Earlier this week, Google (s goog) released Smart Labels, a nifty new feature for Gmail that can automatically label many types of “bacn” email — the kind of emails that aren’t exactly spam, because you’ve signed up to receive them, but maybe aren’t particularly useful either, like newsletters, social network notifications and forum mailings. It’s a great feature and works really well, but if you don’t use Gmail, or perhaps aren’t comfortable with Google analyzing your emails, there are some options for dealing with bacn in desktop email clients, too:
Nearly all modern desktop email clients (including Apple Mail (s aapl), Thunderbird and Outlook) support inbox rules or filtering. Using these rules you can specify that incoming email that meets certain criteria can be routed to certain folder or even deleted entirely. The easiest way to do it is to just route emails from certain senders to a particular folder, like sending Twitter and Facebook notifications to a “Notifications” folder, for example. Unfortunately, given the variety of bacn that most of us receive, you’ll likely have to set up a large number of rules to deal with all of the bacn, and every time you start getting bacn from a new sender, you’ll probably have to set up a new rule. You could try setting up more generic or complex rules (matching certain strings of text in the body of the message, or using complex conditional rules) to try to avoid having to set up a new rule for each sender, but in my experience it’s very difficult to do this in such a way that filters all of the bacn without also accidentally catching some non-bacn email, too.
If you use Outlook (s msft), there are a couple of third-party tools you could try: ClearContext Personal and NEO Pro.
ClearContext Personal (see my post about it here) actually works in a similar manner to Smart Labels, filing unimportant emails, like social network notifications, newsletters, e-commerce emails and other bacn into categorized groups, taking it out of your inbox. It’s all done completely automatically, with no need to set up complex inbox rules. ClearContext Personal is available as a free download (.exe) for Windows 7, Vista or XP, and Outlook 2003, 2007 or 2010. Note that it only works with Exchange Mail and POP, not IMAP.
NEO Pro is an email organizing tool. Rather than working as an add-on, it’s actually a separate app that you can use to automatically categorize and organize your email. It’s a very powerful and flexible tool, but it’s rather pricey at $49.95 , which is probably a bit expensive if all you want to do is filter bacn from your inbox. The 60-day free trial can be downloaded here.
I’m not aware of any apps or plugin for Apple Mail that can automatically filter bacn emails, but Mail Act-On, a plugin from indev.ca, provides a way to apply actions to multiple emails simultaneously, making it easier to keep your inbox organized. It costs $24.95, with a free trial available.
Again, I’m not aware of any extensions for Thunderbird that will work in the same way as Smart Labels, but it does incude a built-in Bayesian junk mail filter. You can hit the “Junk” button and over time you will train Thunderbird, Unfortunately, it’s not as granular as Gmail’s Smart Labels and will result in bacn in the same junk mail folder as regular spam, but if all you really want is to get bacn out of your inbox, . There are some details on how the junk mail filter works on mozillaZine.
Of course, rather than setting up rules or plugins to deal with the bacn in your inbox, you can always stop it at the source, by unsubscribing from the various newsletters you’re not reading and changing the settings on your social networking accounts.