Tag Archive | Email

AOL May Have Invented Email’s Next UI Paradigm

Alto does not require an AOL email address, but rather works with services such as Gmail and Yahoo..


Bill Wetherell, a senior director of UX design at AOL, is struggling to find a recent message from his wife in his Gmail inbox. He’s mashing and mashing and mashing on the down-arrow key while squinting at his laptop screen. Wetherell eventually finds the right email, but not before admitting his true feelings for Google’s popular messaging product. “It’s a frickin’ mess right now,” he says. “I just want to find that frickin’ email, but I have to go all the way down here–wait, wait, there it is–way down here. This is basically the inbox fatigue we’re all now dealing with.”

The exercise is not without a purpose: Wetherell is in New York to show me the true innovations of AOL Alto, a new service that the company promises will revolutionize how we interact with email, which goes live today as an invite-only beta program. As Wetherell describes, email has largely gone unchanged in years. Yes, there have been improvements–in search, contacts, storage size–but they’ve been incremental at best, and based on an outmoded architecture of lists, folders, and more lists. Alto is a radical rethinking of inbox design, and features a stripped-down interface that’s spruced up by visual cues and intuitive navigation tools. “Lists are horrible at revealing the treasures of your inbox, and folders are failing people,” Wetherell says. “We took all the pixels that were dedicated to that space and just said, ‘Screw that.'”

As a Gmail addict, I’ll admit I was initially skeptical of Wetherell’s claims, especially considering he was speaking for AOL, where email has been typecast as a 1990s-era Nora Ephron movie–a service geared toward oversize-font-reading aunts and uncles. But Alto is not AOL Mail. (In fact, you do not need an AOL account to use the service, which will work with most existing email platforms.) It’s actually proved to be a more modern and nimble alternative to many of its mainstream counterparts, and boasts many novel features that Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, even with its beautiful redesign of Outlook, should all heed lessons from.




How many times have you searched your Gmail account for an old photo? Had your inbox overwhelmed by daily deals from Groupon and Living Social? Or had to sift through mounds of emails for an attachment? “I don’t know about you, but one of the most annoying things today in Gmail is having to find an attachment by looking for that stupid, little paperclip icon,” says Wetherell. “Not so anymore.”

Alto is divided into two main windows: a streamlined column of mail that matters, and a grid of tiles for navigating leftover inbox clutter. In Alto, many messages and files are automatically and neatly aggregated into tiles of common categories: for photos, attachments, social, daily deals, and retail. So, for example, say you get an email offer from Amazon or iTunes–Alto will automatically pull those messages into the retailers stack, seamlessly and without hassle. Or say you receive a Facebook message from a friend, or a LinkedIn notification from a coworker–Alto will pull those emails into its own clean social stack. “We basically attached a big vacuum cleaner and sucked everything out,” says Wetherell.

So all you’re left with, in the side column next to the stacks, are the emails that matter to you most now. Essentially, a stack is a combination of a folder, label, and filter–only without having to perform the frustrating task of creating a folder, label, and filter. And if you want to create your own stack, it’s a simple matter of dragging and dropping a message into a new stack.

The innovation derives from, of all things, snail mail. When Wetherell was recently watching his wife sift through a pile of mail at home, he noticed that she would swiftly organize catalogues into one pile and correspondence into another, while sticking any coupons to the kitchen fridge and placing any bills by the couple’s bedside table. They’d both address these different piles at different points–the mail from friends immediately, say, while the deals on a weekly basis and the bills at the end of every month. “At AOL, we started to wonder if we could recreate that same physical process but in the digital world,” Wetherell says, talking up the “skip inbox” feature that allows messages to jump right into a stack. “We realized stacks are good for the emails you don’t want clogging up your inbox–the messages that you want, but you don’t want right now.”




But the real secret sauce of Alto is the way users can navigate these various stacks. Traditionally, to find an attachment or photograph, you’d often have to search for that one message, from that one contact, containing that one file. But in Alto, all photos, attachments, and other stacks are presented visually, allowing for navigation that’s much easier than scrolling through never-ending pages of text-based lists.

When you click into your photo stack, for example, you can see all the photos from your inbox in one place, aligned in a Pinterest-like grid of tiles. (“We’ve heard the Pinterest comparison before, yes–the concept of stacks is to represent the inbox visually,” Wetherell says.) Finding a recent attachment is a simple matter of clicking the stack, and finding the right PDF or Word document, which can be previewed right within Alto–no need for downloads or new browser tabs. What’s more, even the email messages from daily deal services and retailers are viewed in carousel mode, allowing for window-shopping-like functionality.

In the social stack, notifications are culled from Twitter, LinkedIn, Path, Facebook, and more. But Alto goes the extra mile to display infographics to help users navigate through fragmented social network updates.

You can narrow down what’s displayed by contacts, dates, and so forth, which helps shift away from inbox search to inbox discovery. And just in case, Alto also offers real-time visual search, which categorizes results by emails, contacts, photos, and attachments to offer users immediate context.

