Microsoft's Hotmail declares 'war on graymail'

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 

Microsoft's Hotmail is looking to ramp up the competition with rival Gmail by resetting its email service -- and its image -- with new features that help users reduce the clutter in their inboxes.

When Google launched Gmail seven years ago, it immediately swiped users from Hotmail by offering more free storage, fewer ads and ways to better manage spam. Microsoft has since reinvested in its email service, adding more storage, stripping away ads and, today rolling out a set of rich features that give its 350 million users much more flexibility and control over their inboxes.

The biggest goal with the new release will be to reduce the amount of "graymail," or legitimate but often useless messages, such as social media updates or newsletters, that still pile up in many inboxes,said Hotmail group program manager Dick Craddock in a blog post.

Hotmail currently has a service called SmartScreen filtering, which has drastically reduced true spam -- those "investment" offers or pleas for cash -- to under 3 percent.

"But we realized that getting rid of true spam wasn’t enough, because 75 percent of the email messages that people reported as spam are really legitimate newsletters, offers, or notifications that you just don’t want anymore," writes Craddock.

Craddock says the tricky part about graymail is that the same message that one person thinks is “spam” could be really important to another person. But with the new tools, users can now further personalize their mail and "take control of your inbox, get rid of graymail, and keep track of the email that’s important to you," he said.
Here are the five new features that Hotmail users can expect to see within the next few weeks:

- A new newsletter category: Using its SmartScreen technology, Hotmail will automatically categorize certain emails as newsletters and, as users categorize or un-catergorize emails, the engine will get more accurate over time.

- One-click unsubscribe: Hotmail will now automatically alert sites to stop sending unwanted emails, as well as delete any previous emails from that address and categorize any future emails as junk.

- Schedule cleanup: Users can keep only the most current email from a particular sender -- say a weekly newsletter or daily deal offer -- and have Hotmail automatically delete older messages or archive financial information.

- More powerful flags: Craddock also said Hotmail wants to help users keep track of important emails using flags. Now, when users flag an email as important, it will remain "pinned" at the top of their inbox, even as other emails come in. Hotmail users can even flag certain addresses so that messages from them always remained pinned at the top of their inbox.

- Custom categories: Hotmail is also borrowing from rival Gmail, adding the option to create personalized categories that will automatically be applied to all emails from the same sender.

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