E-mail Resolution: Enabling multiple device communication and spam filtering improvements

My 2009 new year’s resolution is to get e-mail under control. In the past, I’ve tried every system you’ve heard of (and probably dozens more) to manage my accounts, and none of them have worked for me over the long term. This year, I hope to find a more permanent solution for my e-mail needs.

My resolution goals for January have been to get the technical problems of my e-mail fixed. I have two devices (my laptop and my iPhone) on which I regularly check and respond to e-mail from four e-mail accounts. Up until last week, my two devices didn’t talk to each other. Every e-mail I received and read on my laptop was still unread on my iPhone, so I was handling every e-mail twice. Additionally, I was receiving in my inboxes about 400 pieces of spam every day. I would waste half an hour a day simply weeding through the spam.

These two problems had to be solved before I could even think about getting a handle on my other e-mail problems.

Multiple device communication

For more than 15 years, I have been using POP (Post Office Protocol) to download my e-mail from my server to my e-mail program. It served me well until I started using my phone as a second device for checking e-mail. Since POP doesn’t allow for multiple e-mail clients to tell each other, “hey, I already read that,” I had to handle each e-mail more than once.

To solve this problem, I changed my e-mail access protocol from POP to IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), which allows my different e-mail clients to speak to each other through my mail server. Honestly, I am very upset with myself for not doing this earlier.

If you want to make the switch, too, start by contacting your e-mail service provider to make sure that they offer IMAP. Once you determine that they do, check out your e-mail service provider’s website to see if they already have directions for how to make the switch for your particular system (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) and client (Outlook, Mail, etc.). My e-mail provider had extremely detailed directions that I could follow. If this information isn’t easily found online, call your provider’s customer support line so that they can direct you to the best instructions for your system. If you only use Gmail for your e-mail, follow the instructions on Google’s website.

Spam filtering

To help fight spam, I enabled a server-side spam filter on my mail system. I talked with my e-mail service provider and learned about how I could make the threshold more selective so that spam no longer makes it into any of my inboxes.

Check with your e-mail service provider to see if they have server-side spam blocking available. If they do, they probably have a way for you to set the threshold level for that spam filter. Additionally, many allow for you to create “white lists” that let you receive e-mail from specific addresses that might otherwise be blocked by a spam filter. For example, I buy my favorite t-shirts online from Gap. Since I know they will send me receipts after I place my order, I have gap.com as a white listed address. If I didn’t make this adjustment, my spam filter might think that it was spam and not allow the receipt e-mails to arrive.

Additionally, Gmail has a great spam filtering system and is the best that I have found in the free e-mail system market. Unfortunately, three of my four e-mail accounts are not through Gmail.

24 Comments for “E-mail Resolution: Enabling multiple device communication and spam filtering improvements”

  1. posted by Alastair Scott on

    You can set up GMail to pick up mail from existing POP3 accounts – it polls each account every hour or so and adds any new emails to its queue. This gives you the benefit of accessing the downloaded email through (GMail) IMAP – even if the existing provider doesn’t support IMAP – and also passes them through the GMail spam filter, which is a great help if you have old accounts over-run with spam.

    I am a satisfied user of Fastmail (www.fastmail.fm), which offers similar services to GMail but has a more conventional – and very well designed – Web mail interface.

  2. posted by FrightenedByPenguins on

    As mentioned in the previous comment, you can set up all your email accounts to go through Gmail saving you the time and hassle of checking many accounts constantly and also making use of Googles excellent spam filter.

    See link for detailed lifehacker instructions


  3. posted by Shay on

    I switched to IMAP quite a while ago and its been excellent. I dont think I could ever go back to POP3 again – not even sure why anyone would want POP3 if IMAP is available.

    Anyway, one little nitpick I have about accessing your email over IMAP is cross platform support. I use thunderbird, mail, webmail on Windows or Mac to access my mail. However, each of these seems to have a different name for “sent”, “deleted messages” and “junk”. As a result you can end up with mail in several folders. Its a small annoyance. Thankfully they all treat “inbox” the same way.