Ultimately, Alto is a more visual interpretation of the inbox, without much of the text and manual organization which can fatigue users. (Users can still create and manually organize traditional folders, if need be.) Alto has recognized the inbox is used to find more than email–it’s the central hub of many of your social contacts, buying habits, work files, and photos. “We’ve turned the inbox inside out,” says Wetherell.




To hear Wetherell describe Alto is to hear him describe how traditional inbox UIs need “airing out.” Gmail, for instance, has become an overwhelming source of colors, text, numbers, time stamps, buttons, and boxes, which combines elements of Google search, Google+, and Gchat. Alto’s user interface has more white space and less text; more visuals and fewer menus. “We wanted to give a sense of visual relief,” Wetherell says.

To the left of the tiles is Alto’s main inbox, which is slim and elegant. The colors are softer on the eyes than Gmail’s scheme; there is less junk mail; and the myriad icons that normally overwhelm inbox screens (stars, trashcans, checkboxes, numbers) are gone, save a select few that appear upon mousing over a particular message. It’s a clean experience reminiscent of your simple, thin iPhone email message list.

Even the interface for composing messages has been stripped down. In traditional email clients, when composing a message, you’re faced with a long list of Microsoft Office-like editing capabilities: for fonts, formatting, colors, sizing. “There’s the To section, CC, BCC, subject line, and all this stuff,” Wetherell says. “It’s a pretty high cognitive load when you’re composing a message, and we wanted to shrink that form down. A lot of time when you’re dealing with weight loss, the first thing they tell you to do is get a smaller dinner plate–portion control is very important.”

Alto’s default compose mode is a simple message form that features boxes for the receiver, subject, and message. (Users can also jump to the the full compose message mode.) The box overlays on top of your inbox–no need to refresh to a new page or open a separate window.

Indeed, much of the navigation in Alto is done via in-site navigation, meaning Alto tabs are kept within one browser tab, rather than needing to open up a slew of different browser tabs as often happens with Gmail. It’s a cinch to jump between composing a message, reading a message, or browsing stacks.

Overall, Alto is a dramatic improvement in the way inboxes are designed, and proves that competing email services are far from having perfected the right interface, despite how many millions of users they all tout.

By organizing email into novel and visual stacks, Alto’s UI feels clean and less cluttered than its competitors’ inboxes.

Navigating stacks in Alto is simple, visual, and intuitive.

Alto offers in-site tab navigation, meaning Alto tabs are kept within one browser tab, rather than needing to open up a slew of different windows on Chrome or Firefox to reference an email as you write one.

The dead-simple “skip inbox” feature automatically moves inbox clutter to out-of-the-way stacks.

Alto also offers real-time visual search, which categorizes results by emails, contacts, photos, and attachments to offer users immediate context.

In the social stack, notifications are culled from Twitter, LinkedIn, Path, Facebook, and more, but Alto goes the extra mile to display contextual infographics.

Alto’s stripped-down UI for composing messages features only the essentials.


Email Will Never Die – The Man Who Invented It Reveals Why

Texting, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter – we have dozens of ways to pass a message from one user to the next, and yet we keep coming back to email. Why? According to the man who sent the first one, because there’s still nothing quite like it.

Possibly the most revealing statement that can be made about the power and persistence of email is that – unlike almost everything else in the technology industry – how we use it has remained virtually unchanged for more than 40 years.

According to the Radicati Group, 144.8 billion emails are sent every day, and that number is projected to rise to 192.2 billion in 2016. There are about 3.4 billion email accounts worldwide, Radicati said, with three-quarters owned by individual consumers.

The youngest users of email, however, have an enormous number of different methods to choose from to communicate – and many of them prefer these methods for most communications.

This, in turn, has prompted to some to wonder whether email is a dinosaur, among them young people who say they actually mean “Facebook” when they say “email”. In 2010, comScorekicked off a fuss by noting that Web email use had dropped 59% among teens. So why would anyone continue to use email in the age of social media?

“Because none of them really fill the space that email serves, which is you have a specific audience,” answers Ray Tomlinson, a principal engineer at BBN Technologies and the so-called “father of email.”

“A lot [of the alternatives] are like a billboard, with limited utility – you put these things on the billboard, and if they choose to they [your audience] can look and see it.”

“But email has the time difference – that is, you send it now, you read it later – you don’t have to have someone sitting there and ready to respond like you do with instant messaging to make it work and make it effective,” Tomlinson explains. “You can use instant messaging that way, but if they’re not there, nothing happens, and you gotta remember that there may be a message coming back to you and go back to the IM client and look for the response.”

The Birth Of Email

In 1971 Tomlinson worked as an engineer for Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), a contractor that had been assigned to develop ARPANET, a communication network that would allow scientists and researchers to share each other’s computer resources.

In the fall of 1971, Tomlinson sent the first network email, using the SNDMSG program that ran on the TENEX time-sharing program for Digital PDP-10 computers. Email on a single computer had existed since the early 1960s, the equivalent of a digital post-it note that could be left to another user. But Tomlinson tweaked the CPYNET file transfer program, then appended it to SNDMSG. That gave one user the power to send a message to another on a remote machine, and email was born.

