Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

Filtered Email

June 2001

By Mike Gould

Any cool new technology will generate uncool new annoyances.
...Gould's first law of cosmic retribution

And so it is with email. Just as our new means of writing makes it easy to communicate with friends and associates, it also brings with it the heartbreak of unregulated spam.

Spam is very hard to get rid of; once your email address is posted on any web site, any usenet group, or in any online directory, you are fair game for every nitwit with a get-rich scheme and an online connection

One way you can manage your spam is to filter your email, and that is our topic this month.

I Adore Eudora
I use a dedicated email application called Eudora; it is available for free if you don't mind dealing with built-in advertising, or you can buy it for around $40, which is what I did. What you get for your $40 is a full-tilt boogie bit of software that makes it easy to deal with all sorts of mail tasks, including the filtering of email into separate mailboxes.

Many other flavors of email do this as well, so don't be afraid to poke around in whatever application you use. Look for menu items called "Mailboxes" and "Filters" and follow along.

The first step in setting this up is to establish separate mailboxes for your various correspondents. One nice feature of Eudora is that you can have a hierarchy of mailboxes: you can have a mailbox for each major client, for instance, and keep all these in a master mailbox called "Biz", which is how I set up my system. I have mailboxes for family, vendors, friends, and a special one for all the jokes I get. (I'm saving these for my old age, when I can write a book called "Our Wacky Internet", or something...)

Once you have your mailboxes set up, it is a simple matter to set up a filter. A filter is a bit of software that looks at the "from" portion of every email and then sends each letter to its appropriate mailbox (or the trash). Here's the procedure: in Eudora, you can select a letter in your inbox and then transfer it to the appropriate mailbox. In other words, I see a letter from someone I just bought something from online; I highlight it, go to the transfer menu, and select the mailbox I want the email stored in (in this case, "Vendors"). The message vanishes from my inbox. I go to the Mailboxes menu item, pull down to the Vendors mailbox, open it, and there is my message. Next, I select the just-transferred message and choose "Make Filter" from the special menu. An option box pops up with the current mailbox pre-selected; I click yes, and I have a new filter. This filter looks for all messages from that vendor, and whenever it sees one hit my inbox, it transfers it to the Vendors mailbox. I get an alert with each new mail item, and a box pops up to tell me which mailbox has mail in it.

This is very convenient because I always know where my electronic receipts are; if something doesn't show up when I expect it to, I can always look up the acknowledgement email with the order number in it, and use that to track the shipment.

So now I have an agent that inspects all my email, shunting messages hither and yon into awaiting mailboxes. This works only for those respondents I've set up filters for, but the bulk of my mail comes from the same 400 or so people. (Being an important writer for a major newsmagazine like this, I get lots of mail...

So what happens to the rest of the mail, the messages I don't have filters for? They end up in my inbox, and most of that is spam. It is then an easy matter to select most of the messages in my inbox and send them to the trash with a single click.

But Eudora has another trick up its sleeve: it can filter based on what is in the Subject line of a message. This means I can set up filters based on keywords to transfer unwanted drivel directly to the trash. For instance: certain spammers in Asia have determined that I am a prime candidate for Viagra. They send me endless come-ons for great deals in vast quantities of this, with subject lines like "Herbal Viagra: stiffen your resolve with our fabulous deal". Eudora, sitting unobtrusively in the background, sees the magic word Viagra and disdainfully shuffles the odious ad directly to the trash. Eudora only empties the trash when I tell it to, so I can review the steaming heap before flushing it; this is useful if someone send me a Viagra joke or something.

I have set up lots of keywords, for this treatment, and have gone so far as to filter out mail from entire continents. I decided I don't know anyone in China, so I have told Eudora to trash anything with the various Chinese domains. Ditto for anything from Rumania (.ru), which has been providing a haven for spammers for some time now. I also noted that most spam has exclamation points in its subject line ("Buy a great mortgage now!"), so I have a filter for that. You might not want to go that far, especially if you have excitable friends. Again, you always want to inspect your trash before emptying it, in case something got filtered incorrectly.

Now if I could just get Eudora to analyze the content of the jokes I get, and save only the truly funny ones...

(For those following the previous articles about my new laptop, be advised that I am writing this with my laptop in camp. We are in the midst of our annual morel hunt and I am surrounded by birdcalls, sighing trees, and gently flapping tarps. Soon I will fold up my little Titanium buddy and wrap my chops around some freshly-captured mushrooms. Hmmm-mmm! For a detailed story about our forest forays, see http://arborfood.com/features/.)

MonodoDyne <M> The Sound of One Hand Clicking...
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