates you get from a social network or website. What really characterizes graymail is that the same message that one person thinks is “spam” could be really important to another person. It’s not black and white, hence the name.

Despite the drastic decrease of true spam in the inbox, we found that most customers are still seeing newsletters, product offers, and other clutter. In fact, 75% of email identified as spam by our customers actually turns out to be unwanted graymail that they receive as a result of having signed up on a legitimate website. And because of inbox clutter, it’s easy to lose track of the really important messages in your inbox that you want to get back to. So we decided in our upcoming release to add five new features that help customers take back control of their inbox.

New newsletter category

We’ve talked about categories for a while now – in our last release we delivered automatic categorization of social updates, messages that contain Office documents, messages with photos, and even shipping notifications. We’re now adding a special category for newsletters. We use the same SmartScreen™ technology that helps us fight spam – a machine learning engine that gets better over time. Right out of the gate, we’re 95% accurate with the mail we categorize as newsletters, and this will only get better as you help us build the feature by categorizing or un-categorizing your own mail. In fact, every time you categorize an email as a newsletter, you help make our filtering better for yourself and every other customer.

One-click unsubscribe

Sometimes you don’t want a newsletter, but it’s hard to find out how to stop getting it. Now with Hotmail you can do it all in one step. Click on unsubscribe, and we’ll do the rest – let the site know to stop mailing you, use Sweep to immediately clean up your mail and remove all the old newsletters from that sender, and finally send any new ones that come in to your junk mail until the sender takes you off their list.

One-click unsubscribe

Schedule Cleanup

There are other times you want to keep getting the newsletter, but only want to keep the latest copy. This is great for shopping sites or deals where the newsletter is really only useful for the first week and then the offer expires or a new newsletter takes its place. Today, we’re introducing Schedule Cleanup, a new tool, unique to Hotmail, that works behind the scenes to keep your inbox organized. With Schedule Cleanup, you can:

  • Keep only the latest message from a given sender
  • Delete messages as they get old (3 days, 10 days, 30 days, or 60 days)
  • Move messages to a folder as they get old

Here are some ways to use Schedule Cleanup:

  • Keep only the latest event calendar email from your favorite site
  • Keep only the latest deal from Groupon or LivingSocial, or any other deal vendor
  • Delete your newsletters after 10 days – that way, whether you read them or not, they are never clogging up your inbox
  • Automatically archive mail from your financial institutions to a folder after 30 days

Keeping important mail right up front: Flags done right

The war on graymail isn’t just about deleting things or moving them to folders. It’s also about making sure you can find messages quickly, especially messages that are most important to you.

This happens to our customers all the time: they get an important message and want to keep it right up front where they won’t forget it. How do you handle that? A lot of people mark the message unread. But, of course, as new mail comes in, that can get confusing. Some people forward the message to themselves so that it stays at the top of their inbox.

At Hotmail, we think the right way to track important messages is with flags, and our upcoming changes make flags even more powerful. Now when you flag a message, it gets “pinned” to the top of your inbox and stays there, even as new email comes in. This means it is easy to keep track of your most important messages, right up front, all the time. What’s more, you can even set up rules to automatically flag incoming mail from certain senders, so that your most important mail is always right there at the top of your inbox.

Of course, flags are a category, just like newsletters or social updates, so you can use Sweep or Schedule Cleanup on flags.

Have different types of email? Create custom categories

While we think these automatic categories work great for most customers, we recognize that some customers want even more control over their inbox, or they like using labels in products like Gmail. So we’re adding support for custom categories, powered by Sweep and Schedule Cleanup, so they are easy to set up and use.

You can quickly create a new category and apply that category to all related messages at the same time – no searching for mail, no complex rules to create. You can categorize messages right in the message list with the new categories column. And categories show up as QuickViews right next to folders, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.

Folders for filers

Now if you’re a filer and use folders, you might be wondering how all of this helps you. Categories, Sweep, and Schedule Cleanup work great for folders. Simply click on a message, click Sweep or Schedule cleanup, and move all messages from that sender (or in a category), including future messages, to a folder. And of course, you have the same ability to create your own folders and sub-folders. But we didn’t stop there – we’ve added advanced folder management tools: nested folder with drag and drop, creating new folders right inline, and a new right-click menu for folders that lets you mark everything in the folder as read, or rename, empty, or even delete the folder.

And we’re still just getting started

Whew! That’s a lot of new features for fighting the war on graymail and keeping track of your important messages. And we’re just getting started. We’ll have more on these features and others as they roll out in the coming weeks. So try out our new tools when they hit your inbox and let us know what you think!

Dick Craddock - Group Program Manager, Hotmail