The first email message has been lost to history; Tomlinson tells ReadWriteWeb that it was one of a number of “entirely forgettable” test messages. But that first email message, sent from one machine physically sitting next to another, functioned as a sort of “hello world” message explaining that, well, network email was up and running. The response was low-key.

“I don’t recall any actual replies” to the first email, Tomlinson says. “I did get some comments from people in the hall.”

Tomlinson was also the first person to use the now ubiquitous “@” symbol – a no-brainer, as it explained that a user was “at” a given host, Tomlinson said. There was one glitch, however: “I was later reminded that the Multics time-sharing system used the @ sign as its line-erase character. This caused a fair amount of grief in that community of users,” he notes on his own website.

Email began to take hold as both a cultural and a technical phenomenon in 1972, when the next release of TENEX was shipped – on magnetic tape via snail mail – to some 15 other sites scattered around the country. Users could then send messages back and forth. As each site came online, email’s utility increased, Tomlinson recalls.

Even back then, though, email was used in much the same way it is now.

“I think it was mostly used as a replacement for telephone calls,” Tomlinson says. “You got a more immediate response. With time zone differences you didn’t have to have someone there to receive the call.”

Email Today

Forty years later, email use has grown to enormous proportions. But most of it is not legitimate communications and more than half of it never gets delivered. According to the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (which has reformed to fight take on malware as well) between 88% and 90% of all email sent during the first three quarters of 2011 were spam, or unsolicited commercial email. For example, Microsoft’s Hotmail alone processes more than 8 billion messages a day. But only some 2.5 billion messages are delivered to the user’s inbox.

Several types of methods of dealing with spam have sprung up: blocking or “blacklisting” domains notorious for sending spam; blocking everything except for approved“whitelisted” domains,” and various filtering techniques that use reputation or text analysis to try and block suspicious emails.

Tomlinson supports whitelisting, where only users who pass through some additional level of security are allowed to send email. “If it’s a person out there he’ll send it again,” Tomlinson said. “If it’s a machine he’ll move on and send it to the other five million.”

But the spam problem is also one of identity. When Tomlinson first sent networked emails into the ether, the address was a specific person. Today, email senders can use aliases, multiple accounts and even bots to communicate. Should users be forced to tie themselves to a single email identity? The debate has included both Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who has promoted user Facebook accounts as identity tokens, as well as 4chan founder Christopher Poole, a strong advocacy for privacy and anonymity online. Tomlinson takes a middle view.

“In some ways the lack of an official identity when using email has compounded problems like spam, but I think that’s the convenience versus utility versus functionality,” Tomlinson says. “It’s more convenient if you don’t have to worry about identifying yourself. You don’t have to buy a [security] certificate, or authenticate the centers of email.

“I think completely anonymous email would not be a good idea,” Tomlinson adds. “On the other hand, having email identities that you can link to very specific information is a definite problem. It’s one thing to say I am who I am, but I’m not going to tell you my life history at the same time.”

The Future of Email

In many ways, the future of email is already here today. SMS text messages are archived; instant message windows can be left open, and Facebook Messenger treats an instant message to an offline friend as, essentially, an email. This latter model is what Tomlinson sees email evolving into over time.

“Whether the name will persist or not, I suspect email will be around for at least for a good long time,” Tomlinson predicts. “We may find that these other forms of communication may be merged with email, so you send an IM to somebody, and if they don’t respond it turns into an email-like thing without any intervention on your part.”

How to Identify a Scam Email

Remember the good-old days, when a Nigerian Prince would offer you riches beyond belief if you’d just help him get some of his ill-gotten gains out of the country? That prince hasn’t e-mailed me in years. He’s been replaced by a wide variety of scam tales, all of them just as hell-bent on making you do things you’re sure to regret later on.

Just the other day, a new scam e-mail arrived in my inbox. Though it was from someone I didn’t know, the subject line didn’t give it away. It said simply, “ATL INVITATION.” No misspellings, no histrionics. The capitalization, though, did the trick and got my attention.

On the other hand, the email itself was ridiculously brazen, almost laughably so: In it “Mr. Carney Mark Edward” explained that there was a package for me at an Atlanta airport. Officials scanned it and found there may be as much as $5 million inside. I could get my hands on the money if I just gave them enough information to steal my identity, fleece me of my life savings and possibly ruin my life.

So, yes, the ruse was dead obvious to me, but I’ve been in this game a long time; I’ve got my guard up. Not everyone does.

I thought it might be interesting to dig into the guts of a scam email like this one. Do they serve up any obvious clues? What makes this e-mail so dangerous?

“While this email is a phishing attack with its immediate purpose to gain person information, it is actually a classic Advance Fee scam (commonly called a Nigeria 914 scam or the more historically accurate name of The Spanish Prisoner),” Kevin Haley, Director Norton Security Response wrote me in an e-mail.

Haley blogs about security for the security software company Symantec (makers of the Norton family of security software products), and has written more than once about these scams. He offered to pick apart my email, which he called “bait,” to see if we could learn any truths about the heart of a digital flimflam.

