Graymail Features Roll Out to Hotmail Users

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After announcing their “graymail” initiative in October this year, Hotmail started implementing changes and new features in customers’ inboxes last week. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the things you can expect to see in your Hotmail account.

Persistent Flags

I received an email from Hotmail on 12/16 that contained an overview of the new flagging behaviors in my inbox. Rather than getting lost in the shuffle, flagged messages remain “on top” even as newer emails arrive in my Hotmail account. I find this feature pretty handy as I usually flag To Do items in my inbox:

Categorization

I noticed that some bulk emails were automatically categorized as “Newsletter” although they are not being moved from my inbox. I could choose to view all messages of a particular category, however:

In addition to the Newsletter category, there are also categories for Bills, Family, Groups, Important, Office docs, Photos, Shipping Updates, Shopping, Social updates and Travel. Facebook and Twitter notifications were automatically classified as Social updates but remained in my inbox unless I moved them on my own or ran a cleanup operation.

Schedule Cleanup

Schedule cleanup is perhaps the most innovative of all the features to roll out. This allows you to easily set up new rules on your account, and efficiently cleans up old messages from your inbox. After selecting a newsletter from my inbox and selecting Schedule cleanup from the Sweep menu, I had options to keep only the most recent message, delete old messages or move old messages to a new or existing folder:

Users should be aware that the use of Schedule cleanup also creates a new rule that runs the cleanup operation selected on an ongoing basis:

If you’d like to modify rules, you’ll need to delete the rule and add it again through the Sweep menu. Rules can be deleted by choosing “Manage rules” from the Sweep menu, or by selecting one of the messages from that sender and choosing Schedule cleanup again, where you’ll have the option to stop cleaning up that sender’s messages.

The Impact

From what I can tell, persistent flags are the only feature that has been automatically enabled by Hotmail. Sweep and Schedule cleanup require action on behalf of the user before messages are moved. While some types of communications are assigned suggested categories, they remain in the inbox as usual. Hotmail also mentions the launch of One-Click Unsubscribe in their blog post, although none of the newsletters or bulk emails in my Hotmail account had this option under the Sweep menu. This may explain why only flagging was covered in the email sent out by the Hotmail team.

Schedule cleanup has the most potential to be game-changing for marketers, as consumers can automate the removal of older messages from their inbox. At a minimum, the latest (most recent) message from a sender will remain in the user’s inbox. It’s also important to note that Hotmail is not automatically filtering messages. Rather, users must initiate cleanup actions. In contrast to some other email filtering tools, cleanup actions and their associated rules are not diverting new messages from the inbox. Schedule cleanup appears to give users a unique way to keep older messages organized and their inbox under control.

Only time will tell how users will adopt these new features and create rules to automate cleanup actions!

Graymail Discussion

Since Hotmail is one of the largest free webmail providers in the world, you can expect that a new feature rollout might generate some discussion. Anxiety from marketers on the potential impact these changes might mean for their email programs is chief among the concerns.

Infographic

You may find our comprehensive infographic on graymail useful as you evaluate your marketing efforts or perhaps your own Hotmail account!