    Does anyone know of any method to adjust each client to point to the same set of folders?

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @FrightenedByPenguins — I didn’t filter through GMail because it required that I be online to access it. I need to be able to access a great deal of my e-mail when I’m not online. But, yesterday, I got word that this is changing. I may have to revisit Gmail as a filter next month … but when I wrote this, it didn’t meet all of my e-mail needs.

  5. posted by Rick Austin on

    I also recommend the GMail approach. Started funneling all of my email through GMail and 99% of spam has been eliminated. Much better than some of the products I’ve purchased over the years.

    The cool thing is that you can still have outbound messages be sent as if it came from the email address to which it was originally sent to. If I get a message to my personal address via GMail and reply then the reply looks to the recipient as if it came from my personal address.

    It also reduces the “places” I have to go to check email. It is accessible from home, work, mobile devices, and anywhere I can get to a computer.

    Works for me and your mileage may vary .

  6. posted by sharon on

    I use mac mail and gmail. And I use SpamSieve to filter my mac mail. It works great except that SpamSieve doesn’t have an iPhone app so my spam was coming through to my iPod Touch.

    This led me to take a look a t the email coming in. Most of the spam is from companies and catalogs that I had signed up for in the past 10 years. My favorites are book marked so I don’t need web addresses. I have been unsubscribing to almost all that come in. And with the economy being so bad, many companies and increased the amount of email that they send out because of the low cost to them.

    I am buying less and don’t need or want these reminders about stuff I don’t want or need or can’t afford.

  7. posted by John on

    Another email tip: pick an email service provider than is not your internet provider and migrate to them. Gmail or Yahoo will work, as will various paid services that will offer you additional support and features. The point is that if you move, switch from DSL to cable internet, etc., your email address will not change – so you don’t have to tell everyone in the world about your online “move.”

  8. posted by Amy on

    Question: What if you use an IMAP protocol but find you have e-mails that you’d really rather respond to via computer and not iPhone? Some e-mails require a longer response, and I’m not super enamored of the itty-bitty keyboard on the iPhone for typing those up.

  9. posted by Alastair Scott on

    @shay: Some can’t do it because they don’t offer complete support for mapping server folders to application folders.

    For example, Mail.app under Leopard – even under the latest build, 10.5.6 – creates extra folders in my fastmail.fm folder tree for notes and calendar entries and sometimes gets very confused, nesting extra folders inside extra folders. I have reported this, but there has not been a fix so far.

    I switched to GyazMail (www.gyazsquare.com); although it costs (a little) it handles IMAP far more conservatively and is, in general, a better mail client. All application folders can be mapped to server folders and the result is “clean”.

  10. posted by Dave P. on

    Why do you have FOUR email accounts? Is that really necessary?

  11. posted by Rue on

    @Amy: I personally read email on my iPhone and if I find it warrants a long response, I don’t delete it. I wait until I’m at a real computer to respond to it.

    I have IMAP enabled on my phone and Gmail accounts, but somehow along the way my settings have changed to where when I delete messages on my iPhone, they don’t delete in my actual Gmail inbox. They just sit there with the label “Deleted messages” on them. I haven’t figured out yet how to fix this. 🙁

    I do agree that Gmail’s spam filtering is awesome. The one downside to Gmail is that it doesn’t allow you to block certain email addresses/domains (Windows Live Mail does). I tend to block the domains of spam emails that I get. The only option Gmail gives you for this is to create a filter using an email address, subject, etc., and the email is only deleted without you seeing it – it’s not actually blocked from coming into your inbox. All that being said though, Gmail is still the best free email client that I’ve used.

  12. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Dave P — I have two for work (one that is actually mine, and one that is the general Unclutterer one the interns sort through for administrative purposes). One personal one. And my “online alias” one that I use when filling out forms online for site registrations and such.