Below is the original email with Haley’s comments about the tell-tale signs of a scam inserted. Enjoy

Anatomy of a Scam Email

From: Mr. Carney Mark Edward.

[This is an interesting choice of name. Carny (without the e) is slang for a carnival employee, a place where many con games are known to have occurred. Mark is slang for the victim in a con.]


[Notice the .jp, indicating Japan. Why is Mr. Edward using a mail box in Japan? The address is no longer working. ]

Date: Mon, Aug 20, 2012 at 9:49 AM

[The Set-Up: An official looking email from a real place.]

Atlanta Hartsfield/Jackson International Airport

[Actual name of the airport is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Close enough.]

Service Port-Atlanta
Port Information
Port Code:1704
Location Address:157 Tradeport Drive
Atlanta, GA 30354.
Operational Hours: 8:00 AM-5:00 PM(Eastern)
Seven Days A Week (7)

[This is correct, copied word for word from the CBP.gov website I found it on. A Service Port is where cargo is processed and inspected. It’s run by the Dept. of Homeland Security, which certainly does not use mailboxes in Japan for communication.]

Attn: Consignee,

We Intercepted your Consignment Box Tagged personal effect on Transit.

[The Tale: The Service Port thinks they have your box. You know it’s not your box. And you would probably at this point just delete the message, or send them a nice note back telling them the mistake. That is, unless you are the classic mark, someone greedy and or willing to be at least a little dishonest if you see an advantage to you. And that’s The Hook. The con man is going to give you a big incentive to be dishonest.]

When scanned it is estimated that the consignment contains valuable cash between $4.5 to $5Million Dollars.

[The Hook: 5 million dollars could be useful.]

The consignment was intercepted and deposited in our restricted bonded store because it was not properly declared.

The details on the consignment tagged.

Wheels: 4 wheels
Handles: Trolley handle with top & side handles
Approximate Dimensions: Height: 3.20 ft, Width: 2.50 ft, Depth: 1.90 ft.
Weight: 180lbs.

[More of The Tale: It’s these details that are used to convince you that this is all real. By the time you’re done you may even be convinced that that is your box with the “valuable cash” in it. Would anyone ever ship a box full of cash? What kind of cash isn’t valuable? What are they saying? At this point the hooked mark doesn’t care. Greed has made them gullible. ]

We need;

1. Your Full Name.
2. Home phone & Cell Phone
3. Home delivery address
4. Any form of Identification either Drivers license or International Passport.

[The Sting: Here is what the con man wants. Getting your identity and contact information seems pretty reasonable. After all they have to get the money to you somehow.]

You are expected to come or assign an Attorney who will come for the normalization of

[You just allowed them to steal your identity. But they are not done with you yet. You’ve just shown that you’re greedy and gullible. So this will not be the last thing they ask you for. There will be fees, fines and other costs before you can pick up that box of valuable cash.]

your Bill of Entry and pick up of your Consignment.

Best Regard

Mr. Carney Mark Edward.

Your Tales

Take a look at your own inbox. How many scam emails do you receive each week? Have you ever responded (did that $5M ever arrive?)? Share your tale in the comments. We promise not to judge. Also, if you have additional tips for identifying this dastardly missives, share them, as well.

Gmail Now Plays Classic AOL ‘You’ve Got Mail’ Sound

“You’ve got mail” was the catchphrase of the ’90s web. But the popular welcome jingle faded away with pay-per-minute dial-up connections.

Now you can add a little 1998 to your work day with a newChrome extension that plays the AOL’s familiar sound when — you guessed it — you’ve got Gmail.

Created by Chris Baker and Mike Lacher, the congratulatory sound is identical to that of AOL’s in the dial-up days.

“[We} were just joking about the old days of the internet and how we never really got that AOL guy’s voice out of our heads,” says Baker. “Then we just threw the plugin together and realized it was both funny and kind of useful.”


SEE ALSO: Replace Baby Pics in Your Facebook Feed With Bacon and Cats 

Perhaps this sound was less annoying in the AOL days because we didn’t have smartphones and weren’t getting that much email. Luckily, the extension has a mute feature for those of us who get an email every three minutes.


Turn on Gmail’s 2-Step Verification – Now

Mat Honan’s account of an “epic hacking” attack is fascinating, frightening and instructive. You should read it. Here are some other things you should do, in ascending order of urgency:

  • Read the story of what happened to my wife when six years’ worth of email — and associated photos, research notes, book drafts, calendar info, contacts, attached-file data, memorabilia, etc — were all zeroed out by a hacker, who was using the “Mugged in Madrid” scam and was probably operating from West Africa.
  • Look into the wide variety of ways to make local, non-cloud copies of your important online information. I won’t get into all the details now, but for instance: You can use Thunderbird, Eudora, Outlook, Sparrow or some other system for periodic backups of your email and associated online files. (And then of course have some other way to back up what’s on your local hard drive.)
  • Make sure that each of your important online accounts — bank, credit card, email, anything that could cause you grief if someone else got control of it — has (a) its own password, which (b) you have never used anywhere else. I rely on some mnemonic tricks, plus LastPass, to make this feasible — more on that another time.
  • If you use Gmail, please, before you get up from this session at the computer, turn on the “2-step verification” that Google has offered, for free, since early last year. OK, you are allowed to get up if you don’t have your cell phone/smartphone at hand, because you’ll need that for the 2-step setup. You can read official instructions here and will find lots of associated advice around the Internet. Here is one installment I offered after my wife’s hacking episode last year.

