Microsoft takes on graymail with refreshed Hotmail service

Microsoft is in the process of relaunching its Hotmail email service with the bold and intriguing mission statement: "Hotmail Starts the War on Graymail". After having successfully reduced the amount of spam messages that you will receive in your inbox from 35 per cent to less than 3 per cent in the last 5 years, the company now aims to dramatically cut down on the rest of the unwanted mail that you consider junk.

The company uses the term graymail to describe newsletters and automated emails that you may have signed up to, willingly or otherwise, but don't really want anymore. They more often than not clog up your inbox and prevent you from quickly accessing the emails that are important. And they are one of the reasons cited why some people have turned to other email services in the last few years.

Unfortunately, that's because many users consider graymail as spam, even though they may have subscribed to the newsletter or service intentionally: "It's interesting as a lot of times it's stuff you no longer care about," says Bryan Saftler, Hotmail product manager, Microsoft Consumer and Online UK, while talking to Pocket-lint in an exclusive one-to-one chat. "It's not something that was forced upon you. In fact, 99 per cent of the time, you signed up for it whether you know it or not.

"Graymail includes newsletters, updates and notifications, even Facebook updates, in my opinion, will be considered graymail - I don't really care if it's John's birthday, but I'm still going to get an email from Facebook because that's how they roll.

"Graymail is the silent killer to people's inboxes. It's one of the things that drives dissatisfaction with email. And that's partly because some people don't understand the difference between 'larger penis sizes' and graymail.

"So what we're doing is tackling graymail, as it's the proponent number of emails in your inbox that you no longer want or might not care about anymore, but have full control over stopping," he adds.

And that is why the new Hotmail browser service, which is rolling out for all users in stages over the next month or so, offers one-click instant actions, which appear next to each email and allow you to delete, group, sweep or categorise emails, so that you can wheedle out the graymail in your inbox as simply as possible.

Those who want more control can even customise their instant actions further, by using the in-browser options. Different sweep commands can be chosen, which will then appear as an icon next to each email, ready to be activated with a single click of the left mouse button.

For example, say you subscribe to Groupon and only care about the latest deal that's in your inbox, but have hundreds of old emails still kicking about. You can set the new Hotmail service to only keep the latest one and delete all the rest, each and every time. So, whenever a new deal arrives, former ones vanish, without you having to do anything manually.

And you can even unsubscribe to newsletters completely. From within Hotmail. Bye bye graymail.

In addition to functionality, Microsoft has also invested heavily in hardware. It has moved its main servers from RAID configuration drives to JBot, meaning they're safer from failures and downtime, plus has switched all metadata servers over to solid state drives (SSDs). This ensures that the user interface of the new Hotmail runs like the clappers and the front-end shows instant response to actions and commands.

It's only when you want to access an email that the system switches over to the conventional drives. And even then, the top 100 emails are pre-cached on the SSDs, so that they're speedy as can be.

Plus, with the new Hotmail, you get virtually unlimited data and allowance for 100MB of attachments, for free. Nada. Nothing. Zip.

It's impressive stuff, and is only the tip of the iceberg on the new functionality and future plans. As Saftler explains, it could even change the way you perceive browser-based email forever: "These kinds of technologies, these kinds of features that we've put in here, are going to help you navigate and sift through that graymail.

"So, you can imagine, what people once said was 75 per cent of their inbox was spam, but technically graymail, if we can reduce that number to 20 per cent, to 10 per cent, to zero per cent, where the user actually feels like there is no spam in their in box, and the only thing really hitting them is that 3 per cent of true spam, we'll be giving you 97 out of 100 emails that really matter to you."

And you can't say fairer than that.

You can try the new Hotmail out at www.hotmail.com.

Pocket-lint will be looking at the new Hotmail in more depth soon, be sure to check back.