  13. posted by Jeannine on

    I agree with Dave….narrowing down the four e-mail addresses any way you can (be ruthless!) would likely help the most. I think one e-mail address for work and one personal is plenty. Maybe the general Unclutterer account can be forwarded to your individual work account? Same thing with your alias….it could likely be forwarded to your personal account.

  14. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jeannine — I could merge them, but I don’t WANT to merge them. Each address serves a very clear function and applies to a specific context. You wouldn’t use a hammer to do the work of a screwdriver. My interns are fantastic kids, but they legally can’t have access to conversations I have with other businesses, reporters, and confidential corporate information.

  15. posted by timgray on

    You never needed to be online to access Gmail. you could retrieve all your Gmail via imap or pop. I read all my gmail off my blackjack phone for 2 years. never was online to read only online for 6-12 secodns to retrieve, and it did it automatically for me.

    you needed to be online to RETRIEVE the email, but I have yet to find any email service that will let me retrieve email without any internet access.

  16. posted by Erin Doland on

    @timgray — Using IMAP/POP doesn’t allow you to use the Gmail interface offline. I have my Gmail account all tricked out for the one account I do have with them, but could never setup the same system with offline services … until yesterday, apparently: http://lifehacker.com/5140668/.....e&s=i

  17. posted by Chris W on

    I set up Google Apps accounts for my domains, and have Google handle all my email (read: take all my spam, free of cost to me). The Google Apps mail interface is essentially Gmail. (It’s usually a revision behind the main Gmail interface.) I’ve been using IMAP from my iPhone and laptops to read and send mail through my various mail accounts hosted by Google, and one Yahoo address. I don’t understand the requirement for offline access, but I hardly ever use the Gmail web interfaces, online or off. I just use my iPhone, mail.app, and Thunderbird. It takes a little getting used to what the IMAP commands do with regards to Gmail labels and archival, but it works extremely well, and I never have to worry about being online/offline, inbox quotas, synchronization across devices, or spam.

  18. posted by foo on

    @Amy: you just keep the unanswered mail in your inbox (or better move it to your deferred mailfolder). Every checked and processed email you move to its own folder (mbox, readed, done). Check Inbox Zero or similiar ideas. Every mail you need to process (f.e. need to be answered) you can find later in your defered mailfolder (or inbox).

  19. posted by Tiffany on

    Who are these people who can get away with having no more than two email accounts? Like Erin, I have two just for my day job- one for me, and one a shared account with the other member of my department (we run the website and both need to have access to the requests in case one of us is out).

    I have another one for my personal stuff. Then I have a fourth one for my labor-of-love gig. I could theoretically merge these two, but that would create more clutter problems than it would solve.

  20. posted by mark on

    You wrote:

    “Gmail has a great spam filtering system and is the best that I have found in the free e-mail system market. Unfortunately, three of my four e-mail accounts are not through Gmail.”

    Solution: SpamSieve.

  21. posted by Braxton Beyer on

    You have to try http://otherinbox.com It will eliminate your spam and unclutter your email

  22. posted by Don on

    gmail does the biz – I pull email off 2 other services into my gmail account & my own domain’s email is fwded directly into gmail, No issues, happens whether I’m online or offline. I just use gmail via a browser now & I could hv more than one browser open on my mailbox at any time. The spam filtering is very effective, never get anything in my mailbox but quickly scan the crap before letting gmail delete it. It just works, I don’t think it’s evil, I like it.

  23. posted by Angrygnome on

    From my gmail account I can set it up to send and retrieve mail for other accounts. Is that also possible for a google hosted account? Basically I want [email protected] to also get [email protected] that is hosted by gmail. Sending doens’t appear to be a problem, but when I point it to mail.mydomain.com (and there is a CNAME and MX record there) it either doesn’t find it’s way back to gmail or gmail is not allowing me to do this. Any thoughts?

  24. posted by Babylya on

    Вот так,согласен с предыдущими высказываниями
    ^..^ 🙂

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