In case there’s any doubt about the priority order I am suggesting, my advice is: First, if you use Gmail, set up the 2-step system; then fix any “recycled” password you’re using for accounts you care about protecting; thenthink about the offline backups etc.

Using the 2-step system is slightly less convenient than doing without it. For instance, every 30 days you will need to enter a special code into your desktop or laptop computers. And you’ll have the one-time chore of generating “application specific passwords” for your iPad, smartphone and some mail-handling programs.

Similarly, it is less convenient to carry keys around and have to lock and unlock your front door rather than just leaving it open. But believe me, the “inconvenience” resulting from leaving the door open can be worse, in the digital realm and the physical world alike.

This article originally published at The Atlantic here.

Google Will Now Include Gmail Messages In Your Search Results

Google will be including your personal Gmail results when you search in the standard Google form, reports Search Engine Land.


For example, if you search Google for “amazon,” you’ll see the standard web results with links to Amazon and the Wikipedia page for the Amazon River, but it’ll also display your receipts and shipping notifications from Amazon.com in your Gmail inbox.

The Gmail results appear out of the way in the right side of your search results window. The new feature also includes more detailed information on flights.

The service is only in testing now, so Google isn’t forcing to use it yet.

But if you want to opt in and turn this service on, head here


The geek’s guide to dealing with email overload

Even though I’ve been using email since Excite Mail was popular (remember that?) and I consider myself to be literate, email is still one of the most time-consuming habits in my life. Ding goes the email client, and boom go the endorphins in my brain.

Email is an addiction and as with any addiction, the first step to stopping it is to realise that you have a problem. That happened to me about 2 years ago, when I realised that most of my time was spent looking at my inbox and another big part of my time looking at my iPhone and Blackberry. Since then I’ve continuously worked on getting better at spending less time looking at or thinking about my inbox.

There are now many tools available to help us manage email overload. I found and tested 8 web services and 2 methods that can make your email addiction more manageable.

To try these out I undertook a big challenge. I take backup very seriously. All my data is backed up at least in three locations and the same goes for my email. For this reason I have a Gmail account that exists solely to backup my other email accounts. I never check it, organise it or archive it, which meant that at the time that I started this test I had 64,805 unread messages in my inbox. Getting this down to 0 is almost impossible so I was really interested to see how these tools were going to cope.

Start Inbox The geeks guide to dealing with email overload

Yep, that’s 64,805 unread messages…

1. Unroll.me

Unroll.me makes a very bold statement on their homepage. It promises to end email overload. Can this be true? Can this service minimize my incoming messages? Turns out that it can!

I gave unroll.me the first place because of the immediate results. Getting started is dead simple:

  1. Select your email account type
  2. Input your address and allow connection to your inbox
  3. Wait a minute or two for the app to do its magic

2 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload

So how does it work? It works by taking all the newsletters out of your inbox and putting them in what they call a “Rollup”. This means that as soon as it reaches 100% you will never again receive another newsletter in your inbox. Instead, once a day you will receive a summary email that’ll help you decide which newsletters you want to read. This process isn’t 100% accurate. For this reason they offer ways to move a subscription back to your inbox or unsubscribe completely.

Here’s what the service looks like in action. After you have signed up, you can view everything in your rollup in one handy list.

3 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload
If you want to unsubscribe, just click on the minus button and unroll.me will take care of the rest.

4 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload

If you’re dying to see your rollup before it reaches your inbox then you can just click on View Rollup and it looks like this.

5 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload
Unsubscribed from something but want to get it back? Piece of cake.

6 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload
If something is picked up as a newsletter but is actually something useful or time sensitive, then you can move it to the “Direct to Inbox” category.

7 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload

Once everything is set up and you are happy with it, you can relax and see your incoming message count shrink. Around 50 daily emails stopped reaching my inbox and ended up in the rollup. Sweet!

8 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload

2. OtherInbox

OtherInbox’s opening statement is exactly why I’m writing this in depth review: “Email is our life, so it doesn’t have to be yours.” We shouldn’t be spending our lives in our inboxes and OtherInbox is here to make things better. They have two tools that help, Organizer and Unsubscriber. The first automatically organizes your emails based on their category. The second easily unsubscribes you from all the annoying newsletters you get.

OtherInbox’s Organizer achieved an amazing feat. After 2-3 days my inbox went from 64,805 unread messages to 37,079! Awesome! How did it do that? By organizing emails by category and taking them out of my inbox.

Screen Shot 2012 07 12 at 12.33.30 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload
To start using their Organizer is pretty straight forward. Just click on Sign-up on the homepage, select your email service (currently supports Aol., Gmail, Yahoo! and iCloud), give it access to your account and sit back while it does its job.

Screen Shot 2012 07 09 at 13.44.061 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload
It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t wait for the process to finish, since it can take a long time. Because of my huge inbox the process is still running for me. After 5 days it has found 162,897 messages in my inbox and it is at 38%.

Screen Shot 2012 07 14 at 15.37.52 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload
If you have a more organized inbox, I’m pretty sure it will take a lot less time to get you started. Even though the process has not finished, it has already had a great effect on my inbox and I can use the service.

The way Organizer works is simple. Every time a message hits your inbox, it checks if it’s from a real person or an “automatic message” (can be a receipt, newsletter etc.) and automatically labels and archives it (or moves to a folder). For this purpose it creates a number of folders/labels so you can easily review what you have received.

Screen Shot 2012 07 12 at 12.34.18 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload

So here’s where all the messages went…

It also sends you a daily digest with what has been processed. If you are anxious to see what you have received, you can either check the folders or visit the Organizer dashboard.

Screen Shot 2012 07 14 at 15.44.11 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload
Unfortunatelly I didn’t get a chance to try the Unsubscriber feature, since at the time of writing the process has not finished.

3. PhilterIt

PhilterIt is another tool to tame your inbox. As COO Robert told me, “PhilterIt.com is a visual inbox that allows users to prioritize the brands and people they care about the most.” There lies the key differentiator for PhilterIt. It not only organizes newsletters but also messages from the most important people in your life.

Once again the sign-up process is very straight-forward. Click on sign-up, select your email service (currently supporting Aol., Gmail and Yahoo!, but their COO told me more services and use of IMAP are coming), wait while it processes your messages (probably worth having a cup of coffee while it’s at it) and then start setting up your dashboard.

22 The geeks guide to dealing with email overload
Now you can easily start dragging brands identified on the left to your dashboard on the right.

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Once you have finished this process you can move to your dashboard. Here is another core difference of PhilterIt. It’s an email client in itself. In order to use it, you need to come back to the site, which is a benefit and a drawback at the same time (more on that in a bit). When you are in your dashboard, you can view your inbox on the left and your dashboard on the right, showing how many unread messages you have for each brand or important contact.

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If you want to create a new icon in your dashboard, you can just drag the message from your inbox to your dashboard and setup the new icon.

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Setting up a new personal icon

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Dashboard with new personal icon added

If you want to review your inbox, you select the brand or person, and you can review the messages received.

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PhilterIt is making a bold move to make our inboxes more visual and easier to use. The problem is that in order to get the benefits you need to use the site constantly which is currently missing an archiving function. It is worth keeping in mind that the service is still in beta.

4. Tray

Tray.io is the newest player in this arena — so new that they only have an alpha version online to which we got an invite. Tray is like the child of iftt and AwayFind. After you link your account, you setup your triggers and the actions that you want to happen.

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The basic recipe for every Tray task

Even though the app is in alpha, it already has a plethora of triggers and actions that you can use to complete the simple recipe from above.

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To put it to the test I built something I can use. Whenever I get an email that includes the words “Wholesale Enquiry” I want to get a text message and send an automatic reply. Here’s what the above recipe looks like with everything filled in:

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And here’s the result. A text message and an automatic email. Awesome!

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Once you’re done setting up your tasks you can review what’s running and how many times it has been triggered in the dashboard.

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Tray is showing a lot of potential. It can automate your tasks so you spend even less time in your inbox, while getting all the necessary alerts. They also just added the ability to apply and share recipes that other users have created, which is a great feature for inspiration. If they also add a recommendation engine, it will be unbeatable.

5. FollowUpThen

FollowUpThen won me with its simplicity. Here’s a common problem with inbox overload. One of the reasons for endless emails is because you have replied to a message and you need to check that you have received a reply at a later point in time. Instead of filing it and creating a reminder to follow-up at a later time, most users will keep the email in their inbox. Do that 30 times in a period of 3 weeks and your inbox will be a mess.

FollowUpThen solves this problem very easily. You sign up to the service with your email address (this is one of the only services that works with any email service) and you can immediately start using it. To use the service all you have to do is compose a new message and add [schedule format]@followupthen.com in the To, CC or BCC field. If you use the To field, you get a reminder. With CC both you and the recipient get a reminder. With BCC only you get a reminder.

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A new message with a followup for 2 minutes

After you’ve sent your message FollowUpThen waits for the set time and when it reaches it, it sends out the reminder.

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A prompt reminder

Using this service you can quickly get rid of all the messages in your inbox that are waiting for a follow-up. If you become a power user, you can then move to a paid plan that offers more options, like multiple addresses, text reminders, attachments and follow ups in your calendar.

6. The Email Game

Do you like games? Of course you do. Do you want to clear your inbox? Who doesn’t! Then enter The Email Game. Created by the same company that does Boomerang for Gmail, The Email Game’s purpose is to help you clean out your inbox in a fun and quick way. You start by inputting your Gmail address and you are then taken into the game. You need to review your emails and take an action for each one. If it’s something you can action quickly you can reply, forward or label. If it’s something you need to look at later, you can boomerang or skip it. If it’s something that you have already reviewed, you can archive or delete.

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For every message you are given a set time based on its length and the sooner you take an action, the more points you get. The more points you get, the happier the smiley face at the top becomes.

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After you have gone through the messages in the batch you get a status report on how well you did, how much time you saved and what your rank in the leaderboards is.

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This game can be addictive and it helps you clean your inbox very quickly. Once you have cleaned your inbox and kept it tidy the novelty will wear out, but until then Happy Cleaning!

7. Boomerang for Gmail

Boomerang kills two birds with one stone. First, it allows you to schedule emails to be sent at a later time. Second, it features some great follow-up features. It is a browser plugin for Firefox, Chrome and Safari.

Setting up is very easy. You install the add-on, sign up to the service and two new features are enabled when you are composing a new message. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a lot of cases where I left a message in my inbox only because it was too late at night and I wanted the other person to receive my email in the morning. With Boomerang this is dead easy to do. Just reply or create the new message and instead of Send, select Send Later and setup the day and time you want it to go out.

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But this is not all. Boomerang also features a great follow-up feature that works based on the activity in the thread. You can set it up so it reminds you when someone hasn’t replied after a certain period of time. Inbox follow-up messages be gone!

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If you start using the service you might be worried about what is outstanding and want to check what’s happening. Or maybe you have a spare hour and want to follow-up with some people. That’s when the dashboard comes in. It lists all the messages that need to be sent later or need a follow-up, and you can take the actions you need before the set time elapses.

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8. Contactually

Here’s another app that solves the following up problem. This time instead of you setting reminders to contact people, Contactually works its magic and reminds you who you haven’t contacted lately so you can get back in touch. Let’s say that you work in sales and you want to contact people two weeks after your last email exchange. Contactually can be setup to do that.

When you sign up you can use any service that provides IMAP access and go through the very intuitive process of setting up your account. To help you setting up, it asks you what your role is, and then suggests certain “buckets” that you can use for your contacts. Depending on your needs you can then add or remove buckets.

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Suggested buckets based on my role

After you’ve setup your account, you need to start adding contacts to your buckets. Since this is a boring process, the team at Contactually has built a small “bucket” game that lets you go through the process quickly and easily. I gave it a try and processed 50 contacts in about 3 minutes (not bad for a rookie).

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The bucket game

Having played the game, the app now has some information to start working on recommending who you need to contact and building its dashboard.

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Contactually is certainly an app that becomes more useful every time you use it. Although it doesn’t have an instant effect on your email overload, it could become an essential tool in the long-term.

All these tools offer great ways to manage your overflowing inbox. If you want to see even more dramatic results, then you need to change your habits. This cannot be done by any tool out there. This change needs to happen in your brain. The following two ways are tried and tested, and are a good starting point.

Inbox Zero

I’m a big supporter and advocate of Inbox Zero. Originally created by Merlin Mann, it’s a way of moving your attention from your inbox to actually getting things done.

Getting your inbox to zero once a day or every other day is a great feeling. You feel accomplishment and it frees your mind to work on important stuff and come up with new ideas. Be careful though. The first time you reach zero, you might feel empty. It might feel like a void that needs to be filled. That’s just a reaction of your brain to what it’s used to, which is a good thing. Keep at it and before you know it, it will become a habit and you will not be able to stand seeing overflowing inboxes.

The email charter

This is called an email charter but it could be easily titled The Ten Commandments of Email. Every rule is a golden nugget in email communication. Follow it and it will not only improve your life, but also the life of your recipient. If this was adopted by everyone we would all benefit from more productive work lives.

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Overflowing inboxes are a black hole of attention and productivity. The more emails you send, the less productive you get. By adopting the above tools I can almost guarantee that you will see immediate results. Our lives are much more exciting and important than staring at inboxes.

Do you have other ways or tools to solve email overload? Let us know in the comments.

10 Email Extras You Should Be Using for Increased Productivity

Amp up productivity by unsubscribing from the daily deals and newsletters you don’t read.

Instead of deleting pages of branded emails every day, use Unsubscribe Deals to get off lists for good. Sign in with your Gmail or Yahoo! Mail address and select removal options — it’s as easy as that.

Process emails immediately to save time. Delegate or archive emails that don’t need your immediate attention.

Boomerang is a browser plug-in for Gmail and Outlook. Use the tool to schedule emails to be archived and kicked back at a certain time.

Keeping your inbox organized is essential. The Lost Photos application, however, is a great tool to use if you haven’t been so thorough.

The desktop application for Macs and Windows systems can dig up all the photos that have ever been shared with you via email.

SaneBox’s smart algorithm filters emails into two categories — those that need your immediate attention and messages that aren’t pressing. This way, it’s less likely you’ll be distracted by an intriguing newsletter or email from Facebook.

Utilize tools such as Rapportive to save time. You won’t need to Google unknown senders ever again.

Rapportive, a free web plug-in, gives your emails social context. The tool incorporates public social data into profiles that appear as a sidebar. Contextual profiles feature the sender’s photo, job title, Twitter handle, Facebook and Linkedin profiles.

The PhilterIt email platform separates branded and personal messages. For some, it’s a welcome alternative to unsubscribing from the daily deals you want.

The online tool can integrate any Gmail or iPhone email account into a clean PowerInbox.

Followup.cc reminds users to respond to emails. Clear your inbox in minutes by replying or forwarding emails to FollowUp addresses according to priority.

Some examples include — 3days@followup.cc, 12hours@followup.cc, 3-days-2pm@followup.cc, 1month-6.30pm@followup.cc and so on.

Email is a necessary evil, but there’s no need to check your inbox more than once hourly. It’s best to limit the number of email checks throughout the day to boost productivity.

Cover your bases with AwayFind. The tool alerts you via phone call or text when important emails do come in. You can step away from the computer without missing important notices.

Fluent turns your Gmail inbox into a seamless stream you’ll be able to rip through. Browse unread emails without interruption. Read and reply to messages in one stream. You’ll find all email attachments and responses are viewable in the Facebook-like feed.

Fluent’s creators, three former Google employees, say it’s a product that “pushes email into the future.”

There’s currently a huge wait list to tryFluent. It’ll be at least two months before the pool opens up for new users.

One of the golden rules of email is to send less to receive less.

MovableInk lets users make the most of their messages by including personalized live, moving aspects. Business clients can include countdown timers, local maps and live tweets. Email content will change depending on the user’s location, current time and social context.

MovableInk also provides email tracking, reports and real-time metrics.

Email is eating up enormous chunks out of your workday. These days, it’s a never-ending battle with the inbox.

The downhill slope of productivity starts when we wake up and check our email. We continue to glance at our inboxes countless times throughout the day. A recent survey estimates email takes up about 28% of the average worker’s day.

The bottom line is email throws off work flow. Not to mention, it’s constantly interrupting our leisure time. There’s a better way to track priority messages and respond to urgent emails. We’ve compiled a list of 10 email tools that will help you achieve inbox zero.

Are you obsessed with checking your email? Tell us what you think about these email tools in the comments.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Gilderic Photography

Gmail finally blows past Hotmail to become the world’s largest email service

Google announced today that its Gmail service has 425 million monthly active users. That means it has blown past Hotmail for the first time, becoming the largest email service in the world.

For many years, Microsoft’s Hotmail has been the reigning champ among global email services. In July, 2011 Hotmail announced on its 15-year anniversary that it had 360 million unique users per month. Yahoo Mail used to be the clear No. 1, but it has seen customers defect to both Hotmail and Gmail. And finally Google’s much-younger service (Gmail’s invite-only beta release was in 2004) has caught up to its older rivals.

Gmail’s growth has been absolutely stunning. In January, the company said on an earnings call that it had 350 million monthly active users on Gmail, based on its own internal data. Today that number sits at 425 million monthly actives, again based on its own data with no third-party confirmation.

Web analytics company comScore, on the other hand, told us that Google has way less unique visitors and still gives the edge to Hotmail and Yahoo. ComScore’s latest numbers from May have Hotmail at No. 1 with 325 million unique visitors, Yahoo at No. 2 with298 million users, and Gmail at No. 3 with 289 million users.

We contacted representatives for Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and comScore to try to reconcile the numbers. Each company, in some way, provided a frustrating response.

ComScore VP Andrew Lipsman told us that the company’s data was based on global unique visitors from “home and business use,” which leaves out important things like smartphone and Internet cafe access. “There are going to be some users that are left out,” Lipsman acknowledged.

Both Yahoo and Microsoft directed us to the above comScore data as their metric for active users. We asked Microsoft and Yahoo to get more specific with their own internal numbers, but both declined and again pointed us to the latest comScore data.

When I asked a Google spokesperson why its internal numbers showed a discrepancy ofmore than 100 million users compared with comScore’s data, he told us that the company doesn’t comment on third-party numbers.

Using Gmail’s “internal numbers” to compare against Yahoo and Microsoft’s comScore data may not be truly fair, but these are the numbers each of the companies stand by. Therefore, these are the numbers we will use to proclaim Gmail as the number one e-mail client in all the lands.

Long live King Gmail! Until Microsoft and Yahoo cough up better stats, that is.

Gmail for iOS gets notification support and persistent logins, brings joy to…


It took quite awhile for the official Gmail app to arrive for our Apple-toting friends, but when it debuted, it lacked many features enjoyed by Android users. Well, today the iOS Gmail app got a refresh that brings it a bit closer to the green bot version. Chiefly, notification support to allow folks to set up banner alerts and lock screen notifications, so they no longer have to check their inbox for new messages. Not only that, the app now has persistent login capability, meaning no more re-entry of your Gmail credentials every time you’re preoccupied slaying space pigs for a few hours. Interested parties can hit the source link to get the new goodies.